For three gleefully loopy seasons, Alia Shawkat elicited laughs as a precocious teen on the brilliant-but-canceled Arrested Development. Now she trades silly gags for serious drama in Lifetime's Not Like Everyone Else (premiering tonight at 9 pm/ET). Based on the real-life story of Brandi Blackbear a black-clad Tulsa teenager who was falsely accused of being a witch shortly after the Columbine massacre the TV-movie gives Shawkat a chance to show off her dramatic chops. TVGuide.com chatted with the 17-year-old about high school, witch hunts and the Emmy nominations.
TVGuide.com: Hello, Alia [pronouncing it like the name of the late singer Aaliyah]? I didn't just butcher your name, did I?
Alia Shawkat: Actually it's pronounced "AH-lee-yah" [with the accent on the first syllable], but don't worry about it. I don't even remember how to say it anymore.
TVGuide.com: I was very impressed with both your performance and your all-black wardrobe in Not Like Everyone Else.
Shawkat: Thanks. I actually kept those pants I was always wearing. I use them, like, every day.
TVGuide.com: Did you get to meet the real Brandi Blackbear?
Shawkat: She came to visit the set, but she was very introverted and shy. I tried to talk to her, but I didn't want to be the actor who's like, "Hey, what's going on? I'm playing you in this movie. Let's talk!" It must have been so awkward for her. I can't imagine coming to a set where somebody's making a movie about one of the worst experiences of my life.
TVGuide.com: Do you know what she's currently doing?
Shawkat: She's still in Tulsa, and I believe she still does her artwork, but I know that she stopped writing because of what happened. Her dad said that a lot of the kids who were at her high school still won't let her live it down.
TVGuide.com: That's really sad. It's incredible that someone could be accused of witchcraft in this day and age.
Shawkat: That's what I was saying! In the 1600s, all right. But this happened in the '90s. It's unbelievable.
TVGuide.com: Were you at all miserable in high school?
Shawkat: Somewhat. I went to a very small private school there were, like, 12 kids in my class and I would be gone six months out of the year working, so I'd come back and wouldn't really know anyone. I hate to admit it, but I used to have lunch in the bathroom by myself. Just going back into that school, I get a sickly feeling.
TVGuide.com: Lots of kids feel persecuted in high school, but Brandi's story is really extreme. Do you think she would have had a different experience if she had lived in a less conservative state?
Shawkat: Definitely. We're very spoiled living on the coasts. It's hard to think about how different the whole environment is in the rest of the country. Like, my dad is Arabic and my mom is white, and when they go to the South they get stared at because they're a mixed-race couple. Not everyone is like that, of course, but there are people who live there and that's their view because that's how they were raised. They're the kind of people who thought Arrested Development was evil.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of Arrested Development, what did it feel like when you heard that the show had finally, definitively been canceled?
Shawkat: It wasn't a surprise. We were in limbo the entire time we were on the air. We were never really assured a second or a third season.
TVGuide.com: But after Fox canceled the show, it must have been doubly disappointing when creator Mitchell Hurwitz then turned down an offer from Showtime to keep the series going.
Shawkat: Mitch talked to us about it. While it was kind of sad, I feel the three seasons we did were perfect. If we had kept going, we would have had to beg people to watch the show, which would have been pathetic. We have great fans who love and appreciate the show, and I feel bad for them because they won't be able to see where these characters could have gone. But it was a good time to stop, and everyone was really understanding about it.
TVGuide.com: Do you think there might be an Arrested movie at some point? The final episode implied as much when your character, Maeby, tried to sell the rights to the Bluth story to Ron Howard.
Shawkat: Mitch actually recently told us that there is a good possibility for a movie, and that he's talking to Ron Howard about it.
TVGuide.com: You and your Arrested "cousin," Michael Cera, both appeared on another beloved but ratings-challenged series this past March, Veronica Mars. Will your characters reappear next season?
Shawkat: The creator [Rob Thomas] was a huge fan of Arrested, and he told us that he would love to have us back. But I know that Michael is busy and I'm in Vancouver right now, and we haven't officially been approached about anything. But it was fun to do.
TVGuide.com: It's a fun show. Of course, it failed to snag any Emmy nods. You must be happy in a bittersweet sort of way that Arrested earned its third straight nomination for outstanding comedy series.
Shawkat: Yeah, and it was great that Will [Arnett] got nominated, too. I have to admit, I smiled a little bit when I found out that Desperate Housewives didn't get nominated. They always steal, like, every award from us, and it's so frustrating.
TVGuide.com: Do you plan on attending the Emmys?
Shawkat: I don't know. Maybe I'll just go for kicks and be really obnoxious!