Aubrey Plaza has won us all over with her portrayal of sarcastic April Ludgate on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," but the stand-up comedienne turned actress is no stranger to the film world, having found a niche in films such as "Funny People" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Her latest role as a semi-cranky yet intelligent woman comes in "Safety Not Guaranteed," a quirky indie about magazine journalists investigating one man's claims that he can travel through time.
Plaza plays Darius, an intern disconnected in many ways from her emotions and the world around her, who finds a friend in Kenneth (Mark Duplass) as her boss (Jake Johnson) attempts to debunk Kenneth's time-travel agenda. We recently sat down with the actress to discuss her role, time travel and her sources of inspiration.
You play a cynical character in the film. You tend to play that role in your other films as well -- is that a niche? Do you feel compelled to seek out those roles?
I'm always playing some kind of version of myself, because I've only got myself to work with, so I've got to find stuff from deep within. Honestly, it wasn't something that I was consciously seeking out. When I was training at Upright Citizens Brigade and working [as a stand-up comic], I never was known for that; I was never the sarcastic weird depressed girl. Things like that just happen because you get cast in one thing if you're new and no one's seen you before.
"Funny People" was really that for me. I was an unknown actor and Judd Apatow took a chance on me, and when people see you play that type of character, they just think that's you and that's your thing. Literally within weeks I was cast in "Scott Pilgrim" and on "Parks and Recreation," and they do have a similar vibe. And that just happened, and it's not something that I would change, it's great. It's fun and I like it, so it's fine. The only thing I don't like about it is if it prevented me from doing other things, and it has become a bit of a challenge, because people are stupid and afraid to take risks, and afraid to be the one to be like, "I'm going to be the one to cast you in this and hope you can pull it off."
Do you work on your own material for writing or directing?
Yeah, for sure. I haven't done anything yet, but I have a couple things I'm working on, features; there's a couple things I want to write and be in, and then there's a couple things I want to direct eventually. I did go to film school for directing. As long as you go to a place that has equipment and a film program, you're doing fine.
Brit Marling ("Sound of My Voice") told me that she didn't see many roles she wanted to play, so she wrote her own.
I want to do that for sure, but I also feel like I'm definitely an actor-actor at heart, and I love reading scripts that I didn't write and looking at character that was not written for me. It's challenging because it's hard to jump into a different vision for something and make it your own.
It seems like there's a lot of time-travel movies coming out. Why is that so popular right now?
I don't know if it is popular. I think things like that just happen. Our movie was written a long time ago, and we tried to make it a long time ago, and this is just when it happened. I'm sure I could make up a socially relevant reason for that [like] "because the world sucks and everyone wants to go to the past when it was better."
What sort of books do you read?
I'm reading a book, it's called "Super Sad True Love Story" [by Gary Shteyngart]. It's set in the future which is kind of cool, way in the future. It's really good. I have no rhyme or reason for the things that I read; before that, I read a French parenting book. I have no children and no desire to have a baby, but I just read it. Before that, I read a book about the White Witch of Jamaica. I'm all over the place.
What's some of your favorite music?
I like a lot of old music, like David Bowie, the Beatles and stuff like that, but then I also like really old music. Judy Garland is my all-time favorite, ever. I listen to her in my car a lot.
What were some difficult parts of the movie for you?
I think the scenes where I have been revealed to Kenneth [Mark Duplass' character] were really challenging. I haven't had to do a lot of scenes where I'm breaking down or having really crazy stuff happening to me, so yeah, those were hard. I've not had to have all of those emotions coming out of me. I'm not a super emotional person, so that's one reason I love acting -- it makes me deal with myself in that kind of way. That scene where I'm apologizing to him, that was really hard and scary for me.
Do you find that you're more drawn to roles that help you learn more about yourself?
That's for sure one of the reasons I love acting, because I get to stretch myself in ways that I normally wouldn't get to. And the way that I work is that I do use things in my own life to make characters real, so it's always very personal for me. I'm always thinking in terms of, "How am I going to tap into that part of myself?"
What roles have helped you explore your sexuality?
I did do that in "The To Do List" movie that's coming out. That's actually a good example, because that was terrifying.
Tell us a little bit about "The To Do List."
A girl who's the valedictorian of her high school class, because of advice from her slutty older sister -- played by Rachel Bilson, who's really funny in the movie -- she decides she needs to lose her virginity before college or she won't be prepared, so she makes a list of all the sexual things that she needs to do that summer so she can just know what's going on. She's really good at homework, so she just flies through that list and becomes a raging slut almost by accident. And it's set in 1993.
It's funny to think that's a period piece now.
Totally. I'm wearing khaki skirts almost the entire time.
What are some of your favorite movies that have come out recently?
I liked "The Cabin in the Woods." I really liked that because I didn't read anything about it, so I had no idea what would happen. I've seen a lot of documentaries lately. I watched the Woody Allen documentary, the PBS one. It's awesome and inspiring.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I don't know, that's something I'm dealing with right now. I feel like I used to be so inspired all the time by everything, and maybe now it's just that weird thing that happens when you're trying to get work, and you're hungry for it -- when you haven't done the thing that you really want to do, you're hungry for it, so everything is inspiring you. Then when you get work, it's hard not to become complacent. I want to always keep that kind of hunger to do, and create, and do more as an artist, but the Woody Allen documentary was inspiring because I didn't really know he was a comic. I knew that he was funny, but I didn't know that he was doing stand-up, and I thought that was cool. It's similar to the way that I got into it [acting], through doing stand-up -- that was a big part of it for me.
Do you still do stand-up? Are you hoping to get back into it?
It's a love/hate relationship. I'm definitely glad it's over, but there's a part of me that really wants to do it again.
You could go to small shows and not announce it, just do it for fun.
I know. I'm mad at myself, I need to do it more.
Why is it so hard to do the things we love the most?
Writing is hard -- writing is the hardest. I've been trying to write, and it's really hard. I've got no process. I have no discipline, it's like if I'm not wearing the right shirt, I need to be in a different outfit [to write]. Have you read Stephen King's book, "On Writing"? It's really good, it's inspiring. It's a book you can just read over and over again.