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Three Horny Nuns Storm Sundance

A convent of nuns are having a hard time keeping their vow of celibacy in ‘The Little Hours.’ Molly Shannon, Alison Brie, and Kate Micucci talk their wild Sundance sex comedy.

Sundance

On the day of the Chelsea Handler-led satellite Women’s March at the Sundance Film Festival, as the last frozen demonstrators peel off Park City’s Main Street, cheeky signs in tow, I’m sitting down with Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, and Kate Micucci, who along with Aubrey Plaza are the leads of the raucous festival premiere The Little Hours—a film about women who have had enough of their repression and summon the courage to explore their sexuality.

Sure, the women happen to be a bunch of horny nuns in the 14th century, but the story’s resonance is undeniable, even if we’re technically gathered to talk about an irreverent sex comedy in which three medieval women of the cloth try to bang Dave Franco.

The Little Hours is writer-director Jeff Baena’s (Life After Beth) extremely loose adaptation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron—as in, basically, just that one tale about the nuns having a hard time keeping their vows of celibacy, and with a swearing, clothes-ditching, improv-heavy cast allowed to keep their anachronistic American accents in the service of prime, filthy comedy.

Brie is the depressive Sister Alessandra, who has no real interest in the pure life, but is waiting for her father to find her a husband and finally spring from the convent. Micucci’s Sister Ginevra is a busybody, and Plaza’s Sister Fernanda the mischievous rebel.

Don’t be fooled by the habits and countenances of serenity they’re donning when you first meet them. Soon all piety is discarded, as they start berating a gardener who wishes them good morning. “Don’t fucking talk to us,” they spit, hurling turnips at him and calling him the worst insult they can think of: a Jew.

When Franco’s wayward servant stumbles upon the convent, the nuns undergo a bit of a spring awakening, and through their seduction uncover truths about themselves: one might be a lesbian, one might be a witch, one might just want to get boned already, and, yes, one might even be that dirty word: a Jew.

“I was raised Catholic in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Shannon, who plays Mother Superior, keeping warm between Brie and Micucci on a sofa. “It was very repressed, in terms of secrets and sexuality. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I really related to the material in terms of how much it’s been going on.”

Minutes later, Shannon is athletically spinning a yarn, SNL’s Sally O’Malley style, about her childhood fascination with nuns, pretending her Barbie Dreamhouse was a convent and her dolls were confessing to a priest played by Stretch Armstrong—pausing to salivate a bit at the memory of the buff, malleable toy. Adopting that very Molly Shannon-y voice when she says something a bit naughty, she coos: “He’s so big and sexy.”

“Basically, I was a deviant Catholic girl who was questioning everything,” she says. “I just love any material about that.” Plus, as she also says, “A convent is a great place to use great, talented women.”

Two of those talented women join her to discuss Little Hours, repression, the mad pleasures of spending a month pretending to be nuns in rural Italy, and why, despite everything I just wrote, their film is so much more than Nuns Gone Wild.

When this is pitched to you, how do you wrap your head around a movie like this?

Alison Brie: I don’t think you do. It sounded unlike anything I had heard. The idea of nuns. The idea of doing something set in this time period. This couldn’t be more different than something I even thought I would do.

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Molly Shannon: I went out with Jeff. He was like: “I have a great idea. It’s going to take place in a convent in the 14th century. It’s going to be you, Aubrey, Kate Miccuci, and I was like, “Great!” And I just think being a performer, I was like, a convent is a great place to use great, talented women. When you try to think of vehicles for a lot of funny women, talented women, great actresses, I think that’s one of the best.

Brie: Even when this film was pitched as a comedy, it was never just a comedy. I feel like there are so many other aspects to the movie. I feel like it’s so exciting to see people react to it because it’s kind of bizarre!

Shannon: And I was raised Catholic in Cleveland, Ohio. It was very repressed, in terms of secrets and sexuality. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I really related to the material in terms of how long this has been going on. How long there were secrets and people that couldn’t be themselves. Eventually that stuff has to come out. You can’t be that repressed for that long without it eventually exploding out. So I love those themes of secrets, sexuality, repression, desire, lesbian sex, gay sex, how it’s always been around but it was kept secret so there’s no studies. I just find that so fascinating.

As far as how “filthy,” “raunchy,” and “vulgar” to take it, how much of that were you aware of when you signed on?

Brie: I think that was a big part of the discussion when we talked about the movie. A major thing that Jeff talked about when pitching it was the idea that in the 14th century a lot of women who became nuns, it was just circumstantial. It was political. It was because they were the youngest daughter, or their family didn’t have a lot of money, or they just wanted to be in good favor with the church. It was not a lot about women just being devout and loving God and wanting to be there to serve God.

