Alison Pill is seriously one accomplished gal. She’s killed it on the big screen in films like Midnight in Paris, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Goon; on TV in The Newsroom; and even on stage in theatre productions such as House of Blue Leaves (alongside Ben Stiller) and Blackbird. And now we get to watch as she tackles mystery and suspense for the first time as Willa Warren in ABC’s thriller The Family (premieres tonight on CTV). We sat down with the Toronto-born actress—and her v. cute dog Henry—at CTV’s head office last week to gab about her new show, her decisions behind Willa’s wardrobe and who her dream BFF would be.
How is playing Willa different from any of your past projects?
What’s interesting about Willa is, in some ways, she’ll be thought of as kind of a villain. She’s not the most clear-cut good guy, and most of the time I don’t get to do that, or play with that complication, so that’s fun. The interesting part of playing her is making all that come from a place of genuine love, of really trying to keep her family together, or put it back together after it splintered. But the decisions and the choices she makes are definitely questionable [laughs].
What can we look forward to in terms of character progression from Willa?
She starts to unravel, definitely. The pressure of trying to keep everything together and keep a lot of things from her mother, from the rest of her family, and from getting out to the public—that pressure starts to build and she starts to crack under it. And at the same time there’s this kind of striving for independence that comes for anyone in their early 20s–trying to break from her mother and break from the pressures of her family that she feels she sacrificed everything for. And by the end you’re sort of left with the question of: how much family there will be left to salvage?
How is The Family different from anything else on TV?
What’s really good about it is there are so many elements to it–it really doesn’t allow time for any slow-down. There’s the police procedural element, solving this case, there’s the political side to it, and then there’s this central family drama. And the twists and the turns: anytime you think you know an answer to one of the mysteries, there will be another thing that comes up. I think it’s a great water cooler kind of show. But then on top of it there’s this real driving performance in Joan [Allen as Claire Warren] as this momma bear kind of person; it’s really powerful stuff.
In the pilot episode of The Family, there’s definitely a powerful female narrative–how does it feel to be a part of a project with such strong female characters?
The Family definitely has that, which was important to me and I love being a part of it. I think it’s so interesting to see what’s happening—to live in the ABC world of Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, where these female-driven dramas with these complex heroines are such universal successes. A lot of people like watching these strong, complicated women. And that’s something that I like watching, too, so I think the more there are the better.
It was also made clear from the beginning that Willa has a very conservative style–kind of what you would expect from a politician’s daughter.
They’re Maine Republicans; she’s also a devout Catholic so there’s not a lot of skin, not a lot of cleavage [laughs]. I made the decision early on, which sometimes was annoying, that she always wears pantyhose or tights. There are a lot of skirts. I think I had two scenes where I wore jeans the entire season. But it’s fun to play with that. I mean, I love a skirt and blouse combo, and we had some great dresses. There’s a news-anchor-from-15-years-ago kind of vibe [laughs], which I think is awesome.
And how would you describe your personal style?
I moved to L.A. officially three years ago, and I always claimed before I moved there that I would never become a person who just wears sweatpants and pretends it’s an outfit. Oh, I’ve become that person, I’ve just dog-gone done it. I have “lounge pants” that I’m like, “they’re not pajamas, they’re lounge pants!” But it’s like, “no, those are PJs, you can call them what you want but you’re walking around in pyjamas.” And otherwise, I love a vintage-y look, I love ’40s-era silhouettes. But again it’s mostly jeans and a button-down…that’s pretty much it.
Are there any past projects you were part of that you wish had gotten more attention than they did?
Yeah, totally. A movie called Dear Wendy that Thomas Vinterberg directed and Lars von Trier wrote that I felt was super special. And this funny comedy Cooties, it’s really silly and great—zombie kids!—I thought it was really funny and I would hope that there’s some sort of cult life for it in the future.
You’ve played a pretty diverse range of characters with really big and very different personalities. If you could choose one character you’ve played who would you want to be IRL for one day, or who would you want to be BFFs with, who would it be?
For one day, I would want to be Empress Maud from Pillars of the Earth—because she decides that Queen isn’t good enough, she’s just going to be like “nooo, sorry, I’m an Empress now” [laughs]. She’s just a badass, she’s a Medieval Empress badass, so that would be fun for a day. But I would be best friends with Kim Pine, from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. She’d be a hoot.