Alison Brie is simply irresistible, though her magnetism works in slow, odd ways. Hollywood has tried to oppose the South Pasadena, California, native on two occasions. The operative word being tried. First, she endured three auditions and executive indecision to win the recurring role of stuck-up Trudy Campbell on AMC’s awards season beast Mad Men in 2007. Then came Community, the sharply written NBC comedy costarring Brie as the anxiety-ridden high school dropout Annie Edison; again, she was repeatedly passed upon before ultimately landing the job last year. “You may not love me at first, but I’ll win you over one way or another,” says Brie, giggling. “It’s better that way. It shows that I have more to offer than just instant satisfaction.”

The on-the-surface package is indeed something. Possessing a natural cuteness that exudes girl-next-door accessibility, Brie is sexy without even trying, a beneficial quality for any actress. Yet, as her strong and diverse chops seen in Mad Men (the fourth season of which begins airing in July) and Community prove, she’s more than meets the eye. “She almost looks cartoonishly pretty, like a Disney character, but she’s got so much depth as an actress,” says Community creator Dan Harmon. “She can hit the jokes if you want her to do Comedy 101, but then she can just as easily transition into Emmy mode. That’s rare.”

Growing up in the tranquil suburbs of South Pasadena, Brie loved to perform. Along with older sister Lauren, two years her senior, the younger sibling would regularly put on shows for family and neighbors, her favorite being a fake advertisement for “edible wieners,” during which she’d wear only a trenchcoat with a hot dog poking out between her legs. When around friends, she’d stage faux music videos, usually for TLC songs, Brie always owning the Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes bits. “I just loved being the center of attention,” she says. “The great thing about it was that my parents didn’t think I was strange. They embraced how energetic I was, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Brie’s mother, Joan, a child development specialist, saw the natural born performer in her daughter, and, with the consent of her musician husband, Terry Charles, placed their precocious child in theater classes at the age of seven. Brie fell in love with the stage immediately, actively participating in South Pasadena High School’s drama program before enrolling into the California Institute of the Arts theater division in 2001. There Brie took part in Peach Blossom Fan, an intense stage show about a Chinese whorehouse — yes, a Chinese whorehouse. Complete with fight choreography, Chinese fan-dances and stiletto heels, it was an intense yet fruitful experience. “I learned a lot, especially about being fearless as an actor and seeing how far you’re willing to go,” she says of the production. “Fearlessness is absolutely one of the most important aspects of acting.”

After graduating from CalArts, Brie’s resumé expanded slowly but surely, with bit roles on Hannah Montana and a slew of low-budget films. It wasn’t until she auditioned for the 1960s-set drama Mad Men, however, back in 2007 that the aspiring thespian’s career accelerated. She fell in love with the character of Trudy Campbell from the moment she read the script, particularly the ways in which Trudy interacts with her husband, advertising hotshot Pete (played by Vincent Kartheiser). “Trudy is great because, like myself, she can be very flip, but she can actually feel very deeply,” says Brie. “She’s quite manipulative, but that’s what’s great about her, the fact that she’s intelligent enough to be manipulative.”

A great script and a fascinating character — what more could a small-screen newbie ask for? A call back, perhaps. Two long, stressful weeks went by before Brie was brought back in for a second audition, and she still didn’t get an offer. “Matt Weiner [the creator of Mad Men] pretty much told me later that I didn’t get the job,” she recalls. “They did a whole other casting and still didn’t find an [actress] they liked, so Matt said, ‘Well, how about that Brie girl?’ ” Laughing, she adds, “You could say he settled, but it worked for me!”

The tryout process for Community two years later wasn’t any less nerve-racking. In Harmon’s eyes, the show — centered on a study group of misfits in an inconspicuous community college — needed a racially varied cast to drive home its authenticity. Caucasian leads such as Joel McHale (host of E!’s The Soup) and Chevy Chase (your favorite 1980s funny films) were in place, so Harmon wanted Annie to be anything but white. Brie’s charms eventually convinced him otherwise. Now, with the second season of Community scheduled to begin shooting in July, Harmon can’t imagine any other lady wearing Annie’s tightly buttoned sweater vests. “I’m good friends with Jack Black, and I’d compare Alison to him in a way,” says Harmon of her strongest attributes. “With both of them, you get the sense that this person is very comfortable in their own skin. There’s nothing more charismatic  than that.”

On the Community set, Brie is the “bubble in the champagne,” spontaneously kicking freestyle raps between takes and smiling more often than not. With a pair of top-shelf television shows keeping her busy, who can blame her? “Coming from a theater background, TV was always the last thing I ever wanted to do,” she says. “I was naïve, I guess, because I couldn’t be any happier with my career right now.”

Being irresistible has its advantages.

(This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of ANTENNA.)