It’s been a pretty good year for Carrie Brownstein. The fourth season of her and Fred Armisen’s hit series “Portlandia” is getting great reviews and has already been picked up by IFC for a fifth season. She’s also scheduled to make her big screen debut in the upcoming film “Carol” with Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara. And she’s writing a memoir and showing up in national ad campaigns in between giving tours of her northeast Portland home.
And like most Portlanders, Brownstein is ecstatic over the play of the Portland Trail Blazers this season, a season that started with Brownstein and Armisen shooting an episode of “Portlandia” with the players at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin.
Brownstein took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss the episode, which airs at 7 PM tonight on IFC and also features team owner Paul Allen and the BlazerDancers, acting with athletes, why there’s such an affinity for professional sports in Portland, her thoughts on the Trail Blazers’ season, clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2011 and if “Portlandia” might have played small role in the team’s success in 2013-14.
What are your thoughts on how the episode turned out and working working with the players, Paul Allen and the BlazerDancers?
Carrie Brownstein: I’ve seen the episode and it’s one of my favorites. We feel so fortunate that Paul Allen, the Trail Blazers and everybody who works for the team was so accommodating. The Dancers were wonderful. It was a very special day. It felt very intrinsic to Portland. It felt like a coming together of two entities that are fond of the city we live in and fond of the fans and support for the show and the Trail Blazers.
I think there’s just a common spirit between our show and the Trail Blazers franchise in that we really benefit from the support of the city and we’re very grateful for it. So it felt like a really nice combination. Both the show and the team are kind-hearted and we like being here in Portland. It just felt like a good way of kind of combining those things.
In regards to working with the players specifically, how do they do in these kind of situations? What are some of the qualities they bring to a comedic format like “Portlandia”? How do they come across on the screen?
Carrie Brownstein: I think, as any of the fans of the team will know, this is a lineup with a lot of chemistry, a lot of just natural affection toward one another as friends and as teammates and the team has obviously worked really well together. I think you can see that camaraderie off the court as well. We were privy to that in the practice facility locker room. It was five guys — Robin, Thomas, Damian, C.J. and LA — who get along, who like to kid each other, who are friends. It really was just an extension of that and I think, because they actually like each other and genuinely get along, we were able to just have a very loose and fun environment.
And they’re smart, funny guys. I think they are willing to poke fun at themselves and they have a self-awareness that really lends itself to improv and to comedy. We were really grateful to LA who had been on the show before, who I think kind of gave the guys a head’s up. “This is how it’s going to go. There’s a certain amount of silliness. Don’t be worried about coming off too serious.” Because it’s like, obviously these guys are intense athletes and I think there’s a way that they might not want to showcase a more frivolous side to their personalities but I think it just ended up being a really fun improv. Everyone was game and it just shows their generosity as people and as a team that they went along with it.
You work more often with actors and musicians than you do with athletes. Are their any similarities between the two? Is there a common thread or generality that they share by virtue of being performers?
Carrie Brownstein: Yeah, I think that athletes and artists and people who are required to reach a level of intensity in a performance under a very high-pressure situation, I think have that ability to kind of vacillate between being very present and being able to turn their brains off in a way where they’re able to kind of perform without thinking and that really lends itself to acting. You kind of have to be in that zone where you know what you’re required to do but then you have to kind of get outside of your thinking brain for a moment. It’s a strange kind of skill to have, but obviously these guys perform great feats on the court at every game.
So I think there is a similarity between athletes and any performer where you are just accessing this kind of strange mix of thinking and not thinking at the same time. With any of the athletes we’ve had on the show, whether it’s the Blazers or Martina Navratilova, these high-performance athletes, they’ve all been able to rise to the challenge because I think they’re used to that. They’re used to having to think outside the box and take risks. It was fun, and also, these are great guys. They’re as nice as everyone assumes they are. We’re lucky we have them in our city representing our city as a sports team. It was great.
Thursday’s episode isn’t the first time “Portlandia” has touched on sports in Portland. Why do you think it is that a city like Portland, which is often times considered and represented as high minded or intellectual, so enamored with their sports teams, which are often considered the opposite?
Carrie Brownstein: I think Portland is a very community minded city and I think people appreciate events or entities that bring people together under a spirt of optimism and celebration. I think that being a fan is one of the easiest ways to demonstrate a collective pull toward something. That feeling of collectively rooting for something, I think it embodies the positivity that Portland has.
So I think Portlanders really like being able to rally around a team. Whether it’s the Timbers or the Blazers, I think what they’re really celebrating is Portland. The teams represent the city and we’re people that love touting how good our city is. So it becomes part of this spirit of community. I think it’s about having civic pride and feeling like we’re a special city that’s worth noting.
And then we have these teams that are able to kind of become typical representations of that spirit. I’ve noticed that too, that’s there’s really no differentiation between loving Powell’s Books and loving the Trail Blazers or loving local food and loving the Timbers. It’s all part of this spirit of hopefulness and positivity.
Your thoughts on how the team has done this season and clinching a playoff spot for the first time in a couple of years. Maybe not a coincidence that, when the team has a “Portlandia” shoot at the beginning of the season, they are catapulted to a tremendous start?
Carrie Brownstein: Well, I’m not going to take any credit for that or clinching the playoffs! But I think, like any Blazers fan, I’m very happy that we clinched a playoff spot the other night. It’s been an exciting season. At the beginning of the season there was just this inevitability to them being at the top at the end, though it ended up being a wilder ride than we thought.
I think the team has show a lot of determination and kind of gotten over some of the hurdles that have plagued us in the past. They’ve gotten better at closing (games) though they still make it really scary for the fans sometimes. Like the game against New Orleans the other night. They cut the lead to four but then we clinched it. It’s been an exciting ride and I think they’re such an easy team to root for. They have such an intense spirit but they also really seem to be enjoying it.
But I think, as a fan, we enjoy it no matter what but we also want to win and there is just something about the Blazers were you really feel like they’re loving what they get to do. It’s been a really exciting season, it’s such a great team, a great group of guys. I love when the bench comes in and delivers. Fourth quarters are always really exciting. Sometimes they’re nail-biters, but it’s been a fun year as a fan of the team. I hope that we can get through the first round of the playoffs. That’s my main hope right now. Whether it’s Houston or the Clippers, I would love to see us get to the second round.
This is what I can say. I can say that “Portlandia” is having a great fourth season. I think we expanded our audience and people have responded really well, so if having the Blazers involved in “Portlandia” gives us any extra mojo, then they should make it past the first round. Plus, me and Fred’s characters gave them some really sound advice in this episode, so I think all they have to do is follow the advice and we should be seeing them in the championship really, really soon.