Aubrey Plaza, rising: A Hollywood dreamer with a biting wit

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In Hollywood, it's rare for an actor to be 30 minutes early for an interview. It's even rarer for them to arrive unaccompanied. But on this sunny afternoon, Aubrey Plaza is both.

She walks into Little Dom's, a cozy Italian restaurant in LA's trendy Los Feliz district, looking casual and relaxed. This is her neighborhood spot and she's not the high-maintenance type.

It's the day after the premiere of her latest film, 20th Century Fox's raucous comedy "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates," opening Friday.

"That kind of attention always makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm all dolled up. I have heels on and can't walk," Plaza says. "It was fun to celebrate the movie ... but for me, it's always very excruciating watching myself."

Plaza plays Tatiana, a New York party girl with con-man savvy who dupes a pair of brothers (Zac Efron, Adam Devine) into thinking that she and her friend (Anna Kendrick) are respectable "nice girls" in order to score a free trip to Hawaii.

It's the second big studio comedy she's been in this year, (Lionsgate's "Dirty Grandpa," also with Efron and Robert De Niro is the other) and one of her first non-indie leading roles.

The 32-year-old Delaware native is not some unknown. She spent seven seasons on the NBC comedy "Parks and Recreation" as April Ludgate, the intern with the glare, and has been stealing scenes on the big screen in small roles ("Funny People," ''Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") and big ("Safety Not Guaranteed," ''The To-Do List") for about that long.

Yet this is a new stage for Plaza as an actor — one without the cozy comforts of a long-running sitcom to fall back on.

With her cool composure and dry wit, it's a common conclusion that the actress is inseparable from her sarcastic characters.

"It's always mind-blowing to me that people assume that I am my character. Or that people even care how similar I am in real life," she says.

Actually, Plaza sees the pigeonholing as a welcome challenge. She's found it cathartic to shed April Ludgate by, say, fooling around with De Niro in "Dirty Grandpa" or trying to get hit by a car in "Mike and Dave."

"Aubrey is maybe the most unique person I've ever met," says "Mike and Dave" director Jake Szymanski. "She never sells herself out. She's never just going to do what everyone else is doing, or have a meeting and tell you what you want to hear. That's rare."

Plaza works a lot. It's in her nature.

"I have to remind myself that I'm not in survival mode anymore," she says.

She has a movie in the can, "The Little Hours," a dark medieval comedy about three nuns (Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci), that Plaza's boyfriend, Jeff Baena, directed. She's also filmed one episode of the FX/Marvel series "Legion" from "Fargo" showrunner Noah Hawley, where Plaza plays a role originally written for an older man. Her terms were simple: That Hawley wouldn't change any of the dialogue from its original state.

There's also the external pressure to do everything — write, direct, produce and star. "What's your show?" is a question she often gets at meetings.

"If you told me, 'Aubrey, you can write whatever you want. What's your dream role?' I'm just blank. I don't know. That's not how I think. There's not one character. Like, 'I always wanted to be a sexy lawyer who's secretly an alien,'" she says.

Plaza went to film school at NYU. She used to make her own movies and really fell for the form while working at a video store in her hometown. She'd like to work with as many of the great directors as possible — Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, to name a few.

"You can't really call your agent and be like 'hey, so tomorrow I want to have lunch with the Coen brothers, OK? 12 p.m. I'll meet them at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles,'" she deadpanned.

Self-deprecating jokes aside, Plaza's restless ambition is unmistakable.

"It's hard for me to keep in perspective what has happened or where I am in my career. I never feel satisfied. I never feel like I can take a break. ... So I'm looking forward to just feeling that way my whole life," she said. "I just want so badly for things that I'm in to be great but you don't have control over any of it."

Plaza has another meeting that afternoon and then a very important practice session with a softball. She's throwing out the first pitch at a Dodgers game and is a little nervous.

"In my mind I'm like 'I got this,'" she said, wary of the possibility that it also might not go her way.

"Maybe I'll just fail on purpose."

Of course, she didn't fail. She was quite good. But you probably already knew that, even if you didn't.


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