A prom date for Alia Shawkat
Someday, Alia Shawkat will get away from the prom.
She never went to one in real life, those years being mixed between a small private school and playing precocious schemer Maeby Funke on TV’s lamented “Arrested Development.” The closest she got was a winter formal as a sophomore: “I was with my friends, we were sipping hot Jack Daniels in the car, it burned. So we got really drunk.” But with the various prom plotlines she’s been sucked into professionally -- including “Prom Wars” and the new “Bart Got a Room” -- she doesn’t feel much was lost.
“I think the idea of the prom, you and your friends getting ready, maybe that I missed,” she says with a facial shrug. “I never really got along with anyone at my high school; they didn’t like me very much, so it wouldn’t have been fun anyway.”
Her role in the new film as protagonist Danny’s best friend, Camille, will surprise Maeby fans with its . . . normality. Camille is a notably sane figure in the swirling universe of a teenage boy scrambling to secure the ultimate prom experience -- one that trumps that of his rival, the titular Bart. Adding to the madness are Danny’s recently divorced parents (played by Cheryl Hines and William H. Macy, in an awe-inspiring wig) and their attempts to move on.
The petite, soon-to-be 20-year-old (whose name is pronounced AL-ley-uh SHOW-cot) is a disarming mix of cultural explorer and self-conscious girl in the delightfully freckled flesh. She spends much of her time “wandering” New York and crafting her own artwork -- she works in the medium of collage. For one recent project, “I got 10 old Game Boys, those really thick gray ones -- I took them apart and used them on the canvas and used acrylic to paint the background.”
In her publicists’ West Hollywood offices, she confesses that despite Maeby’s street smarts, “I didn’t kiss anyone until I was 16 1/2 . The kiss in the pilot [with Michael Cera] was my first kiss ever.”
Ding-ding! Her phone’s ringtone punctuates the admission.
“I was really nervous and the producer was like, ‘It’s not like it’s your first kiss or anything!” She swallows hard for comic effect. “When you watch it, it’s not like,” she vocalizes some porn music. “We just kind of hit each other like two fists pounding.” She mimes a clumsy, colliding buss.
Fast-forward to last year; she’s still of an age of taffeta gowns and powder-blue tuxes. Shawkat was impressed with writer-director Brian Hecker’s semi-autobiographical “Bart” script, citing the “natural comedy that comes from the sadness of someone’s kind of broken family. I was kind of nervous meeting him because when I showed up he was talking to some hip actor who had greasy hair and a wife-beater on, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, God, this is not going to work.’
“I still get intim . . . not intimidated . . . well, OK, intimidated . . . . But I wasn’t going to stand there and grab Brian’s hand and say, ‘I love this script!’ Some people want those actors who are going to be like, ‘I’ll do anything you want me to. I’ll cut off my nipple!’
“And we sat down and we talked about the script for a while and we ended up getting in this huge philosophical conversation.”
Shawkat’s change of pace as Camille was easier in some ways than playing Maeby.
“Camille’s still young and awkward. I was a lot like Camille when I was, like, 13. And 14 and 15. Maybe a little 16,” she says with a laugh. “I used to be really uncomfortable around boys. But I was more like Maeby in that if I liked a boy I’d be really mean to him. I’d be really sarcastic,” she says, becoming Elaine Stritch: “ ‘What’s that hat you got on?’
“I think now I’m not like either of them. I’d like to think now I’m more spiritually evolved.”
Pause, followed by a sideways laugh.
Where you’ve seen her
Years before her signature role as Maeby on “Arrested Development,” Alia Shawkat’s film debut came opposite George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube in “Three Kings” (1999) as freedom fighter Cliff Curtis’ daughter. She starred on TV’s “State of Grace” with Dinah Manoff and Michael Mantell playing her parents -- and later recruited them as her parents again for “Bart Got a Room.” This year, she’ll be seen in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It!,” with Ellen Page and Zoe Bell, and in “Amreeka,” the story of a Palestinian woman’s struggles in post-Sept. 11 Illinois. Shawkat is waiting along with everyone else for the much-rumored “Arrested Development” movie: “I’ll believe it when I get the call sheet for the first day.”