Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre

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ASOS cover story on Aubrey Plaza


ASOS March 2013
House of Fun
by Francesca Babb

Her heroes are the Saturday Night Live funny girls, but now Aubrey Plaza is a TV comedy icon in her own right.  Next on her to do list? Movie stardom...

Want to get in with Aubrey Plaza? Then it's probably advisable that you brush up on two subjects -- 1) Really bad reality TV and 2) Board games. Because when she isn't filming the brilliantly funny US TV show Parks and Recreation, or batting off the lead role offers that pile up in her agent's in-box, then hosting game nights for her friends [she is particularly competitive when it comes to playing Battlestar Galactica] and watching bad telly are mostly what you will find her doing.

'I love good writing,' she says over baked eggs at Little Dom's restaurant in her L.A. neighbourhood of Los Feliz. 'I really want to watch Mad Men and Homeland and The Wire, but when I come home from a long day working, I just don't want to think, so I end up watching a lot of reality television.

'Right now, I'm really into Sweet Genius, which is the worst cooking show you'll ever see, in the best way possible. It's really weird and really funny.'

'Weird and funny' are pretty much the perfect words to sum up Aubrey's own brand of comedy. Take April Ludgate, the sarcastically deadpan PA she has played in Parks and Recreation for five seasons, or the role of Julie Powers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  But it was her debut film role, as Daisy Danby in 2009's Funny People, that led to her first lead, in last year's Sundance hit Safety Not Guaranteed, a part which was written specifically with Aubrey in mind. She plays a local newspaper reporter assigned to uncover the man behind a mysterious classified advert looking for a partner to travel back in time.

'These days, you never read a romantic love story that has a weird time travel element in it,' she says of the film's appeal. 'Those movies remind me of being a kid, like Back to the Future. I thought it was really funny and I believed all the characters. These two weirdos, falling in love. It keeps you guessing and I like that.'

As soon as she finished filming Safety Not Guaranteed, she started working on The To Do List, which, when she signed up to star in it, was still under its working title, The Hand Job. 'I'm still bitter we didn't get to keep that,' she says with a wry smile.

'But I thought it was really funny, because you see a lot of movies about guys trying to lose their virginity, but not a lot of great movies about girls trying to do that, or learning anything. This is a complete role reversal -- my character is treating sex literally like a homework assignment.'

Her co-stars in the film include Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rachel Bilson and Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg and Bill Hader.  While she's used to hanging around funny people [she counts Michael Cera, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham among her closest friends], keeping it together on set was not the easiest of experiences.

'Andy Samberg is so funny,' she grins. 'He looks so ridiculous, I could not keep my shit together. Normally I play supporting characters, where I pop in and out of the film, make people laugh and then leave. But when you're the lead, you have to be the grounded constant force in the movie. I was trying to be real, then Bill Hader would come in and do crazy improvisation and make me laugh. But it was nice and really different to play this Type A go-getter, who's not depressed or weird or sarcastic or awkward, which is most of the characters I get cast as.'

Aubrey's comedy career started when she moved from her home state of Delaware to study at New York University where she signed up to Upright Citizens Brigade, an improvisational comedy theatre set up by her then heroine, Amy Poehler. While at university, she began to make her own comedy videos, which she would broadcast on the internet. 'I really wanted to be on Saturday Night Live,' she says. 'And I knew that to get on SNL, you had to do improv and sketch. I went to college with Donald Glover and the guys in his Derrick Comedy group and we were all making videos. Everybody's doing it now, but it was right at the beginning of all that, and things happened for me really quickly from there. I was cast in Funny People, Scott Pilgrim and Parks and Recreation all at the same time. I think I was very lucky. Right place at the right time.'

While only just debuting on BBC4, Parks and Recreation has gained itself something of a cult status in America. For Aubrey, getting to work alongside Amy Poehler was a dream come true. 'Now that I know her,' she laughs, 'I'm like, I can't believe she was my hero! No, she's awesome. Getting to be in a position where I get to make her laugh -- or attempt to make her laugh -- it's still really weird. But she's also one of my best friends. There are moments when I forget, and there are moments when we're all shooting together and making each other laugh, and I just can't believe I'm part of that group.

