Alison Pill is an actress you need to know. She’s already made a name for herself on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award in 2006. She also co-starred in Milk and gave an amazing performance in second season of HBO’s In Treatment where she played a college student diagnosed with cancer.
You’ll need to know her because not only is she a great actress, but because she has one of the best roles in Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Pill plays Kim Pine, an ex-girlfriend/friend of Scott’s who knows when to take him down a peg. Her cynical attitude adds variety to the comedy and she also has one of the best lines in the series: “Scott, I wish I could punch your life in the face.” On a visit to the set, we interviewed Pill about playing Kim, becoming a kick-ass drummer, filming in Toronto where she grew up, and more.
Hit the jump to check out the interview. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hits theaters on August 13th.
Before we begin, here’s the trailer. You’re welcome:
You can read the full interview below or click here to listen.
I hope you get to say the line about, “Scott, I wish I could punch your life in the face,” in the movie. Do you get to say that one?
ALLISON PILL: I do.
PILL: I do. I’m lucky. I have some very good lines.
How much of the back story between you and Scott do we get to see, because there’s a lot of it in the books.
PILL: There’s a lot of back story.
Do they get to fit that in or…?
PILL: Not really fit in. Like the Scott-Exes are sort of less part of the story than the Ramona-Exes. So though it’s hinted at and we get some of it sort of inferred, there’s not…we don’t really flash back to high school.
Is there anything particular you wish had been left in that was cut?
PILL: The Knives make out. (laughter). And then, like I grew up in Toronto and my sister and I just went to the regular Sunday night show at Sneaky D’s and I wish we had Sneaky D’s in there. We have so many other great Toronto landmarks but Sneaky D’s is missing. And the nachos.
Were you aware of the comic at all?
PILL: I didn’t know the comic at all, which is really funny because I grew up here and I had friends who worked at all of the places. Like The Beguiling, which is a store here, and Suspect Video and one of my friends actually worked at Suspect and The Beguiling. So it’s kind of crazy that I’d never known the books before.
Obviously, having grown up in Toronto you’ve seen it used as so many other things in films, is it refreshing for you to actually see something that honors Toronto and the club culture and all of that?
PILL: It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. I mean we have such a great music scene and art scene and there’s just a great group of young people, you know, temping their way through their 20’s doing other amazing things. And I’ve been in…I spent like 10 years working here without ever having been shooting in Toronto. And it’s so frustrating because it’s a great city. And I remember seeing Montreal actually used as Montreal in that Ed Norton-Robert DeNiro…
PILL: Yeah. Yeah. And I loved seeing that because they’re great interesting cities in of themselves so I’m looking forward to actually being able to use it as itself instead of being a bad New York.
There’s a real cult of Kim Pine. A lot of fans that really dig her. What is it about her you think that really appeals to people?
PILL: She’s angry a lot and doesn’t like people? (laughter) I think a lot of people can relate to that? Especially within the Indie music scene we all hated high school and so we sort of have giant chips on our shoulders and I think a lot of people who find Scott Pilgrim will find that definitely relatable, you know?
PILL: I learned to drum and I’m very excited today. Well, first of all I got to…I learned when I was in New York I sort of did some prepping with just learning basic stuff like beating my couch next to my drum teacher, who’s this incredible guy named Charlie Green. And then we came here for three weeks of band rehearsal with [music consultant/member of the band “Sloan”] Chris Murphy. And I grew up in Toronto during Sloan’s heyday, so like I was like “Oh my god!” And so that was pretty cool. And today I’m not working really so I just brought my sticks and I have a drum bunker set up in this concrete studio space and Brian, who’s Beck’s keyboardist, we’re just going to get to jam for awhile because I’m kind of getting tired of playing the same songs. I didn’t really learn how to drum anything beyond the songs I play in the movie, because nobody was really interested in teaching me like how to really play. Just make sure you know the songs and that you don’t look like an ass. Good, yeah. We’ll cover that first. But now I actually love it and I want to get better at it.
I figured you’re playing to a playback track. Did they actually have the band, the guys, the actors play music to where it would be listenable?
PILL: Yeah, our first rehearsals…well Mark [Webber]…
I know Michael [Cera] plays.
PILL: Yeah, Michael plays and Johnny [Simmons] plays. We’ve had some odd jamming sessions. Including this…we went to Chris Murphy’s studio and Johnny insists on plugging in this weird red flashing police light. It was just like this little strobe. So we plugged that in just…play. I think we would be around the same level as Sex Bob-omb. (laughter)
Is the film maybe going to use the jam sessions as a DVD extra or anything?
