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A Slut by Accident: Aubrey Plaza on Safety Not Guaranteed and The Hand Job

The hilarious star of 'Parks and Recreation' talks about her upcoming time travel and sex comedies, and reveals her favorite comedians.


Now is about the time for Aubrey Plaza to start getting her own movie roles. She’s a popular character on “Parks and Recreation” and has broken out in sarcastic supporting roles in comedies like Funny People and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Safety Not Guaranteed stars Plaza as Darius Britt, a sarcastic newspaper intern. She tags along on an assignment to investigate a personal ad seeking a time travel companion, and she gets close with the self-proclaimed time traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass.) The indie film was a huge hit at Sundance, and it opens this Friday. We got to sit down with Plaza in L.A. to talk about sarcasm and her next movie, The To Do List (original title: The Hand Job.)


CraveOnline: Are you having fun with these interviews?

Aubrey Plaza: Yeah, they’re fun. I mean, sometimes I hate interviews because I always feel like I sound stupid.


Do you enjoy messing with the journalists?

It depends on what mood I’m in and who it is and what we’re talking about, but for this I’m very open and I just want to talk for real about it. Yeah, in some interviews I just put on a weird persona or something.


You have such a distinct voice as an actor and comedian, were you looking for the right vehicle or opportunity to play a character that suits you in a movie?

Yeah, my dream is to keep doing this and have movies and be the lead in movies and take on interesting parts. I think being on a TV show is amazing but also, people get kind of used to seeing you a certain way and so it becomes a challenge to break free from that in a way. This movie I thought was a really organic way for me to play a character that’s in a similar kind of zone as some of the characters I’ve played in the past but then breaks out of it. I thought that would be interesting for people to see because I feel like I can do all sorts of things but sometimes you have to slowly rip the Band-aid off.


Do you get offered a lot of sarcastic characters who don’t have the layers that Darius has?

Yeah, I’ve been offered a lot of parts like that in the past.


Is sarcasm a tricky form of comedy, or a misunderstood form?

Yes… No, I don't know. Tricky, misunderstood, I think so. Sarcasm is weird. Even not in acting, in life I feel like sarcastic is a word that people use to describe me sometimes so when I meet someone, it’s almost like they feel like they have to also be sarcastic, but it can sometimes just come off as mean if it’s not used in the right way. So I think for me, comedy is not about being mean or it’s not about just going for the joke. It’s gotta come from somewhere else.


Exactly, mean is not funny.

Yeah, unless someone deserves it.


How do you like the challenge of a whole character arc, as opposed to one episode at a time or a supporting role?

I love it so much. It’s my favorite thing about acting, having that challenge and getting to have a transformation in a movie I think. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it so it was really hard and it was a lot of work and I was really scared, but now that I’ve done it one time it was a learning process for me. I really liked it. I think it’s fun to figure out how to play a real person and have them have a moment of change and make it feel real so people relate to it, because people change all the time and things happen to real people all the time, but it’s hard to play that in a real way. Or something.


Who are your favorite sarcastic comedians or actors who do it right?

I have a lot of favorite comedians. Amy Poehler’s one of my favorite comedians. Louis C.K. is one of my all time favorite standup comedians. He’s pretty sarcastic in the right way. He’s a good one.


Do you imagine Safety Not Guaranteed can set some of the time travel rules, to add to 88 mph and 1.21 gigawatts?

Oh yeah, maybe. It’s almost like a time travel movie that’s an homage to the time travel movies. There’s so many Star Wars references. It’s almost got this feeling of “Remember time travel movies?” Even though it is a time travel movie. But I think there’s some things that could hopefully stick around with the lasers and the Datsun car and stuff, and Kenneth’s mullet.


I enjoy seeing you laugh. Your deadpan is great but do you laugh more than we usually get to see?

You mean in real life? I make myself laugh all day long in my car. I’m always laughing at red lights. People think I’m a freak. I have a really wild imagination.


Is that true, just sitting in a car at a red light?



What strikes you in those moments?

I don't know, just insane thoughts come creeping into my mind. I don't know.


“Quirky” has become a buzzword lately. Is that a good word to describe Safety Not Guaranteed?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t see anything wrong with it. Quirky is kind of endearing. It means something’s kind of off in an endearing way. I think the movie’s like that. As long as it’s not just quirky.


What is your role in A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III?

I play a very small role. I play Charlie Sheen’s assistant, or Charles Swan’s assistant in that movie. So most of the screen time I have is me yelling at Charles about having a meltdown and trying to tell him to get his sh*t together because we have work to do.


Is it thinly veiled fiction or overtly the Charlie Sheen story?

