Aubrey Plaza is best known as intern-turned-assistant April Ludgate on NBC's "Parks & Recreation," but it was her breakout role in the film "Funny People" that got writer Derek Connolly's attention. He was thinking about a story about a mysterious classified ad when he saw Plaza's performance and decided she would be a perfect addition to his film. The part turned out to be Plaza's first lead movie role. "I was terrified," she told The Huffington Post. "It was something that I’d been dreaming of my whole life, and when it finally happened, I couldn’t believe it. I was so scared but also excited at the challenge of being there the whole time and not just doing a part where I’m kind of in and out and making people laugh."
In the time-travel film "Safety Not Guaranteed," opening June 8 in limited release, Plaza plays Darius, an intern at a Seattle magazine who goes on assignment with a reporter and a fellow intern. Their mission? Find the man who placed an ad seeking "someone to go back in time" with him. Plaza spoke with HuffPost Women about the transformation of her character, the evolution of April and her upcoming movie with an all-star cast of actors.
This part was written with you in mind. What was your reaction when they approached you about it?
I was very flattered. Honestly, I didn’t think I was even at a place in my career where someone would do that for me. I was just hoping that it was good.
What about the script appealed to you?
I just thought that the characters were written so well, and they all seemed like real people, which is rare when you read scripts. And I thought it was a really sweet love story, with kind of time-travel sci-fi elements looming throughout. I loved how different the character is in the beginning and in the end, and as an actor, I just wanted that so badly. For the first movie I was going to be the lead in, I felt like it was the perfect opportunity for me to play someone that goes through a transformation and to show people that I can do that.
Is that something that you’ve worried about? That people will think you’re just like April on “Parks & Rec” or that it's the only role you can play?
Well, I’m not so much worried about it. I mean, I really don’t care too much about what people think of me or who they think I am, but it would bother me if it prevented me from getting other parts because people are afraid that I won’t be able to do it. I’m just making steps in the direction of showing people that I can do more and that I’m not April Ludgate. But I do want to say that I don’t mind it because I love playing that character and I love being on that show. If that’s the only thing I have to deal with because of it, I will take it.
What do you think your character in "Safety Not Guaranteed" found so appealing about Mark Duplass's character, Kenneth -- a man planning a time-travel mission?
I think there is a purity and a sincerity with his character that a lot of the people in the film don’t have and a lot of people in the world don’t have anymore, and I think the film speaks to that, and it shows you that there are people out there that are just pure, positive people and not everything has to be ironic and stupid. I think there was something so nice about his character, and that’s the reason she opened up to him and opened up to the world.
You’ve been pretty open about the anxiety and insecurities you’ve experienced in your own life. This character seems like she also has some of that insecurity, especially at the beginning.
Yeah, the character has a really traumatic thing that happened to her with her mom dying. I’ve never played a character before that’s had something like that to deal with. [It] was really interesting to play someone [for whom] the way they are is pretty much because of something terrible that happened, and that’s kind of their coping mechanism. I don’t think that it would be fun to play a character that is sarcastic or mean or depressed for no reason, but when you give a history to a character, then that’s when it gets really interesting.
You mentioned your character's transformation in this movie, but it feels like April has evolved too. We’ve started to see her care about the other characters more instead of just being this disaffected intern. Is that something that you pushed for?
It was never a conversation that I had outright, but I think the writers are always trying to keep the characters on the show feeling like they’re fully realized people. I think April’s age –- that period from 19 to 25 or whatever -- is the time that you kind of grow up and become an adult, and it’s an interesting time to capture in the show. You are kind of seeing her go from a teenager to a young adult and all that goes along with that. I think that’s why that character’s so fun for me to play. I can act like I hate everyone and everything, but I know that there’s a lot more brewing underneath.
Your character in the upcoming “The To-Do List” sounds completely different. You’ve described her as a Tracy Flick character.
Yeah, that movie, which I will still in parenthesis call “The Hand Job.” I play a type-A valedictorian who has sense of irony or sarcasm, and she basically through the advice of her slutty older sister –- played by Rachel Bilson, who’s hilarious in the movie –- decides to make a list of all the sexual acts she needs to accomplish before she goes to college, so she’s not under-prepared. So she kind of takes on this sexual homework over the summer, and because she’s very good at homework, she just blows through that list. No pun intended. It was so fun for me to play this character that’s almost obnoxious and naïve and funny. And there are so many funny people in the movie –- Bill Hader, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Donald Glover, Andy Samberg ... Connie Britton and Clark Gregg play my parents, Alia Shawkat plays my best friend. It’s a very special cast, and I think everyone is so good in their parts. I think it could be really a big one, hopefully.