Sundance Dialogue: Alia Shawkat on Sex, Dildos and Female Profanity in 'That's What She Said'

Sundance Dialogue: Alia Shawkat on Sex, Dildos and Female Profanity in 'That's What She Said'

Jan 27, 2012

That’s What She Said was the naughty girls movie of the Sundance Film Festival. Anne Heche and Marcia Marcia DeBonis play girlfriends who meet up with a new young girl, Clementine (Alia Shawkat), in a coffee shop. As each of them vent about their sexual frustrations, situations get out of hand with dildos, public disturbances and lots and lots of profanity.

Shawkat stopped by the Sundance Co-Op after seeing some movies at the festival herself. We sat down and chatted about naughty girls in That’s What She Said, hopes for the new season of Arrested Development and her hidden talent of drawing and painting. When you read the dildo scene, did you think, “I can DO this?”

Alia Shawkat: I don't think I ever really answered that question but I thought I could at least, so that’s why I did it. Some of the stuff really freaked me out so that’s another reason why I did it, just as a challenge. Watching that now, doing it was embarrassing but watching it now it’s like oh sh**. It made me a little uncomfortable? It’s more embarrassing now?

AS:  Yeah, to watch it than to have done it. Doing it was fine but then actually watching it seems very embarrassing. That’s the case with any work because you don’t see it until later and then you’re like, “What the f*** was I doing?” How do you get through it on the set?

AS:  On the set you’re committing to it so you’re fully in there. It’s not like a second thought. It’s not something you assess later. You just do it because you’re feeling the moment and trying to understand it. But it’s completely different, it’s out of your hands what happens to it afterwards or how it’s seen or how it ties in to a whole film together edited and stuff. So it’s a very strange process watching yourself afterwards because you don’t really feel a relation to it. At least I don’t. I feel very disconnect from it. That’s why I can only usually see it once at the most. That’s it. And when she cries about never getting her p***y sucked again, did you see that as a heartbreaking emotional moment?

AS:  It’s hard to say. I can’t remember but yeah, she’s always genuinely upset I think throughout all of it but that’s about it. Yeah, I don’t really know how I decided to do it in that moment but I think she’s just genuinely always pretty down on herself. Do you like working blue?

AS:  Sure, if it’s truthful to the story and to the characters, then it can be fun but not just for the sake of being. So yeah, if it works for the story I think it’s funny. I like poop jokes. What did you think of Clementine’s sexual issues then? We won’t spoil it.

AS:  Right, my agoraphobic character. That’ll throw them off the scent. I like how it comes out. It’s unlikely for her to have that issue. You don’t really expect whether to know if she’s insane or what’s going on with her because she’s so fragile and so needy. I hope that she’s not annoying which she definitely can be, but hopefully people can still enjoy it. Otherwise it might be painful for them. Yeah, I think people will have fun watching it. Do you think Clementine stays friends with these women after the movie ends?

AS: Yes, I think so. I like to think she’s getting her act together more so, getting over Harry, making some friends, probably still having some emotional breakdowns but getting her own job, figuring herself out. Yeah, positively. Do you have a group of friends who are all different ages?

AS:  Yes, my friends are all different ages. Yes, I have friends who are 50s, 40s, 30s, 20s, teens, all kinds of friends. I guess that’s mainly because of the line of work and just people that I gravitate towards but yeah, all kind of friends, all sizes, all different colors. Would you have liked there to be a scene where the girls all got together and sang into hair brushes?

AS:  No, like in their pajamas? I don't think that would necessarily fit this tone. Clementine would probably be into it but I don't think the other two characters would Those scenes always take me out of  a movie.

AS:  Yeah, it’s been in a couple, like Stepmom. That was the worst but it’s in everything.

AS:  I would never use a hairbrush as a microphone. Right!

AS: That’s not what a microphone looks like. It’s not the right weight. It’s nothing like that. Do it in the shower just for a second. Even that’s a little…

AS:  It just always feels like a scene that’s only done for cameras, that no one really does that in private. No, of course not, and they’re trying to have fun so bad that it feels fake. Nothing’s worse than fake fun. As Arrested Development speculation continues to evolve, what do you think of Mitch Hurwitz’s latest idea to do another short season of 10 episodes?

