Her deadpan brilliance has stolen the show inParks and Recreation, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World and Safety Not Guaranteed, Aubrey Plaza talks Judy Garland, Bill Murray and wanting to play a bad-ass witch with Indigo Clarke.
Hi Aubrey, how are you?
Aubrey Plaza: Hi Indigo, I’m good – I’m on a break from shooting now, I’ve only got three days left until I finish the film we’re doing, I’m still filming Parks and Recreation too so I’ve been busy!
Thanks for taking the time to chat! Where are you from originally – what was your childhood like?
Aubrey Plaza: I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, which I love and am really proud of - it’s the second smallest state in America and it was the first state. My family all basically live there or Philadelphia, I also have a ton of cousins in Puerto Rica because my dad’s Puerto Rican. My family is really big on both sides – my mum has six brothers and sisters and my dad has five, so I have a lot of cousins. I have two little sisters, so I grew up in a really great environment, with lots of family around.
What were you like as a little girl – were you a performer even back then?
Aubrey Plaza: I was a weird little child I think (laughs), I was shy and quiet. Then I started to come out of my shell at about 12 or 13 and got a little crazy, I loved to make people laugh. I always wanted to be an actor - actually, I always wanted to be a comedian, and on SNL!
Did you have any particular favourite actors or actresses growing up?
I was obsessed with Judy Garland. I would carry the VHS tapes of all her movies around with me… A Star is Born was my absolute favourite. That and The Wizard of Oz were appealing to me. I was really into movies, and loved the idea of making movies – I’d make home movies with my friends using a digital camera. I was really creative as a kid…
Where did you get your creativity from do you think, were your parents creative?
Aubrey Plaza: My mum is a lawyer and my dad is a financial advisor, so I didn’t get it from them! Although my mum totally got me into Saturday Night Live, I would always watch it with her growing up. My mum has a weird sense of humour, which I love, and I definitely got my sense of humour from her. SNL was the only show I was allowed to stay up late to watch, and the cast at that time of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey was really influential for me. I would be literally mesmerised while I watched it.
It’s amazing that you grew up loving SNL and Amy Poehler, and are now one of the key members of her show! How did you actually get your start?
Aubrey Plaza: Professionally nothing happened for me until I was 18, I always did community theatre though. I went to summer school at NYU and after that, it all happened really fast. I really used the internet to my advantage and made a web series, it was through that internet series I got an agent – and then she got me a reading for Judd Apatow’s ‘Funny Movie’, and it all started to take off quickly from there.
Were you in a lot of school plays?
Aubrey Plaza: I went to an all-girls Catholic school, it was really academic and didn’t have much of an arts focus – so there wasn’t really a drama department. I knew acting was what I wanted to do from a really young age, so I went outside of school to be in plays and get that experience.
Do you remember your first play, and your first part?
Aubrey Plaza: Yes, it was Cinderella!
Wow that’s a pretty amazing first play – were you Cinderella?!
Aubrey Plaza: (laughs) I was 12 or 13 at the time, and when I auditioned I really thought I had a good chance of getting the role of Cinderella – to do the lead was an appealing idea to me, but I got cast as one of the ugly step sisters. I remember the first night getting some laughs from the audience, and knowing then that this what I wanted to do, to make people laugh.
Who made you laugh?
Aubrey Plaza: I really was obsessed with Saturday Night Live, with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, so it is incredible I can now be in a TV show with Amy. I also loved Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, oh and Janeane Garofalo – she was the first stand up I ever saw live, and I totally fell in love with her and wanted to be her.
You grew up really liking strong female comedians…
Aubrey Plaza: Yeah I did always love female comedians, probably because I wanted to be one myself. I was fascinated by them and would research how they got onto Saturday Night Live, or how they became successful. It’s because of that research that I ended up moving to New York.
Was that when you joined the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre?
Aubrey Plaza: Yes, I was 18 and I did improv training there. You know Amy Poehler founded it? The improv program involves taking classes for a year before you perform.
Is it ever scary doing improv in front of an audience?
Aubrey Plaza: It’s so scary! It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever done besides stand-up. It’s really terrifying, I’d feel sick to my stomach every time I’d stand in front of the audience, but then when people start laughing it would make me feel okay. I feel like it’s so important to keep improvising and challenging yourself as a comedian, to not get lazy.
Do you do much improvisation on Parks and Recreation?
Aubrey Plaza: Yes we do, we don’t have to because the scripts are so good, but we do it to keep things fresh and to keep the energy levels up. What we do is film the scenes first staying close to the script, then we do a ‘fun run’ where we just have a great time and improvise, and sometimes these bits are used in the final edit.
How do you make a connection with the characters you play – do you have to like them to make them funny?
