Alia Shawkat is probably best known for her role as Maeby Fünke on the critically acclaimed, prematurely-canceled series Arrested Development, the much-hyped fourth season of which will debut exclusively on Netflix next year. But before returning to the Arrested set with Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Will Arnett and the rest of the Bluth crew, Alia stepped into the role of troubled teen Vanessa in The Oranges, a suburban dramedy that opens in limited release this weekend. Alia stars alongside Leighton Meester, Hugh Laurie, Allison Janney and Adam Brody—and in playing a character betrayed by her own father and best friend, the actress dug up some dark childhood memories of her own (all for the sake of her art, of course). Read on for our chat, in which Alia discusses family fights, vintage fashion and—of course—what it’s like being back on the Arrested Development set.
Lucky: What initially drew you to The Oranges—both to the project itself and to the part of Vanessa specifically?
Alia Shawkat: When I first got the script, I really liked that all the characters had such strong points of view and reactions—it seemed very realistic and very funny. I also liked that Vanessa was a unique choice to be the narrator. You know, usually the narrator in a movie is some wise old man who’s been through it all. She’s the opposite of that—she’s stuck at home and kind of bitter and sarcastic, and doesn’t have the best view of herself.
The two families at the center of this movie are pretty dysfunctional. Did you find yourself drawing on any past memories or experiences while filming, like fights with your parents? Or siblings, if you have any?
I do have siblings—two brothers. I think sibling fighting is a whole other ball game, though—I fight with them a lot, but over such petty things. But with any part, you pull slightly from personal experience. There’s a scene—it’s one of the more serious moments in the movie—where my character sort of reverts back into a little kid. [Her father's relationship with her best friend] is cutting her at the core, because she’s not stable by any means. And so during that moment, I just thought about when I was younger and sometimes saw my parents fighting. My parents are still together, but whenever I saw them fight, just the idea that they might get divorced was terrifying. You feel in that moment like your family might never be the same again.
Vanessa also has a pretty crappy job at a furniture store. Any nightmare job tales of your own?
I’m very lucky—I’ve been acting since I was nine, so it’s the only job I’ve ever known. But I’ve done some bad movies! I did a really bad Martin Lawrence movie called Rebound that I’ll go down as saying I hated.
Let’s talk Arrested Development. You’ve just started filming, right? What’s it like being back on set with the whole gang?
We’re about three weeks into filming—and it’s the most surreal thing. It’s a very rare opportunity where you get to see the people that you worked with for three years, six years later. Especially for me and Michael Cera, it’s the weirdest, because we were teenagers then—and on top of that, we had to do schoolwork in between takes! Now we get to hang out with everybody else, and we’ve definitely changed the most since then. I mean, in the pilot I was 14, and the show wrapped when I was almost 18!
Any hints you can give us about the plot?
You know, I’ve never been a part of a job like this, but we can’t say anything about the content. I hate to be that guy, but like, even if I take photos on set, Mitch [Hurwitz, AD's director] is like, "OK, don’t just send that to anyone…" But it’s all going to be worth it when it comes out. You’ll love it.
I know you’re close with Rachel Antonoff—you’re a regular at her presentations, have starred in her lookbooks and she’s even named a few pieces after you! Tell me a bit about your relationship with her.
I love Rachel more than most things in the world. We’re very much like family—I used to date Jack, her brother, and we’re still very close. I knew Rachel back when she started Mooka Kinney, and now her own company has blossomed into this beautiful thing. She’s just so creative and smart, and does this incredible mix of childlike femininity that’s creative and still fun. I was wearing a dress of hers the other day at the Toronto Film Festival that was from an older season, and everyone was just like, "I love your dress!" I get more comments on her clothes than on anything else I wear. She just knows how to make a girl feel cute. And as you know, her Fashion Week presentations are so much more fun than anyone else’s.
Speaking of style, where’s your favorite place to shop?
I love vintage. I just went to Resurrection the other day—I love that place. I can’t afford to do it all the time, but their designer vintage holds up so well—and that’s what you’re paying for. Designer clothes aren’t about the name as much, in my opinion, but the quality and the way they’re built. Designers from the ’70s and ’80s, the lesser-known ones, those are my favorites.
The Oranges is now open in limited release.
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