The script was written a long time ago so it wasn’t written for him, but it just kind of made sense for him to do it. There are some weird similarities maybe between stuff that’s gone on with him and the movie, but I don't think it was every really meant to be about that.


Is The Hand Job/The To Do List another lead role?

Yes. She is totally different from any character I’ve ever played before. She’s this Type A valedictorian of her class. She’s not sarcastic and she’s just very focused on school and doing the right thing. She’s almost annoyingly so. It’s kind of my version of Tracy Flick in Election or something. She’s really, really fun because she’s just so sincere and really determined to accomplish all the things that she wants to accomplish. They happen to be sexual things in the movie so that’s where the comedy comes from because she’s determined, she makes a list of all these sexual things that she wants to accomplish the summer before college but she treats it like homework, and she’s really good at homework so she becomes a slut by accident. It’s really fun.


Is it very R-rated?

Yes. Very.


Whatever they decide on for the title, is there a hand job in the movie?

Oh yeah. Oh yes, there’s a hand job. It’s a really great scene with Johnny Simmons, the lucky Johnny Simmons. I think the movie will be called The To Do List but I’m not sure. I’m calling it The Hand Job in parenthesis. I’m in denial and I will be forever.


We always hear that love scenes are awkward, so how are they when it’s comedic?

They’re still awkward because you’re still doing something awkward. But they’re more fun. It’s kind of freeing in a way to do something kind of awkward and sexual and then feel like you’re both laughing about it instead of revealing something weird about yourself or something. It was really fun but definitely, if you’re shooting a hand job scene, it’s funny on paper but when you’re shooting it, you’re giving someone a hand job so you’ve got to get into it to a certain degree. So it’s always kind of awkward.


So giving someone a hand job just out of the camera shot?

Yeah, or really giving it to them.


With a prosthetic?

Um, sure.


Have they told you what’s coming up for April next year on “Parks and Recreation?”

No, the writers I think are just coming back right now so I have heard nothing, but I have some ideas that there’s some obvious things that are going to happen. Leslie Knope was elected for city council so her Parks Department position is going to be filled by someone, and I have a feeling that April’s going to have to take up a lot of that slack and take on some major responsibilities next season. I think it’d be really cool for her because she’s kind of grown up in the show already and now she’s going to keep having to go in that direction of becoming a fully realized adult with a real job in the real world.


Does April take more pride in her work than she maybe lets on?

Yeah, I think so. I think she really, really cares but she really doesn’t want anyone to know, so that’s why it’s really fun to play her.


She did really well on the campaign.

Yeah, she did everything that was asked of her I think.


When she was helping Tom with Anne and she had mixed feelings about helping anyone connected with Anne, would she rather see Ann be with someone else than be a threat to Andy?

Yeah, probably. That’s a good question. I never thought about that before.


You didn’t think about it when she was helping Tom?

Well, I think she knows Tom so I don't know. Are you saying would April rather he be with Tom so that she would just be gone?


So that she’s not available anymore.

Yeah, I guess so but if she’s with Tom then it’s a whole different thing because they’re all friends. So maybe she kind of doesn’t want that, but I don't know. I think she just wants Ann to go away in general.


What sort of feedback do you get on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World?

People love that movie. I think it’s becoming this cult movie. I think they still do midnight screenings at the New Beverly of Scott Pilgrim all the time. I think it’s really cool. I’m so glad that I was in that movie. I think the world that we’re in now with Netflix and Hulu and iTunes, people discover movies at a different pace. Everyone’s discovering them at different times so all the time I hear about people seeing the movie for the first time and being obsessed.


With a cast that big, do people reach out to you, or is that something people mention when they recognize you?

Yeah, sometimes. People will randomly be like, “By the way, Julie Powers, that’s awesome.” I’m really glad I was in that.


When you were growing up, was acting always a real possibility?

In my mind it was. In reality I don't know how I ended up in L.A. I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. There’s not really a big Hollywood connection there so yeah, I don't know. I just always knew that that’s what I wanted to do. I was really passionate from a very young age so I don't know. Growing up there probably only made it harder. If I grew up in L.A. maybe I would have gotten there quicker.


Were there naysayers saying get real and do something else?

Yeah, sure, there are people that probably thought that but I had a really supportive family. My parents were really supportive. I’m really lucky to have them. They always believed in me and they let me go to New York and go to film school, but there were definitely always those dark quiet moments when everyone was like, “But maybe you should do something else in case.” But I was always like, “No, it’s gonna happen.”


I imagine you would be confident and not let that get to you.

No, but of course I always was scared that I would just be a waitress for the rest of my life or something.


Did you ever waitress?

Yeah, a lot.


Were you a good waitress?

I think so, yeah. I liked waitressing. I had fun. It was kind of like putting on a little play for every different table. I treated it like that so it was fun for me.