When I reach Alison Pill by phone, she’s packing up boxes in the apartment she’s been renting in Los Angeles. It’s her last day there; she’s just bought a house in the east side of the city. “I hated on L.A. for so long,” says the 28-year-old Toronto-born actress. “If my 18-year-old self could see me now, she would punch me.”
At 18, Pill had just appeared with Lindsay Lohan in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, a movie she later pronounced “horrific.” She’s since become one of Canada’s most successful expats. She earned a Tony nomination at 20 for The Lieutenant of Inishmore and appeared in two Woody Allen films; then came Aaron Sorkin’s much-discussed HBO drama The Newsroom and, two very different films: the soon-to-be cult classic Snowpiercer (now available On Demand and DVD), a post-apocalyptic thriller from The Host director Bong Joon-ho, plus the horror-comedy Cooties, alongside Elijah Wood and Rainn Wilson.
The eponymous Snowpiercer is a train carrying Earth’s only remaining humans—among them Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell—after a global warming experiment goes wrong. In the class system that evolves, Pill is a Stepford-esque schoolteacher with tight curls, frilly ankle socks and an AK-47, tasked with “ushering in the newest generation of brainwashed kids.” Naturally, a bloody revolt ensues. “The film poses serious questions about human folly and the caste system, but at the same time it’s an amazing adventure story,” says Pill.
The cherub-faced star plays a teacher again in Cooties, in which a virus spreads through an elementary school, turning children into zombies: “It lies somewhere between the sensibilities of the two writers: Ian Brennan, who co-created Glee, and Leigh Whannell, who wrote Saw,” says Pill.
The Newsroom returns for its third and final season Nov. 9. Tellingly, Pill’s character, Maggie, is blonde again, after an unfortunate red mental-breakdown dye job in season two. “She’s kind of got her shit together now,” Pill reveals.
With her ever-expanding IMDB credits, a permanent address in Tinseltown might seem like a no-brainer, but there’s a reason Pill spent most of her 20s in New York. “Hollywood is a bunch of pomp and circumstance,” she says. “I like a game night. I like sitting around and talking about plays. I don’t know that those poolside rooftop scenarios are my jam.”
The Scrabble lover doesn’t seem the type to accidentally tweet a topless selfie, but try telling the Internet that. Two years ago, a photo intended for her then-fiancé, fellow Canadian actor Jay Baruchel, popped up on her feed; she quickly deleted it, but its infamy lives on. “For the year before that, I’d only been posting political stories and having great discussions,” she says. “Then in one day it was like, ‘Wow, now I’m reduced to boobs.’” She quit Twitter six months later (“I didn’t want to give people the satisfaction of that being the reason, so I waited!”). She doesn’t have time, she says, to be “disheartened by a bunch of strangers.”
What she does have time for: enjoying her new garden, volunteering at an animal shelter and hanging out with her boyfriend, actor Joshua Leonard. L.A., she says, “is going to be home for a while.”