The Girl Can’t Help It

Photo: Mark Abrahams

Being adorable can be such a grind. “When you play a girl who is trying to get the guy, there’s so much pressure to make people fall in love with you,” says Anna Faris. “It’s like your job is to be the most charming person you could possibly imagine—who sometimes falls. That’s fun sometimes, but it’s also really exhausting.”

This is probably true—but honestly, how would Faris know? Unlike Barrymore, Zellweger, and Witherspoon, she’s never actually played the spunky romantic lead; she has always been the ditzy, idiotic second banana, and she has never played a more ditzy or idiotic twit than Brandi, the epically crass cosmetics-counter girl in the new dark and twisted comedy Observe and Report. “I love unapologetic comedy,” says Faris. “That kind of role comes around so rarely for women.” And when it does, she is one of the few actresses fearless enough to play it, well, balls out. Consider the Scary Movie franchise: “My character [Cindy Campbell] was so one-dimensional—a less-dimensional character could not be written,” says Faris of her breakout role, in which she perfected a slack-jawed, uncomprehending blankness. “I had four looks. Four. Eventually, [director Keenen Ivory Wayans] would be like, ‘Okay, Look No. 2.’ That was a wince. There was also a look he called ‘Who farted?’ because, well …” Faris laughs. “For an actor, it is humiliating when your expressions get reduced to a number—and you only have four.”

Oh, but there was so much more scene-stealing stupidity to follow: as a clueless motormouth wife in Brokeback Mountain, a brazenly dumb actress in Lost in Translation (rumored to be based on Cameron Diaz, though Faris denies it), a moronic waitress (Waiting), a sloppy Britney-ish pop star (Just Friends), a near-catatonic stoner (Smiley Face), and an impossibly naïve Playboy model (The House Bunny, which she produced). But all of those gals were models of propriety and decorum compared with Brandi: “Being so self-absorbed, narcissistic, and wonderfully delusional,” says the actress, “was just a joy.”

The vapid love object of a loser of a mall cop played by Seth Rogen, Brandi is all surface—so Faris started from the outside and squeezed her way in, donning a “push-up bra that is just enormous” as part of an all-black faux-sophisticate ensemble that the movie’s director, Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way), describes as “dirty intern.” The key to playing Brandi, however, was her long, fake nails. “I know it sounds so minor,” says Faris, “but they were the most helpful device. I mean, they make you totally useless. You can’t do anything. They handicap you, essentially.”

It’s a testament to Faris’s particular prowess that in almost all of her scenes with Rogen, he is the straight man, and most hilariously in their instant-classic seduction-and-sex sequence, which teeters precariously between the hilarious and the offensive. (This would be a spoiler if it weren’t in the R-rated trailer.) After downing tequila shots and clonazepam pills to lower her standards, Faris is so sloppy drunk as they stumble into bed that she soon passes out. When Rogen notices, mid-act, that she isn’t responding, the scene begins to resemble a seriously disturbing rape scene (think Kids). “It kind of gives you pause. It’s like date rape,” says Faris. “Like, hmmm, that’s funny, uh, right?”

When it was screened at the hipster-heavy South by Southwest music festival in Austin, the audience was unnervingly quiet; a few looked ready to walk out. But then Faris, eyes closed and splattered with her own vomit, blurts out, “Why are you stoppin’, motherfucker?” and the audience exploded. (Hill swears the next scene “is really funny, too, but most people miss it.”) “When the scene was shot,” says Faris, “I was lying there thinking, ‘This is wrong on so many levels. There is no way Warner Bros. is going to keep this in.’ I’ve done my share of studio stuff that’s wrong and never got into the movie—male nudity, semen, a few boobs. But there it is. My parents have something to look forward to.”

Hill says that rather than soften unappealing material, Faris tends to push things harder. “She wanted to go further and wear a motorcycle helmet while they were having sex,” he says. “And it was her idea, on their date, to be slurping down giant shrimp the whole time. She’s just kinda willing to do whatever—anything.”

“There have been plenty of times where I’ve thought, ‘Nope, nobody else would do that,’ ” agrees Faris. “In Scary Movie 3, I’m in one scene, spinning around on a pole like The Matrix, strapped to this apparatus for six hours, spitting vomit all over me, and I’m like, ‘Yup, I’m willin’. ’ ”

Other than the obvious (and recurring) allure of vomit gags, Faris has no idea why she’s funny. If she has a method, it’s to approach drama and comedy in the same way. “I think there has to be an earnestness in any character,” she says. “A sincerity for whatever their belief system is. I asked Keenen Wayans a few times, kind of indulgently, ‘Why would you cast me?’ He finally said, ‘Because you had no idea what you were doing.’ I knew that part! I used to feel a tremendous pressure to do drama, especially when I couldn’t even get auditions because I was known as the spoof girl,” adds Faris, who was rejected for sexy roles on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Feet Under. “But I’ve come to embrace my love of comedy.”

Faris is eager to produce more films for herself, “because there just aren’t enough out there for women,” she says. “And that’s okay—that’s what the boys do. It’s not like this is revolutionary, you know?”

One fantasy project includes a response to Sex and the City. “I love that show—I annoy my fiancé all the time making him watch it,” says Faris, who is engaged to actor Chris Pratt (Everwood). “But we’ve seen so many ambitious women in the last ten years of comedy, and their comedy comes from trying to balance guys and jobs and fashion. I want to play the girl that has zero ambition, the girl who’s stoned, playing video games, wearing the same things for weeks in a row. I want to see what she’s up to: the girl who just says ‘Fuck it.’ ”

The Girl Can’t Help It