AS: It would be great. It would be very exciting. I think he described it as a character per episode and I love that because I’m as excited as anybody else to see where they’re going to write it. They’re just so crazy so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes up. Is that a great new world of television where you can come back to something several years later? They don’t even have to be four seasons in a row anymore.

AS: Right, it’s great. Family Guy was cancelled and then it came back and became such a big success. I think a lot of us, three seasons is like a lot of BBC shows do that so it’s kind of all you need in a way. Just sometimes I don’t agree with it going on forever, or like The Office BBC special when they had that hour Christmas special which I really loved. It’s crazy that so many people like it so I hope they all go see it if it happens. I hope it happens. Do you like that idea better than a movie?

AS: Yeah, I think maybe it would lead up to a movie, anything. Anything where the characters come alive again for a while would be awesome. Do you think it would impact you and Michael Cera the most since you’ve really grown up since that show?

AS:  Right, yeah. I think you have more room with George Michael and Maeby’s characters I feel like to see where they are because they were still living at home. It could go all over the place but we could be living in different countries, coming into ourselves. I think ours they can have the most room with to flesh it out because we were 16 and now we’re in our 20s. Have you been able to hold onto Arrested Development more than actors in the past, where once a show went off the air, that was it?

AS:  The fact of its resurgence, yeah. I’m very proud and lucky to have been on Arrested Development, a really smart show. I think the timing was just a little off. It just didn’t work with the audience at the time so that’s why it ended the way it did but I think with Netflix and DVRing and all that stuff came in right after we got cancelled. It feels like we’ve had that stuff forever but that’s even kind of new. So all these people started doing that and then the DVDs. I think it’s great. I think it’s cool. I feel like I get to play this somewhat iconic character for this group of people who like the show. It’s really lucky. Do people who recognize you call you Maeby?

AS: Sometimes, yeah. A lot of Maebys. I just go, “Yeah, yeah.” Is that cool if they know your character or should they learn your name?

AS:   No, I hope they don’t learn my name. I’d rather they say Maeby than my actual name. They like the show, and it’s never aggressive. I’ve been lucky. It’s always just like, “Oh hey, it’s maybe.” And then I’m like, “Yeah.” And then we just keep walking, so it’s always pretty nice. I’m lucky. I feel like I have these fans but it’s not a big amount at all so I get to work but I’m not famous so it works out in a good way. What is your life like in L.A.?

AS:  I have a nice office there. I have a house that I live in and the office has a really nice set up area for me to draw. I pretty much do work there. I’m starting welding classes to learn how to weld so I can try and make sculptures or something. Just a lot of a friends who are all either in music or acting or different fields, trying to write and make shorts together. We’re all passionate about similar things and we just want to work together and make stuff and have fun, and drinking a lot. What do you drink?

AS:  Whiskey. I like whiskey. On the rocks. I had Jack Daniels last night that was really nice. What do you draw?

AS:  I don’t do life. They’re kind of like graphic, gory cartoons like Ralph Steadman if I’m lucky to be in that category. How did you learn that skill? Because I can’t imagine putting pen to paper and knowing how to make it look like a picture.

AS: You kind of just let your hand go and it follows it. Then you see an image out of that that you try and create. I feel like any artistic thing, anything written, a photo taken, a drawing, it exists inside of us but we just have to peel things away to be able to see it correctly and shut off our minds so we can actually hear the image we’re trying to say instead of just finding something, like “Oh, I’ll find it.” It’s there. You just have to listen to it. I do it every day or I try to. It’s a big part of my life now. You just keep learning different ways and using different tools, paints and pens and stuff. It’s like anything. You just keep doing it, trust yourself. Do you work during breaks on the set?

AS: Yeah, sometimes. I always bring a journal and some pens with me. Some of my best sketches have been on the backs of scripts and stuff. Or on airplanes. I do really good drawings on airplanes.


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