Alia Shawkat has been acting since the age of 9, appearing in ads, the movie Three Kings and the TV series State of Grace before playing precocious Maeby Funke on Arrested Development made her a kid star.
But unlike a lot of child actors whose work dries up post-adolescence, Shawkat has remained eminently employable on the big and small screens. She follows recent appearances in the indies Green Room and Intervention with an upcoming spot on Drunk History as Alexander Hamilton and a role in 20th Century Women, opening Christmas Day.
Now she returns to TV in the already critically acclaimed TBS series Search Party, which will air two new episodes every night this week beginning at 11/10c. A hybrid of satire and mystery, the show focuses on four self-absorbed millennial friends in Brooklyn and a missing acquaintance from college named Chantal Winterbottom. Shawkat stars as Dory, whose deep dissatisfaction with life leads her to an obsession with finding this girl she barely knew. Intrigued, we asked her all about it and other stuff.
“I’ve had a nice fluid thing and people can still get lost in the characters I play. It’s ‘that girl looks familiar but I don’t know where from.’ ”
What attracted you to Search Party?
It’s very different than anything we’ve seen before. It’s about characters who are changing so much. At first, they seem kind of terrible. You’re like, “I don’t really care if anything happens to these people.” But watching, you get more understanding of why they are this way. Throughout the season, all of the characters change so much—we get to know more about their histories and their search for their own identity, whether it’s inside themselves or outside themselves.
What did you like about Dory?
I liked that she was kind of confused. Dory, at first, seems like the most delicate, walked‑over person, and she changes, but not necessarily for the best. A lot of characters on TV are like, ‘I have my shit together, this is who I am, accept me for who I am.’ She doesn’t know who she is at all. She thinks, ‘If I disappeared, would anyone care? What impact am I even making?’ Trying to find Chantal takes Dory out of herself. She’s finding herself through finding this girl.
Has the loss of someone ever impacted you in a similar way?
One of my best friends died this year, and that was pretty intense. It made me reevaluate a lot.
You started acting when you were a kid. Are you glad you did?
I am. I don’t think it works for everybody. As a kid I was lucky to get involved in really great things, but then after a while I was just saying yes to jobs. I took a year off when I was 18 because I was starting to doubt whether this was the career I wanted. I reevaluated and realized I actually love being on a set, and I know the kind of work I want to do.
Was it tough to make the transition to more adult roles?
Not really, because I have been working for a long time and I’ve had a nice fluid thing and people can still get lost in the characters I play. It’s ‘that girl looks familiar but I don’t know where from.’
What do people recognize you for most? Arrested Development?
Yes, I am most identified with Maeby.
What are your memories of that show?
It reminds me of my childhood. It was such a great time. Michael Cera is one of my best friends, so it reminds me of my friendship.
You’re also an artist and singer. What’s your game plan?
I’ve sung jazz for the last several years with a band in New Orleans. At the moment I have too much work acting-wise and don’t have the time to make a record and give it full focus. But I love singing, especially singing live, and would love to do more. I paint graphic cartoons. I have a website and I’m doing a show in New York next year. I’m also making my own films now. It’s a challenge and I really enjoy doing it.