Paper Magazine Interview
Given that she’s known for playing sarcastic, dry-humored April Ludgate on Parks & Recreation as well as other deadpan rolls in Judd Apatow’s Funny People and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, viewers might be surprised to watch Aubrey Plaza shed a few tears in her latest film, Safety Not Guaranteed. The flick, which opened last Friday, sees the actress as a magazine intern who assists a reporter (PAPER’s 2012 Beautiful Person Jake Johnson) with tracking down — or stalking — an eccentric man in Seattle (Mark Duplass) who’s posted a classified ad looking for a companion with whom to time-travel. Here, we chat with Plaza about the film, her character’s future on Parks and Rec and some great advice Amy Poehler once gave her.
So you just got back from Romania where you were shooting a movie?
Yeah, I just got back a couple of days ago.
How was it?
It was great but it was a really short trip. I was there for almost a week. Even though I’m a small part in that movie [The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman], it was a really cool experience. I shot with Shia LaBeouf. I think he’s an amazing actor.
Have you seen the new music video from Sigur Rós where Shia goes full-frontal?
Only in my dreams have I seen that. No, I haven’t seen it yet but he told me about it.
Would you ever do an artsy music video? Or, for that matter, would you do nudity on-camera? You haven’t had to do that yet, if I’m not mistaken?
No, no. I’ve been in my underwear and I’ve done one scene where my bathing suit top supposedly flies off and I’m topless but you only see me from behind so no, I haven’t been blessed with a naked part yet. It’s hard to say though. I don’t have any rules about anything so it’s more like, “if it happens, it happens.” I’m definitely the first one to say that I have no idea what will happen or what I will do next. So…maybe.
Let’s talk about Safety Not Guaranteed, which came out last week. How did the role come about?
The writer, Derek Connolly, actually wrote the script with me in mind, hoping that I would like it. He told me that he saw Funny People and he was inspired specifically by that performance. When I got the script, I really liked it so I immediately told them I wanted to do it, which is not how it always happens because scripts are not usually good…a lot of them are not good.
And it’s not everyday that a writer writes a part specifically for an actor.
Totally. I was so flattered. That said, I did have an immense feeling of pressure about living up to his expectations of what he thought I was going to do because I basically went up to Seattle to shoot the movie and no one had seen me read it or do anything. I did a lot of work [beforehand] because I felt like I had to prove myself.
One of the central storylines in the movie is about how you and your colleagues stalk Mark Duplass’ character. Have you ever stalked anybody?
I have to be honest and say that I think in high school, my two friends and I stalked the principal a couple of times. We followed her home and sat in the car outside of her house. Really unexciting. It was the most boring stakeout in the world. Nothing happened at all. I think we ate McDonald’s in the car.
Have you ever stalked a romantic interest?
No. Boring answer.
A lot of people have been talking about the fact that Safety Not Guaranteed shows a character with a broader emotional spectrum than some of the other parts you’re known for playing — these droll, sarcastic, dry-humored roles. How similar or different do you think you are to your deadpan counterparts?
I can be very sarcastic and dry. Actually, when I was in Romania, one of my scene partners was this British actor and he couldn’t believe how dry I was. He was like [does British accent], “You’re so dry!” And that was just me, not in character. But I think when I’m up against a floppy-haired, quirky, happy British person, I must seem dryer than normal. I am sarcastic and whatever but that’s one part of me and some people don’t even see that side of me at all. Other than that, my sense of humor is the same. I’ve only done one character up until now where her sense of humor was totally different from mine.
Which one was that?
The character I play in The To-Do List, which was called The Handjob at first. It’s a movie that hasn’t come out yet but will come out next year.
What can you tell us about it?
I play this character who basically is obsessed with homework and achievements and she takes the summer before college and makes a list of all the sexual things she needs to learn how to do with guys so she’s prepared for college because she’s been told that she will be unprepared if she doesn’t figure all that stuff out first. She treats it like a homework assignment but accidentally becomes a raging slut because she’s really…good at homework. That character’s not like me at all. She takes everything literally and is very earnest. That was actually really fun to play because I’m not like that.
What were you like in high school?
In high school I was actually President of Student Council, president of a lot of things and always wanting to be in a leadership position. So I do have similarities with the character there, which is what I used in the movie. I was definitely involved in high school. I was popular but not in any cool way.
You were the “involved girl.”
I was friends with all the teachers. The teachers loved me.
Are you in touch with any of these teachers?
Yeah. I have one, my drama teacher, Mrs. Lynch, who I see every Christmas during the holidays. She’s very proud. She’s awesome. I did a lot of theater outside of school at the community theater so there are people there that I still keep in touch with. My dad is actually organizing a screening of Safety Not Guaranteed in July and we’re gonna throw a screening party fundraiser for the community theater that I used to perform at. So there you go. I’m still involved. I’m still trying to organize activities for everyone.
Switching gears a little, let’s talk about Parks & Recreation. What would you like to see happen to your character, April, next season?
I have no idea what’s going to happen. They haven’t told me anything. I know that Leslie Knope is going to be taking over City Council because she won the election. So that leaves a gaping hole in the Parks Department, and I have a feeling that April’s going to have to assume a lot of new responsibilities. I’m hoping so because I think it would be pretty hilarious if she ended up taking over the Parks Department after starting five years ago as a lowly intern who hated everyone. I think that might be the direction we’re heading but I have no idea for sure.
Have you been at all surprised by the reception the show has gotten over the years? It has such a rabid, cult following. Did you anticipate that?
No, I really didn’t. We’ve all felt like at any moment, the rug is gonna get pulled out from underneath us because our ratings aren’t spectacular like some shows. You always feel like you’re struggling but then recently in the past couple of years, out of nowhere, we realized that “Wait a minute, people are actually into this even though the numbers aren’t reflecting that.” That was a huge surprise to me. It’s really hard to have perspective on things that you do on-camera or whatever. But at the same time, I’m not surprised because I think our cast is really special and Amy [Poehler] especially sets the bar high and she’s so good and she’s such a good person. Everyone on the show loves each other and I think that’s palpable. People can actually tell when they watch it. It’s a good vibe.
Has Amy given you any notable advice, from one comedienne to another?
One time she told me to “smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.” I say that to myself every morning when I wake up.