Meet Aubrey Plaza – cult cinema's new queen

She started as an intern on Saturday Night Live. Now she is LA’s most sought-after rom-com heroine, works regularly with Judd Apatow – and has turned down Ryan Gosling, twice. James Mottram meets her

Look up Aubrey Plaza’s Wikipedia entry and in the box-out, under genres, it just says “deadpan”. While she might not appreciate such a limited description of her talents, it does rather sum up what the 28-year-old actress-comedian has become known for.

All long dark hair, saucer-shaped hazel eyes and a smile that barely cracks, the petite half-Puerto Rican can put this down to her starring role as April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation, the cult sitcom from the makers of the US version of The Office.

“It happened by accident,” she  explains. “When I was doing comedy in New York, before I was in movies, I was never known as the deadpan actress. I was just a comedienne. Then I was cast in a couple of different parts in a row, where I had that sense of humour and attitude, and it just stuck. But I’m OK with that. It’s a part of me.”

Already ticking off films with Judd Apatow (on Funny People, as a lusted-after stand-up) and Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, as an obnoxious ex), Plaza is about to enter a crucial year. “I feel like I’m at the beginning of spreading my wings,” she says. Five films are on the slate, beginning with the marvellous Safety Not Guaranteed, Plaza’s first starring role. “I felt ready for it,” she says. “I wanted to do the script justice, and I wanted to go deeper, and try to start acting, as a movie actor.” Pause. “I don’t know.”

Plaza, it should be noted, punctuates most sentences with either “like”, “y’know” or “I don’t know”. Still, her answers are cutthroat. We get into a long, increasingly surreal conversation about how she spends her time when Parks and Recreation finishes shooting every March. “I try to do laundry. I haven’t had time to do laundry for nine months. There are so many dirty panties in my room that I can’t even see anything.”

Talk turns to Safety Not Guaranteed, an indie time-travel romance, in which she plays Darius, a Seattle magazine intern assigned to track down the person behind an intriguing classified ad requesting a partner with whom to travel back in time. Her detective work leads her to antisocial grocery store clerk Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Is he a crank or is he for real? Either way, Darius begins to fall for him. “The story was just a really  interesting combination,” she says. “A sci-fi Back To The Future vibe with a quirky love story.” 

Plaza, more über-cool than girl-next-door, was reminded of her early years playing Darius. Raised in Wilmington, Delaware – her mother is an attorney, her father a financial advisor – she studied film in New York, whilst taking a number of internships. “I worked at a temp agency and they would send me on many different shitty jobs,” she says. The best was a design intern on US comedy show Saturday Night Live. “That was one of the cool ones. That was awesome. That was my dream since I was a kid to be on that show.”

While she didn’t ever speak to any of the actors – “I kept myself under the radar, just lurking in the shadows” – she was inspired to carve out her own comedy career, starting at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre. A swift glance at her Tumblr account shows that even then she boasted sharp observational skills (check out her spot-on Sarah Silverman impression or the dating show parody “Kaplowee”, where she requests her man have “the body of Vin Diesel and the brains of J. Edgar Hoover”).

Her web-based comedy (including for the Apatow site Funny or Die) has built her a strong alt-following, making her the poster-girl for the dry and disaffected. Living in LA for the past four years, she’s clearly not impressed by celebrity. In fact, she might be the only woman in the world who has turned down Ryan Gosling – twice. The first time was at a juice bar, Plaza claiming she didn’t recognise him. Later, he asked her to go to a magic show – and she flatly refused. 

Now Plaza is increasingly on the indie/studio radar. After Safety Not Guaranteed, she’ll be seen in The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, in which Shia LaBeouf gets entangled with Romanian gangsters. Then there’s A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swann III, Roman Coppola’s 1970s-set fantasy in which she plays the long-suffering assistant to Charlie Sheen’s daydreaming ad exec. “The entire film is like this super-stylised, trippy movie,” she explains. “I do get to wear a sexy sailor outfit from the 1940s, so get ready for that.” Most intriguing is the x-rated comedy The To Do List, in which she plays a high-school swot who takes it upon herself to tick off a series of sexual experiences before she heads to college. “It was really liberating. It was fun to play a character who was not weird, depressed, sarcastic, deadpan. I’m totally the Type A  go-getter.” Another pause. “Then add on the angry masturbating scenes.” Come again? “Yeah, there’s a scene where I’m angrily masturbating – that was fun to do! Can’t wait for the world to see that one.”

Secretly, she must be delighted that she’s finally beating those wings of hers – dropping the deadpan to tinker with the raunchy or the romantic. She nods. “I’m excited to start switching over and explore other things.” She’s just wrapped A Many Splintered Thing, a rom-com about a writer’s group in which she plays a performance artist. “At one point, I’m wearing underwear on stage and I’m pulling bloody, baby doll arms and legs out of my vagina!” On this evidence, the cult of Aubrey Plaza is only going to get bigger.

‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ is out now

Four Funny women Coming Your Way in 2013

Amy Poehler

Plaza’s ‘Parks’ co-star, and a ‘Saturday Night Live’ alumna, Poehler, 41, will co-host the Golden Globes with Tina Fey before starring in ‘Mad Men’ creator Matthew Weiner’s feature debut ‘You Are Here’ and ensemble divorce  comedy ‘A.C.O.D.’

Ellie Kemper

With the American ‘Office’ on its final season, expect Kemper – receptionist Erin – to break out in 2013. The 32-year-old girl-next-door has already made the leap into movies, with parts in ‘21 Jump Street’ and ‘Bridesmaids’.  

Melissa Rauch

A regular on the New York stand-up circuit, she’s best known for playing microbiology student Bernadette on the hit US sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’. Rauch, 32, co-stars with Poehler in ‘You Are Here’ then segues into a love story ‘In Lieu of Flowers’.

Rashida Jones

A regular on both ‘Parks’ and ‘The Office’, Jones, 36, will be seen opposite Nick Frost in British dance comedy ‘Cuban Fury’ in March, before taking on a more serious role in cancer tale ‘Decoding Annie Parker’.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most