Arriving in theaters in New York and Los Angeles this Friday is Jeff Baena’s oddball religious comedy (with has a hint of witchcraft to it) The Little Hours. An official selection of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Baena’s film is an adaptation of The Decameron, and during a recent press day for the film, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with two of the co-stars of The Little Hours, Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) and Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live, Never Been Kissed).

During our interview, the actresses discussed what initially drew them into working on The Little Hours, being able to collaborate with such a strong cast of females, their characters, and more.

So what was the biggest appeal for you to come into this project and work with Jeff? Was it the fact that it was an opportunity to be a part of such an unusual film?

Molly Shannon: I think for me, I was just excited all-around. A convent is a great place for a lot of women together, and I thought it was great this had so many strong female comedians and actresses. I was like, "What a great place, and you could cast so many women," so I thought that was a great idea. And then Jeff was like, "You'd be working with Aubrey Plaza and Alison Brie," so it was an immediate "yes," for me.

It took me only about 30 seconds to decide that it sounded like so much fun to go and shoot this in Italy. It reminds me of those movies from the 1930s and the 1940s, with Rosalind Russell, where they had lots of strong women all in one movie.

Alison Brie: Definitely, I agree. The uniqueness of the idea alone was so intriguing, because when would I ever have an opportunity to play a 14th century nun? That sounded so out there. But also, to me, I think what was appealing was the idea of the experience overall. Jeff was like, "Here are the people that are going to be in it, like Aubrey [Plaza], and Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, and we're all going to go to Italy for a month in the springtime, and we're going to shoot this movie, and there's no script, and we're just going to be making it up, and it's comedy." And I thought this just sounded like experimental ’70s filmmaking, like even if the product we make is not great—and I think it is and I love it—but at the time even when signing on I was like, "The worst case is that maybe nobody sees this, but we go have an amazing time with our friends in Italy shooting a movie."

And it seemed like a cool challenge. I didn't come up doing improv and I haven't done a ton of it in my career, so it seemed like a cool, scary thing to see if I was capable of doing that.

Did you guys do rehearsals, then?

Alison Brie: Sort of. I mean, there was not a lot of time, and we basically had a 20-page outline that Jeff had written that was very detailed in terms of what would happen in each scene, but not as far as dialogue. But there were general outlines of what the characters would be conveying to each other. And when we all got to Italy, and stayed in this weird hotel together, we had this giant conference room that for two days before we started shooting, we talked through the whole outline and very specifically workshopped the dialogue in the moment that we might say, and Jeff would sort of give his input. Then, when we were on set, basically the first three takes were like rehearsal where we were improvising, and Jeff was coming in and saying, "Great, say exactly what you said but at the end add this," or, "Don't say any of that."

So what it turned out to be was minimalizing everything. Our instincts as actors, I felt, was to talk and talk and talk and talk when improvising, and Jeff would come in and say, "Less, less, less."

Molly Shannon: Which was great, yeah.

Alison Brie: But it was interesting because we had input in terms of what our characters were saying and putting it in our characters' voices, and then Jeff would come and put in his vision for the movie and that scene, and really guide us with a heavy hand. And there were definitely rules about the way we were talking, it wasn't just like we're all talking contemporarily. There were things we could not say like “cool” or “you guys”—things that he thought would pull the audience out of it. It was really about creating our own unique world that was neither here nor there.

Can you describe your characters from your perspectives?

Alison Brie: I think that Alessandra is a character who comes from money, though now she's learning that her family's money is dwindling, but she has been set up as a little rich bitch at this convent. We learned from Jeff and from a book I read about medieval nunneries and things like that, that there would be this hierarchy within convents where women who came from more renowned families did have larger rooms, they didn't have to do the chores that other nuns had to do, and you see that hierarchy play out between the nuns in this movie, where Kate [Micucci] and Aubrey's characters are doing the laundry and sweeping the basement and things like that, and my character's not asked to do those things and she kind of lords it over them a little bit. We then we see her later on though where she is learning to be a better person.

She's also a very romantic character. She's fantasized about a man coming and saving her from this life that she's been exiled to, and I think she's always thought that she would not be at the convent her entire life but just for a brief while, while waiting to be married off. So when her father comes at the beginning of the movie and lets her know that that is not going to happen, that's a huge blow to her. I think her world shatters and she's in a deep despair until discovering this new, exciting character, played by Dave [Franco].

And what I love about the introduction of Dave's character to the film is that all three of these nuns get to play out their desires on him in different ways. You kind of see all the stuff that they're struggling with, and they use him to play it out and so it's very specific to each character.

And Molly, you have a nice romance with John [C. Reilly] in this, where I thought you guys shared some lovely scenes together. What was it like working with him?

Molly Shannon: Well, John and I have been friends for many, many years. We met years ago on Never Been Kissed and we became fast friends, and then we went on to do Year of the Dog together, and a few other films too. He's just so talented and such a great actor, and the amazing thing about John is how much he cares about acting. Like Alison is the same way too. But with John, I think it was comfortable for both of us because we truly are really good friends in real life, and we really love one another and we have a close bond.


In case you missed it, check here to read Heather's previous coverage of The Little Hours.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.