PILL: I think some of our…when we first started rehearsing we really didn’t listen to the playback. We just played the songs ourselves. It was only in sort of the 3rd week that we really had to focus on like where the exact fills are so that I’m not going doo-doo-doo…and there’s nothing on the track. So I actually have a Chris Murphy commentary track when we’re shooting and we have nicknames for all our special fills. So it’ll be like “Maxwell 1, 2, 1, 2″ and then I have to do the fill. They’re weird little…”The Mother”, “The Half-Mother” (laughter)
I thought you gave the best performance this year on “In Treatment”. It absolutely floored me. I wanted to know what it’s like to just be able to focus on creating a character and I wanted to know what it’s like working with Gabriel Byrne who has to work in every single episode—all forty.
PILL: He’s exhausted. And he has…like we shoot every episode in 2 days. So he doesn’t get to do that much prep. So he has screens placed around my head with all the words flying by.
PILL: So he has to read…because we’re shooting 22 pages in 2 days. There’s no way you can learn 22 pages every 2 days—that I know of. But it was really interesting. I got to know the playwright who wrote my storyline and who also last year did “The Gymnast” storyline. I think she’s pretty incredible.
PILL: That was my favorite one from last year.
She’s [Mia Wasikowska] doing Alice in Wonderful for Tim Burton now.
PILL: Oh, yes! Oh the actress, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s going to be awesome. I just saw some stills from that movie. It was incredible.
Which was the playwright that….because they had such a great writing bench on that show.
PILL: Yeah. Her name is Sara Treen. And she’s doing another thing for HBO right now. She gets back to New York soon. She’s in L.A. Yeah, no it was incredible but it was really kind of nice. I wrapped that on like a Friday and flew here on I think a Monday or something crazy like that. So to jump from 22 pages of dialogue a day to if you visited the set, it’s like “Whoosh! Whoosh!” for 7 hours. We’ve been here since March.
So you’ve been out here for the entire shoot so far?
PILL: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve taken a couple trips back home but pretty brief. Been mostly just here.
What’s your favorite scene so far?
PILL: Well, it was funny. I mean I feel like we’ve shot all these different movies. Like the first 2 weeks of shooting was all Steve Stills apartment and band rehearsal, you know? And so it was like this tiny little group of people and small set comparatively and it just looked like a Toronto apartment. And then we sort of kept ramping up further and further until now we’re here in this giant like craziest set I’ve ever seen with LCD crazy lights that go….you know? And so I would say my favorite was just the beginning of the movie like doing all the rehearsal stuff. It’s been amazing to see the rest of it happen but it happens so piecemeal. And Edgar sort of has the whole movie edited in his head already, so we’re just sort of matching to what he has.
As an actor how is that because it’s so meticulous and it’s such precise technical work that for you to also carry a character in those scenes, is that a different discipline for you?
PILL: It is. It’s funny. Like I hoped over the last 6 months Kim hasn’t changed. I don’t think so. It’s not like she like jumps around a lot and is hyper in one scene or anything. But it’s been funny to try and carry the through line, but I think the main thing is the relationship that the band has because we have spent now all this time together that I think that’s sort of what we returning to. And whenever we get to play together, it still sort of returns to that little shitty rehearsal space. So that’s good.
Can you talk about the relationship with your character and Ramona because obviously they don’t get along really because you’re Scott’s ex from high school. So do we see a lot of that in the movie? Is there still a lot of that kept?
PILL: Not a lot of it. I mean I think, in my opinion, Knives is so much more irritating than…at least Ramona’s cool, you know? It’s like…although I don’t think they fit together, it’s like she’s from New York, you know. She’s pretty relaxed. She’s not annoying as a high schooler. But in terms of like the carry through of the line being Scott’s ex, again it’s sort of off to the side, so whatever…there are looks to Ramona but it’s all in Edgar’s head so I have to just trust him and like go, “Okay!”
To me, you said something earlier about Kim has her little cult, I think part of it is, Kim to me is easily the most grounded character in the books. And then for you as an actor, you’re the one who’s kind of the bridge to reality as everything is just progressively getting bigger and stranger as it goes. Is that a challenge for you that you’re kind of pinning things down?
