Name five actresses you assume participated in sports and other activities in high school, including being president of the student council. Aubrey Plaza’s not on that list, is she?
Despite the 27-year-old’s remarkably convincing, deadpan disregard for productivity in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” Plaza says in high school she was like Tracy Flick in “Election.”
“I was very Type-A,” says the Delaware native, who now lives in LA “near that grocery store.” Her senior year superlative? “Most Likely to Become President and Make Fun of Myself on ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
Plaza displays more determination and passion in her first big-screen starring role, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” opening Friday. She plays Darius, a Seattle Magazine intern who takes charge investigating an ad posted by a man (Mark Duplass) looking for someone to accompany him on a time-travel expedition.
After seeing Plaza’s dry, breakout turn in “Funny People,” Derek Connolly wrote “Safety Not Guaranteed” for her, creating the story from a real mid-1990s magazine ad. In “Safety” she’s funny as always, with extra helpings of subtle perception for both romance and lingering heartache.
Soon to be seen with Bill Murray and Charlie Sheen in “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” and starring in the sex comedy “The To-Do List” (with Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Bill Hader and Rachel Bilson), Plaza’s career is undeniably heating up. Right now, though, she’s shivering. “I keep asking them to make it warmer but they don’t know how,” says Plaza from a “very cold” conference room in Beverly Hills. “I’m freezing my ass off, and I’m just eating an entire bowl of grapes.”
When you meet fans do you sense that they expect to see in you the characters they see on screen? Gerard Butler told me fans ask him to kick them. Do fans want you to snap at them?
Yeah. I feel like people approach me with this attitude of, “Oh, this girl’s going to be a bitch to me.” Or, “She’s going to be super sarcastic” or, “She’s not even going to care” and I think it’s kind of funny. And sometimes I do kind of give that back, but it depends on what mood I’m in.
Has there been one interaction that stuck with you?
One time a little girl came up to me—I forget where I was—and she kind of just stared at me and I was like, “Hi,” and I leaned down and started talking to her and she was like, “You’re not mean!” And I was like, “No, I’m nice.” [Laughs.] And she was little, so it was funny to have a little person whittle you down to one word: “You’re not mean.”
And all just from saying hi.
Yeah. [Laughs.] She didn’t think I would even say hi to her.
You could have picked her up and thrown her over a fence.
That’s true. I could have. And I wanted to.
All interviews about you acknowledge if you’re actually like the characters you play. Why do you think that is? Stories about Kristen Stewart don’t talk about if she’s actually torn between vampires and werewolves.
I don’t know. Maybe the positive way for me to think about it is maybe I’m so convincing as these characters that people just assume that that’s me. But I’m really not sure. I think also the way that I came into the professional way of acting was through “Funny People.” Judd Apatow took a risk on me and put me in that movie, and when you’re an unknown actor and you all of a sudden are starring in a major studio film and you’re playing a character like Daisy where I was this standup comedian—I was sarcastic or whatever—once you create this, that’s what people think that you are. I only furthered that by doing other parts that were similar. I think people just see a couple things that you do and then just think that that’s you. I think the same thing happens all the time. I think it happened with Michael Cera, who’s a very close friend of mine, who did a couple movies and people just assume that that’s how he is in real life, but he’s not like that at all.
You talked about this dramatic part being scary for you. What was scary, and what did you learn?
It was terrifying because I usually play small, supporting roles in movies where I come in for a couple days and try to be funny and make people laugh, and then I leave but I don’t have the weight of the film on my shoulders. Having that challenge was scary but awesome, and it’s been my dream since I was a kid to be a lead in a movie so I loved every second of it. I worked really hard on the script months before we shot. I was just focused on always being aware of what emotional moments [Darius] was going through in each scene and having that track and having her transformation feel organic and real and come full circle. I wanted that really badly. But it was scary … I felt like it was a good, organic way to show people that I can do more instead of just coming full on to a movie where I was just totally different. Which I would love to do, but unfortunately it’s hard to get producers to take a risk on you when they’re so used to seeing you a certain way.
The title “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a disclaimer of sorts. If all people had to have a disclaimer, what would be yours?
Oh my God. “Objects in the Mirror Are Closer—Larger Than They Appear.”
Are people frequently surprised you’re as close to them as you are?
Yes. People turn around and I’m right there, and they’re like, “Whoa! What the [bleep]? I thought you were over there.”
You suddenly have access to time travel. What would you need to bring with?
[Bleep.] I don’t know. Maybe some apples, some snacks, ’cause you never know what kind of food you’re going to run into; my iPhone and also a large cell tower and the technology for the Internet. I could just carry that around in my backpack. I don’t know. I’m terrible at time traveling.
What happened the last time?
I couldn’t even tell you. I’d have to jump forward and backward to figure it out.
I love April and Andy’s relationship on “Parks and Recreation.” What would it be like if they had a child, and how likely is that to happen?
I want a child so badly on that show. Every episode I did last season I would do a talking head and talk into the camera and say my lines and then I would always add, “And also, I’m pregnant.” And then they’d be like, “Cut. Do not say that. That’s not in the script. You’re not pregnant.” And I wanted it so bad and they have not given it to me. And I fear that I want it so bad that it will never happen. But I think April and Andy would be the most amazingly terrible but awesome parents in the world. I hope to God that they impregnate me with a TV baby but we’ll see.
What would that kid be like?
The most ADD nuisance in the world, just all over the place but then maybe also very mellow. It would be a very weird combination of crying and hiding and being crazy and not crazy.
Did you ever hear from Sarah Silverman about your impression of her?
No, I mean, we’re like friends. That was so long ago. When I made that video it was just solely for my audition for “SNL.” It was never meant to elicit any reactions for anyone. It was more just a work thing that I was doing that somehow, because of the nature of the Internet got—at the time that I posted that video I was an unknown actor just trying to do anything. So I think that changed, turned into this other thing, but Sarah and I are totally friends. It was never a weird thing at all.
I was just curious if she said anything in support, or if she’s ever impersonated you.
She did punch me in the face once. Is that what you want to hear?
On Chicago: “Chicago reminds me of comedy and Second City and all of the greats that came out of that. That’s really what Chicago means to me. I’ve never spent a lot of time there. I’ve only been there for one night. One time I drove across the country with my ex-boyfriend and he told me to meet him in Chicago and we’d start the drive in the morning, so I flew there and then we spent one night in Chicago. I didn’t even know where we were. Some place called Old Town maybe? And we went to Second City and we left, but I hear it’s great.”
On major news/changes involving every NBC comedy except “Parks and Recreation”: “I just feel very lucky. I feel lucky to be on that show. I’ve always felt lucky to be on that show. I think everyone on that show we never feel like, ‘We’ve made it! We’re going to be on forever!’ We always feel like at any moment the rug can be taken out from underneath us. So we had no idea what to expect with the pickups and all that. We’re just lucky to have another season to hang out and have fun and be those characters.”
On her “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” co-star Bill Murray: “He’s just one of my heroes. So spending any time with him was intoxicating. I loved him so much. He’s the funniest man alive. That was just a really intense experience. I was hanging out with him and Charlie Sheen. What an interesting group of people.”
Guilty pleasure movie: “Oh God, I have so many of them. Do you mean, is it a bad movie I just can’t help but watch over and over again? I liked ‘Serial Mom.’ That movie’s so weird but I love it so much, and I could watch it over and over again.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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