'SNL was so big for me growing up, I couldn't believe how amazing these women were. Amy and Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch. Any woman that was on SNL, they were instantly my hero. But Adam Sandler is also kind of a big one for me. He just totally nailed it. All of his movies, there was a feeling that he's surrounding himself with his friends and having a good time, and you want to watch people like that. And I loved how he did comedy and then movies like Punch Drunk Love. His career is one that I would love, because I don't have one dream role.

'It would be really cool to be in a big action thriller, or a movie where I get to be a badass. It would be pretty awesome to be Catwoman some day...'

While her roles to date have a similar theme of awkwardness running throughout, Aubrey's personal humour is far more inclusive. Unlike a lot of comedians, she's happy to laugh at her own jokes, laugh at yours and chat to you without slipping into a character to avoid your questions.

Playing herself isn't always easy though. 'When I have to do chat shows,' she explans, 'I have to treat it like some sort of weird performance art or else I can't deal with it because that situation is so unnatural for me. It goes against every instinct in my body. I think people mistake my silences and my awkwardness for some kind of control. But the first interview I ever did for [Jay] Leno, I almost passed out in the middle of it. There is a moment you can see where I totally check out. I start looking at the floor for about five seconds and then I say something which got a really big laugh, but I remember in my head just thinking, "I'm going to pass out, I'm going to pass out...'"

Performing has always been a part of Aubrey's life though. As a child, she was recording sketches on a cassette player, putting on characters and voices to make herself laugh. 'I realised two things from an early age,' she says. 'That I was insane and had some kind of comedic thing going on. Maybe it was from watching all the Saturday Night Live, but my brain was wired to think about things in terms of how funny they were.'

At school, on dress-down Fridays, Aubrey would go in her mother's fuchsia pink power suit and briefcase, creating a character -- an estate agent named Bevrley Kalpin -- and attempting to sell property to her teachers.  'My mum's a lawyer,' she says, rolling her eyes at the memory, 'so she had all these '80s power suits. I thought it was really funny, so instead of wearing jeans and trying to look cool like everybody else, I would dress up like this character I created. Even though it was a joke, I really loved that outfit.

'I would think, "When I grow up, I'm totally going to be like Diane Keaton." I was really into the early-'90s looking jackets. Everyone else was like, that's weird, and I'd be thinking, "This is actually really cool, you just don't realise it yet."'

Nowadays her wardrobe is less Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, more simple classics. Her favourite store is Comptoir des Cotonniers, and her favourite items are a pair of J Brand leather trousers her friend, the actress Rashida Jones, convinced her to buy, a grey sweater from J.Crew and a pair of Isabel Marant suede ankle boots. She also has something of a sunglasses fetish, pulling four pairs out of her handbag to show me. She's even designed a line for a friend's West Hollywood boutique, Tenoversix.

'I'm obsessed with sunglasses,' she says, brandishing a pair of black framed Moscots. 'I like to hide behind them. When you walk into my house, there's a mantel and there are at least six pairs of glasses sitting there. And I'm also constantly buying the same shirt over and over again, which is just a grey T-shirt. If you look in my wardrobe, I have seven soft grey Current/Elliott T-shirts.

'But I don't have a weakness for shoes -- I'll wear the same pair for years. When I was living in New York, I had the same pair that I was wearing in middle school and my mum was like, "You have got to stop wearing those!" I love shoes, I just don't love buying them.'

As for her current style icons, she says, 'Tilda Swinton in Moonrise Kingdom. In my fantasy brain, I would dress like that every day. Wearing silk white capes.  I love that witchy look. And I love old Hollywood style, big wool capes.'

Aubrey cites Rashida Jones as inspiring her style, but it's clear she thanks her close group of friends for a lot. 'I have a big old family on both sides,' she says of her Puerto Rican/Irish heritage. 'It's like bodies everywhere, all the time -- I have about 20 cousins on each side. Out here, I'm alone, without my crazy family. So I have my munchkin crew to keep me sane -- Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Mae Whitman, Sarah Ramos, Johnny Simmons, Michael Angarano and Juno Temple...'

She pauses, thinks back over the names she has listed, then lets out a huge laugh -- 'Just tell everyone I'm really popular, OK?'

While she may joke about it, Aubrey Plaza isn't doing too badly -- good friends, a career on the rise and a great wardrobe. With a whole lot moe people about to know her name, having the time to stay in and play board games may become a distant memory...