Arrested Development Q&A: Alia Shawkat on Maeby, the Return of the Show, and the Canonization of Mitch Hurwitz

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Certainly no one could see the globe of nerves that'd developed in the middle of my chest between checking in at the press table and actually meeting Alia Shawkat but it felt like it was going to burst through my ribs and leave a dent in the poolside sidewalk. My natural state does not include talking to strangers, let alone successful and well-known strangers, so the battle between fight and flight continued to add new layers to that lead basketball sinking into my abdomen.

But when Shawkat sat down in front of me, the star of a few films you've heard of like Whip It and The Runaways and a slew you haven't (like Amreeka and the newer movie The Moment), I was simultaneously tensed by the realization that I was in the same room as Arrested Development's Maeby Fünke and disarmed by Shawkat's presence. She comes off as relaxed, comfortable, and well-versed in art and worldly things. It's that "old soul" part of her that made Maeby what she is. I was suddenly at ease, and we just talked a little bit about what Arrested Development means to her, who Maeby is now, and the tendency for everyone to pour magnificent (almost ethereal) praise on Mitch Hurwitz. We got deep, man.


So I'm not a natural interviewer, and I apologize for that in advance.

No, that's fine. [laughs]


Um, why are you doing this? Arrested Development.

Why am I doing it? It got really heavy for a second.


Why are you doing this in life? Existentially?

Why am I doing this show? Well, I auditioned for it. Ten years ago. And I got it and it was a very fun process. And, yeah, it's very unique to be part of such a well-written show. And, as an actor, you just want to play really fun characters. And every scene that's ever been written for Maeby has been so much fun to do and has made me laugh just thinking about doing it. So I was very excited about the idea of everyone getting back together. I was so onboard.


So you were on board from the very beginning.

Yeah.


What was it like to go back to the set? Like, I know you were a kid when you were first starting to do it, so when you came back was everyone still treating you like one? 

You know, I think that I maybe projected a little bit of myself about being back on set, being like "I'm not a kid anymore! I need to prove I'm not a kid anymore! I've had life experience! I'm not a kid anymore!" So there was a little bit of that settling into it, figuring out my dynamic again, coming back, seeing everybody. But overall, it was a very warm experience, like, seeing everyone again after so long and everyone being like, "Can you believe how much people give a shit now?" You know, like that kind of feeling. And then again, just being able to do such fun work. Everyone, like the crew, was laughing with every take. I notice it's more rare and rare that you get to do such high-quality things. So I think everyone is just excited to be part of something that they themselves want to watch.


Was it hard to go from doing mostly movies to a television schedule again?

No, it's a nice schedule. Because it was such a big cast it was a little all over the place. Six months of shooting on and off. But, you know, I'd dip in, have a scene with an ostrich, then I'd be done for the day. So it was a pretty easy schedule.


Okay. So you're doing this. And there are fans. And they probably attack you.

Not physically, yet.


Are you at all concerned about how the format is changed? I mean, the first episode is a lot different from episodes in the past. Are you afraid about how fans are going to react to it?

Not afraid per se but it's definitely a new format. It's just that there's so much new information to take in. Not that there wasn't before but at least it was more on a weekly basis and even though the storylines would last throughout a whole season, at least episodically it's like taking it in storyline by storyline whereas this time around it's just, like, 20 storylines at once kind of happening, there's a lot of information to catch up on from the past seven years. But I think it'll actually be a benefit and more fun for the fans because they'll continue to be able to watch it over and over again and still be able to discover new things even more so than the last three seasons.


How long will this go on? Mitch Hurwitz has said he's got three acts in mind and that a movie would be the third. Is that going to be enough for fans?