They may have not even wanted to be there, let alone live according to those vows.

Brie: Right. So I think it was the biggest thing about the movie—this is gonna be a sexy movie, a sexual movie. It’s a lot about these nuns kind of doing bad things and drinking and swearing and having sex with each other, or with other people. I like that kind of stuff. I always want something that’s edgy and pushing the envelope in a certain way, especially in this context. I especially like the way that nudity is used in the movie, too. It feels very organic. It feels like the natural progression of the movie. These women have so much sexual energy that’s pent up that they want to release. When you finally start seeing naked bodies in the movie after seeing it so chaste for such a long time, it’s such a wonderful release.

I guess Kate could speak to that.

Shannon: Kate really had to go for it.

Kate Micucci: I had a choice of merkins, and I was like, “What’s the biggest one? Let’s go with that.” Just taking off the habit and seeing our hair, that seems almost as scandalous in a way as the nudity later on. You’re so used to seeing these faces without anything else. When Alison reveals her hair it’s like, “Whoa!” But yeah, as far as my nude scene, we were moving really fast one night to do a whole bunch of stuff, so I didn’t have time to think about it. It was just, “Here we go!”

How much psyching up did it take to do a scene when you’re group-bullying a gardener and spitting on him and throwing things at him?

Brie: Zero psyching up. I feel like we were let’s do it. I think it’s very easy, as evidenced in reality all the time that the pack mentality is a very strong thing. My character never really releases as much as other women in the movie, so when we were shooting scenes like that I loved it. So I was really excited to let loose. It’s like an hour after when you go, did I see anything really horrible? I said a lot of Jew jokes. Is my mom gonna be pissed? Even in hindsight, you’re like, “Oh God…”

Molly, earlier you mentioned growing up Catholic. Given the themes and the behavior of the nuns in this film, what sort of considerations did any of you have about playing religious figures in this way? Was there ever any trepidation about that?

Shannon: Growing up I was always fascinated with nuns. I used to play Barbie dolls and would have Catholic themes with the Barbies. I would use Stretch Armstrong as the priest and would build confessionals with the Barbie Dreamhouse. My Barbie doll would be a nun and have to pray for forgiveness from Stretch Armstrong, the sexy, muscular…

Brie: (Laughs) Oh my god!

Shannon: Growing up I was always like, he’s so big and sexy we’ve got to use him with the Barbies! Because, ugh, Ken. So basically I was a deviant little Catholic girl who was questioning everything. I’m not a practicing Catholic. I cannot. I was raised to think sex was so bad. I remember being so fascinated with Sister Rosemary, this nun who taught us, and we would get extra credit to go to pray at her convent after school. We would sit and pray and I would look at her just like, “This is fascinating.” And then later she had left the church and was seen on the golf course with a miniskirt. She flipped her habit off, and left the church and was like whooping it up with men. So I really celebrated that.

Micucci: That’s amazing.

Shannon: I just remember the first time my very close girlfriend told me she was gay and her mother threw her phone across the room and I thought, “This is so exciting!” I was just so excited about the truth coming out, for reasons I don’t want to get into right now. But I want to write a book about it someday. But I remember feeling a celebration of sexuality and truth bursting out. That’s why I relate to the material. I feel like this stuff has been around for so long, but there’s no studies on it because people kept it secret. It makes me so sad. I feel like nobody benefits from being dragged behind these secrets, but I just love any material about that. Such a long answer.

Micucci: I was thinking when you were saying that—I also grew up Catholic. You see the presentation of the church but I always tried to look behind the door to where the priest goes behind the scenes. So I think that’s a cool thing about this movie. You are seeing a behind-the-scenes. Growing up you just see the service.

What was the shoot in Italy like?

Shannon: It was the best. We all ate and drank wine, but I never felt healthier and thinner. The wine tasted like water, and you felt fantastic the next day. Right?

Micucci: There’s something about the air, too. I just felt so energized all the time. It just seems clean.

Shannon: The food is so fresh. The olive oil.

Brie: All of our skin was looking really nice. I feel like it was the olive oil. Just drinking gallons of olive oil.

Shannon: It’s really like a work vacation because you’re all together. You’re isolated in this hotel in the country, and you’re all going out to dinner. You’re going out to dinner more than if you were shooting in L.A.

Brie: The vibe of the movie is so unique that I feel like we all were going a little crazy together and just living in this world. I didn’t even realize until the last week of shooting when Nick Offerman and Adam Pally and Lauren Weedman came in, and they were all like, “You guys, something weird is happening.” We were like, “You’re here! Welcome! We’ve all been taking off our clothes and drinking wine every night...”