Aubrey Plaza's approach to humor in Elle Canada
Elle Canada May 2012
In Praise of Irony
by Adam Nayman
Aubrey Plaza's deadpan approach to humour.
As April Ludgate, the perpetually aggrieved and pathologically work-averse intern-turned-executive assistant on Parks and Recreation, Aubrey Plaza is arguably TV's reigning queen of deadpan. In a cast filled with exuberant performers like Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari, her character's role is to poke holes in the lighthearted atmosphere. During a single scene, Plaza can go from her default setting of disinterest to full-on malevolence; there's nobody in prime time who can do more with a curled lip or a brief, withering glare.
The role was actually written specifically for Plaza, who speaks the same halting cadence as her character. In fact, she has been carefully cultivating this po-faced persona in films like Funny People (2009), in which she plays an acerbic aspiring comedian -- a partially autobiographical detail, since Plaza paid her dues on the stand-up circuit. But the 27-year-old Delaware-born actress admits she's happier -- and funnier -- as a member of an ensemble. "I trained as an improviser at the Upright Citizens Brigade, which is a really collaborative environment where everyone supports each other and you're sort of supporting your teammates," she says. "Stand-up is fun, but it's also terrifying to me. It's the hardest thing I've ever done."
She had an easier time -- and got to stretch her acting muscles a little bit -- in Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress, a comedy about a group of girlie do-gooders that had its Canadian premiere last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is the kind of bright-eyed, open-hearted work that a hipster like April would probably scoff at. But that's what attracted Plaza to the material -- she doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a sourpuss performer. "I think that 'pre-ironic' would be a good way to describe Stillman," she says. "There was no sense of irony when we were shooting it. He really loves his characters."
Plaza is interested in writing screenplays, but right now she's actually penning a young-adult novel for Penguin. "Last year, I did five movies in a row without a break," she says. "Now I'll have some time to work on my own stuff." That's where the actress and her character finally diverge; April, who never met a job she couldn't procrastinate on, would never say that.