I don't know. I just discovered that today [at the Season 4 press conference], the whole idea of an act one thing is news to me. We're all taking it step by step, you know, I think. For Mitch, he's such a present person, creatively and personally. He's such a present person and I think that's what makes him so funny and smart as a writer and just a lovely human being because he never thinks too far ahead. He's just in the very present moment—what's the funniest thing right now, let's make this the best—and he doesn't get distracted by the past or the future. So, I'm on board for the next fifty years, but who knows, this might be it. I really don't know. I think people will talk about it as a done deal. But, especially with financial things, you just never know what's going to happen. I think these stories and these characters could go on forever. He has an endless well of ideas.


That sort of bleeds into something I wanted to talk about. I read on a very reputable source, AskMen.com, that Arrested Development has already solidified a place in television history. What do you think Arrested Development represents in television history?

I think it came at a time when there wasn't anything else like it. It's a new format, or was at that time, with the handheld camera and the humor and the flashbacks which now, obviously, a lot of shows have been inspired by, so it definitely has that place in being a unique, too-funny-for-its-time-maybe kind of show. Also, just because of all the actors that are involved and all the comedic powerhouses that are involved and careers that have taken off because of the show, it'll be memorable for that reason. So I think there are many reasons. The fact that the fans just keep growing. I mean, there's someone right now that's discovering it for the first time. That's very rare for a show to not be dead and disappear. It just keeps growing. It doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.


And it seems like Netflix promotes that kind of thing where people can discover television all the time.

Totally.


When you developed Maeby, you were really young. How is Maeby different now that you're able to revisit her?

That was definitely something I was nervous about and excited to reapproach as an adult. Wondering how she's changed, how I'm going to interpret her differently. The writing definitely guided me [because] it shows what actually happens to her. But I think it's interesting in these new 15 episodes how she's grown or how she's digressed at the same time. She always acted as an adult as a kid, so now that she's an adult she starts acting as a kid actually. It's interesting to see that switch and see how her actions are catching up with her now.


How do you see Maeby in five years? Does she eventually become that grown-up she was as a kid or does she become a product of her upbringing, which is completely crazy?

I think she'll always be completely crazy to a degree. All the Bluths and the Fünkes are. Yeah, I don't know. It's hard to say. I had ideas in my imagination, thinking about where she would be now and they took it and went beyond and above anything I could have imagined. So as long as they're in the hands of Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely and the writers, who knows where they'll go, you know? It gets weirder and stranger as the seconds progress. I don't know where she'll go. She's an interesting girl. She gets what she wants. She does strange things. She's not scared. And they definitely show that in the new episodes.


The way you talk about him and the way the rest of the cast talks about him, Mitch Hurwitz seems like a pretty messianic figure.

He'd love to hear that.


So he just instills that belief in everyone that he can carry this thing?

Yeah, he's a very present man, creatively and personally, you know? He's the busiest man in showbiz right now but when we'd be on set he'd be getting five-hundred thousand questions directed at him at once, you know? Not only is he directing on set but he's also in the writers room, so he'd dip back and forth and then he'd have three laptops open at once and people would be asking him, "Is this right?" "Or is this right?" It's just so much for any director but he was the only one who had the storyline in his head so [he's] writing it simultaneously while shooting fifteen episodes at once it's a lot a lot a lot of stuff to take in. And with all that, I can sit next to him and he'd ask me how my day was. And I could tell him a story and he'd joke with me about it. Like, he'd always have enough time. And I think that's what makes him such an amazing genius writer. He's so present that he allows moments to leave and fresh ones to come in. So he's always coming up with the sharpest idea and he just knows these characters so well and knows how to frame them and knows what storylines he wants so he can guide this thing so beautifully. And he does it with such grace. I mean, he's so much fun to work for and work with. You're definitely working with him all the time. You never feel intimidated or threatened or anything. He's always listening to your ideas, he's always taking it in. He's just very kind. He's the best boss you could ever ask for.


Damn, is he hiring? So beyond this show, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Hopefully still doing some Arrested Development. Not too much but some. Hopefully working as an actor. I hope to be painting more and travelling. Maybe fall in love. Have a dog one day. You know, all the good things.


All 15 episodes of Arrested Development Season 4 premiere this Sunday at midnight PST on Netflix.

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