Actress stars in 'Whip It,' upcoming HBO project

In 2006, after Fox set “Arrested Development” adrift, Alia Shawkat found herself searching for her own moorings. The Southern California native, who has been acting since age 9 and sparkled as Maeby Funke in the ultra-witty cult laugher, moved to New York, attended school, dropped out, dabbled in art and auditioned occasionally.

“My focus was not as strong as when I was younger,” she explains.

Now the 20-year-old thesp can be seen alongside Ellen Page in Drew Barrymore’s “Whip It”; she will appear in the Miguel Arteta-directed indie comedy “Cedar Rapids”; and she is co-penning HBO pilot “Stitch N’ Bitch” with Page and Sean Tillmann.

It sounds like her focus has regained strength.

“This is the kind of career where one day you’re doing so well and the next day you feel a little lost,” she explains. “I don’t know that I can say confidently that I’m on my way, but I feel really good about doing good parts. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such exciting roles.”

Early in the audition process for “Whip It,” Shawkat and Page became friends, which set off a chain of events. Shawkat met Arteta through Page. Then Page, Shawkat and Tillmann decided to go to Amsterdam to get away from familiar surroundings and write the HBO pilot, which quickly went from diary entries to script to power meeting at the cabler. The roller-derby queens in “Whip It” don’t even move that fast.

“They liked having female comedians as leads,” Shawkat says of “Stitch N’ Bitch,” which she describes as “kind of like a twisted ‘Laverne and Shirley'” in which two hipster girls move from Brooklyn to L.A.’s Silver Lake area in search of artistic fulfillment.

“On American TV, there just aren’t a lot of female leads in comedy, especially at the peak of all the Judd Apatow stuff.”

In 2005, when Fox’s ax was poised above “Arrested Development,” Shawkat said in an interview that HBO would have been the ideal destination for that show. That didn’t happen, but a different dream is coming true.

“I feel very lucky,” she says.


Lucky Break: “State of Grace.” “It was the first TV show I did and was like a girls’ ‘Wonder Years’ and Frances McDormand was me grown up.”

Favorite Film: “Whip It.” “I’ve made friends to last a lifetime, and it was the most creatively charged set I’ve ever been on.”

Five Years From Now, I Will Be…: “Loving life.”

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