I'm somewhere near Topanga Canyon, in an Alice in Wonderland-themed bar, drinking Chimay with an extraordinary woman who tells me she dreamed of becoming a ballerina as a child, but her parents couldn't afford ballet lessons. I feel my heart fall out of my chest and shatter on the barroom floor. I wish there was something I could do to alter the past, but since there's not, I buy her another drink. You do what you can.
AC/DC's "Back in Black" blares, and the subject changes.
I rave about Aubrey Plaza, saying she's "one of Hollywood's most intriguing and gifted comedic actresses" and mentioning that I'll soon be writing about her and her new film Life After Beth, a deranged romantic comedy in which Aubrey drops dead and then returns to life as a zombie who listens to smooth jazz and resumes a relationship with her now totally freaked out boyfriend. Aubrey Plaza -- sardonic scene stealer on NBC's smash sitcom Parks and Recreation and in films including Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Safety Not Guaranteed and Judd Apatow's Funny People -- is enough of a reason to watch any film, but in case you need more, Life After Beth also offers stellar and enjoyable performances from Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Matthew Gray Gubler and Anna Kendrick. There's even a wacky cameo by lovable show biz demigod Garry Marshall.
Now, I'm sitting at a round table in the posh London Hotel in West Hollywood. Aubrey Plaza is sitting across from me, looking radiant in a summer dress and heels. I like being around Aubrey Plaza. This is the second time I've been in her presence. I wrote an article titled "15 Minutes with Aubrey Plaza," back when she was doing publicity for her very funny 2013 film The To Do List. After the meeting, we rode an elevator in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons together, and I secretly hoped it would get stuck. Apparently, I'll admit anything on an international blog.
Aubrey Plaza is a master of dark humor and deadpan irreverence. Socially awkward situations comfort the twisted, cynical characters she beautifully embodies. As weirdo April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, Plaza is known for delivering strange quips such as "I only tell the truth when it makes me sound like I'm lying." But Aubrey doesn't need clever material to be funny. She could read from a phone book and crack you up. In one of my comedy fantasies, Aubrey Plaza and Zach Galifianakis alternate reading random names out of a phone book. Aubrey reads a name, and then Zach reads a name. Picture it. Are you laughing yet? It will probably never happen, but it would be Andy Kaufman-level genius if it did.
So, why did Aubrey Plaza choose to do Life After Beth? And how did she find the tone of her crazy zombie character?
"I was attracted to it because of the script," Plaza says. "The dialogue is really funny. I thought it would be really interesting and challenging to try to play someone who is kind of human, and then turns into a monster. Tonally, I just made weird choices in the moment. When I was being a zombie, I was just trying to go to a dark, zombie place and be impulsive."
As Aubrey talks about her acting methodology, I wonder if she ever wanted to be a ballerina? Did she ever ask for ballet lessons when she was a young girl? Could her family afford them? I consider asking these questions, but decide against it, fearing it would make things too weird, even too weird for Aubrey Plaza. Instead, I enjoy hearing her funny replies to other questions, and admire how she reacts to the world by quickly creating bizarre and unsettling things to say.
Has Aubrey ever had an uncomfortable meeting or interaction with a boyfriend's parents?
"Every meeting I have with anyone is an awkward experience, for them," she says. "So, yeah, probably any set of parents I've met of anyone I'm dating probably thought I was totally weird. But I don't have any zany stories. No doing drugs with anyone's parents. That would be interesting. Maybe someday."
Aubrey is a good friend of Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, who has a role in Life After Beth. Did Aubrey ask Anna to be in the film?
"Yeah," Aubrey says. "I think so. Yeah. We sent her the script. She's such a professional. She's really serious about her career and acting. She only does things that are good. So, I was just lucky that it was good, and that she would do it. And I think it didn't hurt that we were lovers."
Plaza's zombie character punches holes in walls, eats car upholstery, gets chained to a stove and is basically a filthy, dirty mess throughout the film. How long did Aubrey have to wait during shooting before she had a chance to clean up?
"I don't know," she replies. "I just was dirty for a while. I don't think I took a shower for a month or something. I don't need to. Who cares? I wore the same dress every day. It was a dream come true."
My time with Aubrey Plaza ends, and I'm standing in the valet area of The London Hotel. The Emotions' disco hit "Best of My Love" enhances the scene, followed by Iggy Azalea's "Fancy." It's another sunny day in West Hollywood, and Aubrey is still inside, swallowed up by publicists and journalists. As I wait -- amid the Hollywood swank -- for my car, something is troubling me. I remember the woman in the Alice in Wonderland bar telling me her parents couldn't afford ballet lessons, and again my heart breaks.
There are only a few things that matter in this life, and one of them is encouraging our children's dreams and doing our best to provide them with ballet lessons or whatever they need for their lives to soar.
Life After Beth is available now on DirecTV and opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on August 15
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