PILL: Well, it’s sort of funny to try and get that balance between just accepting the reality of my friend [co-star Satya Bhabha] flying in from the ceiling of the theatre and like starting to do a dance with demon hipster chicks. It’s like, so how do we react when he throws fireballs? Are we surprised? Does this happen a lot? You know? But it is nice that throughout…Kim’s pretty un-throwable, you know? Not a lot is too much for her. So it is fun in that way, but it has been a challenge to try and bridge that gap, but hopefully we manage it. I also think that Kim is just the most likeable character. I mean, Scott is like many guys his age. You know selfish and self-centered and lazy and awesome, of course, and Stills is the most neurotic person ever. So I think there is a lot to say about Kim just kind of being around and being there to offer the sarcastic remark and take everybody down when they need it.
I was wondering how your character relates to Michael’s because in the books their relationship, she sort of keeps him grounded even though he’s so hyperactive. How does that come off in your scenes with him?
PILL: I think just like taking the piss whenever it’s necessary. I mean there’s a lot of deflation that goes on. And I think that that relationship is very much part of the script thankfully whenever…in the rehearsal room when he’s taking about Ramona, when he’s talking about Knives, they think when everybody else may be excited or worried about something else, I think she’s still there to be like, “You’re an ass.” It’s just essential.
PILL: It was so neat to play fake Lee’s Palace.
It was a real bar though.
PILL: Yeah, like it’s amazing. So, yeah, that was pretty exciting. But also just to be in a movie at Pizza Pizza with Honest Ed’s in the background. Aces.
That was very surreal to be driving around town and you’re driving through—
PILL: Fake snow?
Yeah, and all of a sudden there’s just snow everywhere around Honest Ed’s.
PILL: I got a text from a friend on the street car. He’s like, “Did you guys snow all over this intersection?” I was like, “Yeah. Sorry about that.” The snow is amazing.
Since there are changes and there are elements that are cut from Kim’s back-story, how much do you reference the comic vs. just sticking with how the script goes especially knowing that the script and the comic diverge at a certain point?
PILL: Well for all the back-story stuff and for knowing who Kim is, although it’s not mentioned in the movie, it’s still sort of assumed that it’s the same back-story. So I can refer to the books and go back to Kim when I need pretty easily. Although we don’t get to see a lot of it, it’s still underlying all of the relationships, which I think is….
Did you get a chance to talk to [author Bryan Lee O’Malley] about the character?
PILL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And he…they had these weird little like Kindergarten drawings for each of our characters. So she sits on my mantle at home. So I have little Bryan-inspiration for Kim. And he and Edgar made up lists for like things to know about your character that were pretty awesome.
What was sort of the biggest insight that he gave you?
PILL: You know we, talked a lot…like he and [fellow comic-book author and wife Hope Larson] both hate most people so I think that was like (laughter), you know…it’s like you see mad as sort of a basis. We just don’t like a lot of people. I think that was the main…and meeting him and Hope was just awesome. She’s incredible. So just getting to hang out with them and getting to just talk to them about the writing and about Kim and getting a sense of where he was coming from and what his experience in Toronto was was probably the most helpful.
Someone was talking the other day that Scott Pilgrim isn’t necessarily autobiographical and some people might think that it is. But Kim sounds like she might be the character that’s closest to the real people. Would you say that is possibly true?
PILL: I would say it’s possibly true but I don’t know. I mean in my mind, I’m like, “I get it. Bryan, I get it.”
PILL: It’s just so amazing. One of the great things about this cast is that we’ve been able to take actors of relatively the same age group that would never usually meet. You know, like bridging the comedy/drama world that for some reason casting directors never really want to bridge or you get into one community and that’s kind of it. And so getting to meet Aubrey Plaza and Mae Whitman and getting to know two awesome girls who are just kick-ass. It’s been nice that way where we probably wouldn’t have worked together on any other crazy project. And just like you know Chris Evans teaching us all the high-five because he’s dealing with like non-jocks (laughter) and we’re like yeah! Missed1 (laughter) You looked at the elbow okay. I swear. It works every time. It’s amazing. You will always get a full high-five. And again, we would never be in the same movie.
So you said you want to foresee the drums, but how far do you actually want to foresee that?
PILL: Well I have…I play with a band in New York, or I just started. And I’ve just been doing like (inaudible) percussion. And my friend who’s the lead singer, she was sort of joking about it but now I’m kind of like I could probably do that. I don’t know. We’ll see. Our band is called Erin Hill and Her Psychedelic Space Rats”. It’s sci-fi lyrics and her and her harp, so.
If you were playing Rock Band you’d be playing expert on drums, is that what you’re saying?
PILL: Okay, I get kicked off the drums when I try and…the notes just keep coming at you and I’m like “Ahhhhh!” I can’t do it. I have literally gotten booed off the stage way too many times. It’s terrorizing. The rest of my band mates just are…they tell me to get off. I’m like, “I can play bass. Dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk.”
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