Actress Aubrey Plaza hosted a movie screening and Q&A session Saturday, March 23, at Ringling College, as part of the school's Digital Filmmaking Studio Lab, which brings actors to the area via a collaboration with Ringling College and Future of Films LLC.
Arguably the queen of deadpan comedy, Plaza described Sarasota as “the most amazing city I’ve ever been to. Ever. Not even an exaggeration.”
Plaza is best known for her role as April Ludgate — the perpetually underwhelmed intern in the NBC comedy series, “Parks and Recreation.” Most recently, she earned her first lead role, playing a magazine intern on assignment to investigate a bizarre classified ad in the independent comedy film, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” for which she received an ALMA Award for Favorite Movie Actress.
Plaza, who began her career as an intern on “Saturday Night Live,” says the role allowed her to channel personal experience and bring more emotional depth to her acting. Through this film and an upcoming comedy to be released this summer, she says audiences will see her “break out of the deadpan zone,” and transition into a leading actress.
Do you find yourself being recognized more lately?
Yes, except I realized that I never go anywhere, so I don’t even know how to answer that question. I do get recognized at airports. I don’t know why it's always airports, but maybe it’s because that’s the one place I don’t want to be recognized.
Is that tough to get used to?
It’s always surprising to me. I forget that I’m on TV or doing things that other people see. When you do it every day, it doesn’t feel like, “Oh, everything we did today, millions of people will see.” It just feels like we did it, and its over, and now I go home and I’m just like everyone else, but that’s not true. So, it’s always a surprise when someone recognizes me. Oh, right. I’m on TV; I forgot.
What is a typical conversation like with a fan?
I have a really weird range of people that like me. “Parks and Recreation” draws a crowd that’s all over the place. College kids watch it, and young kids watch it. I have a very solid 10-to-11-year-old fan base, which is very important to me. I gotta get those kids.
What’s the strangest encounter you’ve had with a fan?
One time, I was recognized by an 11-year-old girl at the airport, and she burst into tears and asked if I was going to be mean to her. I made a child cry, and it’s not my child, so I had a lot of weird feelings about that. I don’t think anything really tops that. She really had a meltdown in front of me.
You’re known for your deadpan style of comedy, and it’s really convincing. Is that hard to get away from?
I don’t think I can not be like that. I’m not like that all the time, but that’s just the way I am, so whether you like it or not, that’s just how its going to be.
How much of that is based on your actual sense of humor?
It’s definitely fully based on my sense of humor, except it’s a little bit more of an exaggeration when I’m playing April Ludgate, for example. It’s the most heightened version of that part of myself.
Do you feel like you’re being typecast?
Yes, but I do feel that with some of the work I’ve done over the last year, with “Safety Not Guaranteed” and a movie I have coming out over the summer, called “The To Do List,” I’m kind of slowly getting out of that deadpan zone — at least that’s my hope. People are going to see me do some things they wouldn’t have expected, like have emotion and smile.
Is that refreshing?
Yeah, it’s good for me, because creatively, I get bored easily, and I’ve always liked a challenge. I came up in the improv comedy world, where I was doing all kinds of characters every week, not just the deadpan weirdo girl, so it’s nice to be able to start flexing different muscles.
What type of character would you love to play most?
I’d really like to do something where I get to kick people’s asses. Some kind of physical thing, where I get to go crazy and just destroy a planet or something like that. I want to be an action hero. I want to save the world — with my body. And my mind.
What was it like to transition from supporting roles into your first lead role?
It was very scary. Up until that point, I was doing a lot of characters where I’d pop in and out of movies and be the comic relief. I didn’t feel the weight of the movie on my shoulders. It was a challenge, but it was something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid, so I liked it. It was a learning process and a really different experience. You have to carry the emotional arc of the film.
Did you channel anything specific for this character?
I played an intern in the movie, and I feel like I channeled almost a younger version of myself, because I’ve been in those kind of jobs, where I’m trying to make a name for myself and I’m being treated like I’m just the intern, but I know I can do more. I was that intern that was sitting in the corner reading all the scripts, taking everyone’s lunch order, but in my head, I was like, “I will destroy you all one day! I’ll take over the world, and you will all know my name!” But that was in my head. I was delusional.
How did the experience help you grow as an actor?
Being the lead in movie is really a next-level thing. You have to bring it in such a way that I really respect movie stars in a way I never did before. People think movie stars have it so easy, and they’re just living it up, but really, it’s a grind every day. If you’re the lead, and you’re in every scene, you’re there first. You have to be there at 5 a.m., and you’re there for 15 hours. It’s really hard, but payoff is not so bad.