Aubrey Plaza: Yes I think so, if the character is unlikeable then it’s really challenging for me. I try to find something about them I can relate to, like a certain personality trait, and it helps me to understand the character and their actions.
We love your character in Parks and Recreation, April Ludgate. She’s so quirky and deadpan, and even sweet in a weird way. Do people assume you’re like her?
Aubrey Plaza: Yes! A lot of times people assume I’m exactly like her in real life – it happens all the time when I meet people. They’re surprised when they realise I’m not a total bitch (laughs), and that I’m actually nice. I’ve played other roles like April before too, and they’re not the nicest characters, so I have to tap into that part of me that can be a bit unapproachable or harsh to make the part work. It’s actually pretty cathartic to get it out!
Like Larry David playing his worst self in Curb Your Enthusiasm!
Aubrey Plaza: Totally, it definitely comes from within – you have to have those traits in you to a certain degree to be able to play them up and make them funny.
April is great because she can be hilariously rude, but there’s a sweetness to her as well…
Aubrey Plaza: Yeah I love how many layers she has. April is so fun to play because she has so many facets: she’s really smart but plays it down, she loves to be part of the office and loves her coworkers but never shows them that – it’s fun to play someone who is hiding how she really feels. There’s an element of mystery about her, which makes her constantly surprising.
Is there any character or part you’d love to play?
Aubrey Plaza: I have always had a fantasy to play a witch – no witch in particular, I just love the idea of playing a magical bad-ass witch. I’d also love to play someone that is so not like me at all… I have a lot of insecurities, as does everyone, so it’d be interesting to play a super-confident kind of femme fatale character. Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction!
Who is your favourite character you’ve played?
Aubrey Plaza: I’m just finishing a movie now that I’m the lead in, called ‘The Hand-job’. There’s only three days left of shooting! I play a girl who just graduated high-school and is a type A overachiever. She’s never had sex and so spends the summer learning how to do sexy stuff with guys. The character has been so much fun to play because she’s got no sense of irony or sarcasm – she treats sex like a high-school assignment. And because she’s an overachiever, she becomes a huge slut. Playing this character has been so fun and freeing for me, I’ve never done anything like this before. I was acting alongside Bill Hader who is hilarious too.
The character sounds like a sex-crazed Tracey Flick (Election)! Do you have a favourite all-time character or film?
Aubrey Plaza: Oh yeah, the character is kind of like Tracey Flick – she was a great character. The film I love most is A Star is Born, and then my favourite kind of comforting movie to watch would be Ghost Busters. I love Bill Murray’s character in it! Actually, I just love Bill Murray in anything. He is one of my all-time favourites. For sure he is one of my heroes.
And Ghost Busters has the best 80s soundtrack... What music do you listen to?
Aubrey Plaza: I really love music from the 60s and 70s. I’ve been listening to a lot of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen – actually, I just saw his last concert in Las Vegas which was amazing. I love Harry Nilsson too.
What do you think of fashion – does it play a role in your life?
Aubrey Plaza: It was never something I was that into until I started doing movies and going to press events, but now I’m really interested in it. I love looking at magazines, and it’s been interesting for me to realise I have a style of my own. I never thought I had a style or a certain type of taste, but I’m realising I definitely have clothing styles and colours I am drawn to.
Which designers do you like?
Aubrey Plaza: I love Phillip Lim because he makes some really lovely, simple pieces, and I’d say my style is pretty simple and casual. I love skinny jeans and a great t-shirt – that’s me.
Do you wear dresses too?
Aubrey Plaza: Yes I love dresses too, I really like that label Wren, do you know it? It’s great, super casual, comfortable and pretty. Rebecca Minkoff appeals to me too. I’ve noticed that I always buy the same kind of muted colours – grey, black, heather, pale blue. I like wearing dresses with flat shoes – I’m not really big on high heels.
You were in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' with Michael Cera, who is a total Lula favourite! What is he like, was it fun to work with him?
Aubrey Plaza: He is probably one of the funniest people I know, I’m really close with him, he’s really special to me. He is such an amazing actor, so talented and just has such perfect comedic timing. He is like a super genius too – he can play every instrument imaginable!
And it all began with his genius George Michael character in Arrested Development!
Aubrey Plaza: Oh you know Arrested Development?! Wow, yeah that was such an amazing show, so funny, and Michael was so so funny as George Michael.
What do you love the most about what you do?
Aubrey Plaza: I love absolutely everything about what I do! I love that I am getting paid to act crazy every day. It’s amazing to me that I get paid to laugh, and to make other people laugh. It is literally a dream come true. I just can’t say that enough. I’m excited every single morning when I wake up. I love movies, I’m in love with everything about making them and being a part of them – it’s just all amazing to me. I’m so lucky and I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve had so far – I still can’t believe it’s all happened.