Karen Valby
April 10, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Anna Faris’ grumpy white cat, Mrs. White, once had an acting career and starred in the movie Stuart Little. At the moment, Mrs. White sits in a patch of sun on the floor of the actress’ bright Hollywood Hills living room. Faris adopted the cat when everyone else in town had written her off as a diva past her prime. She can’t resist revealing that Mrs. White, whose framed picture hangs in the hallway, insists on using the dining room rug for a litter box — and that her fluffy tail looks choppy because Faris had to groom it with scissors after the cat suffered a particularly clingy case of diarrhea. Faris’ retelling of the story is at once charming and cheerfully gross, which is a lot like the specific brand of comedy that has made her famous.

Starting in 2000 with her first of four dizzy, wide-eyed turns in the Scary Movie franchise, Faris has made a career out of gamely playing the butt of the joke. She appeared as a deliciously vapid movie star in Lost in Translation, a nymphomaniac singer in Just Friends, and, in last year’s surprise delight The House Bunny, a wannabe centerfold who gets kicked out of the Playboy Mansion for having the nerve to turn 27 years old. Now, in the dark comedy Observe and Report, Faris plays a grating makeup saleswoman who in one scene gets so wasted on tequila shots and prescription pills that she ends up drooling vomit out of the side of her mouth. Her shamelessness enchanted costar Seth Rogen. ”She would always be, like, coughing or sneering or making these gross noises,” he says. ”It was amazing.” Says John Krasinski, her costar in 2007’s indie stoner flick Smiley Face, ”She’s doing some of the bravest things I’ve ever seen in comedy. She’s got guts I don’t think many people have.”

Faris’ parents, who live in the same small Washington town where she grew up, sometimes have to steel themselves for her movies. ”My mom wants me to play characters who are role models,” Faris says with a sigh. ”My dad is amazing, though. He’ll tell her, ‘Guys don’t get criticized for playing the bad guy or the goofy guy. She should be able to play whomever she wants.”’

So where does a petite, pretty 32-year-old woman with a tremendous gift for physical comedy fit into Hollywood’s current definition of funny? The genre’s ruled by Everydudes — Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow’s snuggly crew of beanbag men like Rogen and Jason Segel — and women are relegated to the bland role of pert sidekick. ”What is that all about?” Faris wonders. ”Is it that funny women are scary?” Observe and Report is a rarity, partly because Faris’ character isn’t required to land a man. ”I didn’t have to flirt or be charming or plucky or clumsy or unintimidating. And it was so great to feel like ‘Oh, this is what guys in Hollywood get to do all the time!”’

Outside, on the deck of her pool, Faris opens a bottle of wine and describes her original idea for The House Bunny, which she executive-produced. ”At some point, these [Playboy Bunnies] have got to go. Why do you get kicked out? Because you won’t get the eighth boob job?” Faris pauses and politely insists on switching seats so her guest isn’t facing directly into the sun. ”Let’s say she’s addicted to meth and has to go back to her tiny Christian town in Alabama — and she has a horrible father and the whole town hates her.” Faris took her idea to the female writers of Legally Blonde. ”They came back a couple weeks later and were like, ‘So, we really like your character, but what if she becomes the house mom of a sorority?!”’

Faris didn’t whine about the plot’s redirection. ”I hadn’t opened a movie yet,” she says. ”My idea was not a sell, so I was on board.” Still, her newly sunny House Bunny character occasionally scraped at her nerves. ”There were definitely days when I was like, ‘Man, she makes me crazy, she’s so sweet and optimistic.”’

The success of the movie, which took in $48 million, propelled Faris into the constantly shifting ranks of women who can sell tickets. Now she wants to capitalize on the momentum and star in female-driven comedies, ones with parts for underused friends of hers like the stand-up comedian Dana Goodman (who played a butch sorority sister in The House Bunny). ”Boys get away with that stuff all the time. Nobody says, ‘Why would you cast your friend?’ That’d be amazing to have the power to cast exactly the people you want to work with.” Currently, she’s developing an idea about a drunk nanny (”Obviously, the rule is she can’t hurt any of the children”), as well as a semiautobiographical divorcée project tentatively called Girl Gone Wild.

In 2007, Faris and her then husband, actor Ben Indra, endured a sad and messy split. ”Next thing you know, I’m living in an apartment with potato chips and mustard and tons of beer,” she says. ”I wore this grubby Garfield T-shirt and these baggy jeans all the time. Personal hygiene? Nah. I would talk to my cat and say to her, ‘Oh, honey, tell me about it. I just don’t give a f—.’ I was drunk all the time. I would go to bars alone. Maybe I was giving off a weirdly aggressive vibe, which is why I couldn’t get anyone to have sex with me. I would talk to guys and be like, ‘Sooo, what’s your story? You wanna go out?’ If they turned me down, I’d be like, ‘So, what’s your friend like?’ It was a very selfish time in my life but also strangely liberating. I felt so weirdly empowered.”

Now she must convince a studio that moviegoers would actually root for such a sloppy female character. ”We see a lot of perfect women on film who want to attain it all,” says Faris. ”I want to do something that veers from that a little.” Good luck, says Rogen. ”I can be in movies smoking weed and dating high school girls and shooting people with machine guns and the studio doesn’t bat an eye,” he says. ”But as soon as a girl does something remotely unlikable, they say, ‘We don’t want a bitchy girl in the movie! No one wants to watch a bitch!”’

Asked if the divorcée project will inevitably end with a scene of the heroine walking down the aisle like a princess, Faris gasps. ”Oh no, I don’t want that.” There probably will have to be a love interest; she’s just hoping it never becomes the main plot. ”But it depends,” she says. ”It’s awful, but ultimately you have to get someone to give over $30 million.”

A truck door slams and Faris’ fiancé, Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt, starts singing, in Ozzy Osbourne’s squealing falsetto — ”Mama! Mama, I’m coming home!” — as he bounds up the front steps. Upon request, he brings over another bottle of wine and refills the glasses before pouring himself one. The couple plans to elope later this year, but he’s already wearing his new wedding band, which is an upgrade from the paper clips he used to wrap around his finger after they first got engaged.

When Pratt is asked to describe what he finds most charming about his fiancée on screen, Faris claps excitedly. ”She’s not just hired to play the hot girl,” he says. ”I mean obviously she’s a hottie, but she gets to put herself in these roles that typically only guys play.” His praise proceeds in a breathless rush. ”She’s willing to have a little yolk on her face to get a laugh….”

Faris crosses her eyes goofily, then singsongs in a bright and tinny voice, ”Most willing actress in town!”

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