To the fans responsible for the resurrection of Arrested Development, they know Alia Shawkat best as Maeby Funke, George Michael Bluth's rebellious teenage cousin with whom he has an awkward incestuous crush on (but it might be OK since she's a test-tube baby!). However, Shawkat, now 23, has more impressive notches on her resumé than we realized. From Amreeka to Ruby Sparks, Shawkat's had a steady stream quality Hollywood films since her hit show ended in 2006.
Now, she's got another gleaming addition to her IMDB page: The Oranges (which hits limited theaters today and goes wide on Oct. 19). Directed by Julian Farino, the film follows the unraveling of two tight-knit suburban families, the Wallings and the Ostroffs, in New Jersey following the discovery that the David Walling (Hugh Laurie) has been having an affair with his daughter Vanessa's (Shawkat) former best friend, Nina Ostroff (Leighton Meester). Vanessa lands dead center in the chaos between the warring kin, only to find solace in furniture design and the distant dream of moving to the city away from the lunatics she calls her parents.
Complex got a chance to sit down with Shawkat to talk about landing the role in the film, the competitiveness of young Hollywood, and how she feels about being called out on the street as "Maeby."
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
What drew you to the role?
I really liked the script. I thought it was really funny. I auditioned for it twice, like with like a six-month in-between time. So, it was kind of a part that I had in the back of my mind and really hoped that I would get. I really liked the fact that [Vanessa] was the voice over; she was the narrator, and a weird choice as the narrator, but in a unique way because she's so one-sided.
But yeah, she is a fun character; I like my interactions with every character, and I have beats with every one, and they are really cool grounded moments. She got to react in the most extreme way towards Nina; Vanessa takes out all her pain on her, but then she's hurt like a little kid towards her Dad and Mom—I like that balance of the character.
Yeah, that whole tension with Nina never really resolves.
Yeah, I got the perfect time to take it out on her after all those years it was pent up growing up: when she starts screwing my dad. I was like, "Now I get to tell you you’re a slut."
Ellen Page was sought after for the role, but then it ended up going to you. Do you find that happening a lot, in terms of Hollywood being really competitive?
That was funny because I had met with Julian [Farino] first over coffee before I auditioned, and Ellen Page is one of my best friends, so when he brought it up I was like, "Damnit, fuck," 'cause I think she is a brilliant actress, but she is also well known, so she is going to get the part over me.
And then time passed and I had talked to her about it and she was like, “Aw dude, I’m not right for that part, like you’d be so right for that part.” And she is smart that way, not that she wouldn’t have killed it, but I think that she knows what parts she feels like she is more right for.
When I got it, I was thrilled, but it is also a rare situation because they are such good actors, and it had a decent sized budget, enough to look like it could have been any budget. And then it got distributed and I got to work with such good actors—it is a high caliber film. But it is so rare because any time there is a good script that actually has some money behind it, good actors want to get involved in it.
There is always a short list of young Hollywood starlets who make a lot of money in the box office. Hopefully, I want to keep working on good films with good actors, but sadly it isn’t always if you are good for the part. It's like a, "We will make this part right for Carey Mulligan" kind of thing; it's like you will get your luck some time.
You always hear the same names being recycled over and over again.
Because when someone is hot, as they say, they just want to ride it out until it is dry. But honestly it is tricky, and that is where the responsibility of the actor comes in because it is exciting when all these big directors want to work with you and, obviously, people want to work on good films. But if you are not right for a part and someone else is, someone who is maybe more of an unknown, it's a tricky thing to turn down, but if you don't, it takes away the quality of the film.
Every 10 years there is a new batch of young actors, and for me personally, I want to keep working, and I think the way to do that is to do good performances in films that I am well matched in, and not for any other reason.
A lot of the roles you've done have a cult following. If it happened that way, would you be fine with just being known as Maeby Fünke?
Yeah, I mean, it is something that will always follow. I am proud of the work I have done since that. It seems like a lot of people recognize things I've been in after the fact, including Arrested Development. But, I am super proud of Arrested Development, and it is something that I will always be a part of.
I definitely want to make more art that stands out or stands up to it—that kind of quality you know? People are really attached to that, and there is something about TV too. There is more content of it, and you can watch it every night, and it becomes a part of your family. So when people recognize me from it, it is like they've known me for so long instead of being like, “I saw you from that one film.” People connect to TV actors in a much different way; there is like a weird intimacy you build with them. Because of that and because it is such a good show, people are crazy connected to Arrested Development. I love the fans; they are super rad and they are the reason it is coming back, so I’m like, "Thank God for them."
Do you have people calling you out on the street as Maeby, and do you respond?
I do; I’m like, "Yep, got it." [Tips imaginary hat.] It's weird because it's in reverse; when you do a job, people recognize you a lot and then it will dwindle. But this was like, I didn’t get recognized at all, and then it has built up over the past five years. People recognize me more than ever since the show has been on.
It is going to be nice to have it on and have people watching it fresh, not that there is anything wrong with it being a late discovery, but because of that, there was a different attachment to it.
I saw Ruby Sparks earlier this year and now it's one of my favorite movies ever. You have excellent comedic timing in it. Are you drawn to more comedic stuff?
People connect to TV actors in a much different way; there is like a weird intimacy you build with them. Because of that and because it is such a good show, people are crazy connected to Arrested Development.
Oh thank you! I really appreciate that. Yeah, definitely, if I find a script that I think is really well written and realistic; it is hard to find things that are truly based in honesty because writers like to have fun. There is nothing wrong with false reality, but there is less of a sense of truth to it. And I think it is a beautiful script and Zoe [Kazan] wrote it, which is so impressive, and I think she is so great in that movie as is Paul.
I was nervous on that because I respect the directors so much and I remember sitting down with Paul during my first big scene in that coffee shop, and I was like, “Do you ever feel like you forget how to act?” And he was like, “Yeah, every day.” And I was like, “Ok, good.” And then we started, and John and Val were the sweetest people in the world. They literally, at the screening, gave us homemade cookies afterwards. They are such genuine people.
As an actor, you want to feel connected to [your director], especially with comedy; you want to feel confident enough to come up with good ideas. There's a part I think when Paul's character is scooching closer to me, so I start scooching to him, but he is really trying to avoid Ruby. And that was something that I did in the take. I am an insecure actor, so I was like, “Do you like that?” [Laughs.] And they were like “No that was great! We liked that. We are going to do that every take!”
I think, with comedy, it is more about the discovery of things on set and the collaboration of it. Not that drama isn’t, but I think you find dramatic moments in a much darker way, like talking about where you are coming from and all this shit. As opposed to where comedy is for me: You can think of it in a second, and I think that is the funniest.