Aubrey Plaza—the actress synonymous with deadpan comedy—gets her biggest break yet (yes, arguably bigger than her break-out role on NBC’s Parks and Recreation); she gets to carry a feature film. “I’m just so thankful I got the opportunity to play a lead in a movie, because that’s like my dream, you know? When you’re on a TV show and you play this kind of character, people can’t get past it sometimes. So, to have people take a risk on me was really great.”
The film in question, Safety Not Guaranteed, which fictionalizes a back story to the infamous, ’90s classified ad—“WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke… You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before”—in Seattle’s survivalist magazine, Backwoods Home, also offered plum roles for fellow actors Jake Johnson and Mark Duplass; but it’s Plaza who gets to show off her talents most.
“To speak candidly, when I got the script, I knew that Aubrey could pull of the first half of the movie—when it’s a little more of that deadpan, cynical girl,” Duplass said. “But I was so curious as to what was going to happen when she really had to blossom emotionally. And without knowing her, I was like, ‘I don’t know if she’ll pull this off.’”
“But I think that’s part of the key to this movie,” he continued. “As [Plaza’s character] Darius transforms in the film, you get to watch Plaza do something totally different.”
ELLE sat down with the newly-exposed chameleon actress—who pulls off romance, investigative reporting, and time travel in the film—to talk about her name, handling rejection, and why posing for Maxim won’t be her next move.
ELLE: You character, Darius, has a unique name; how do you feel about Aubrey?
Aubrey Plaza: I like my name. My mom named me after a song by the 1970s group Bread. So, it’s meaningful, and I like the song. It’s a love song—kind of—but it’s kind of depressing and dark. She was twenty years old when she had me, so it does kind of give me an idea of what she was like back then.
ELLE: What were your first thoughts when you got the script?
AP: I loved the script. None of the characters fit into a box. For my character, in her life, there’s nothing kind of interesting happening for her, and then all of the sudden she gets to play out this other role and that’s what brought her out of her shell—so maybe it’s a weird metaphor for myself.
ELLE: Darius gets labeled “not a quality hire.” Has that ever happened to you?
AP: With real life jobs—waitressing jobs, temp jobs, things like that—I usually hear that after I get hired and then I get fired. But I’m pretty good at getting jobs. I’m pretty good at weaseling my way into a job, even if I have no business being there. But I feel like I’ve actually heard that more in the acting world—not getting parts that I really want or being rejected as an actor over and over again.
ELLE: Is there ever any feedback with the rejection?
AP: Before—when I was really struggling and trying to have a big break—there’s so much rejection. I’m kind of a very specific—I don’t fit into a thing. It’s almost like I had to create my own thing, because I can’t compete with certain people. And it’s so personal. You get rejected for so many reasons—like physical reasons or whatever. But, I think it’s good to be rejected; builds character.
ELLE: Darius has a deadpan line, where she accuses Jake Johnson’s character of “dangling my vagina out there like bait.” How do you feel about being a sex symbol?
AP: I don’t have much to show, in that sense. Tina Fey is one of my heroes. She once did an interview, or something that I read, where she was like, “Never do Maxim, ever. I will never do it, and it’s not good for girls.” I don’t want to put words in her mouth and I forget what it was exactly, but that stuck in my head, because I’ve been asked to do Maxim before.
ELLE: How did they approach you about disrobing?
AP: They just ask you, and they say, ‘You’re not going to be naked; it’s going to be tasteful. We have these really interesting ideas.’ And you can get caught up in that. And think, maybe it will be good, because you do, as an actress, you do want people to be able to see you that way, because that’s just the reality; it’s helpful to be sexy because that’s what people want. So, it is kind of enticing. But then when you stand back from it, “No, I’m not going to do Maxim.” That’s so unnecessary… I mean maybe someday I’ll play a stripper, but I’ll have an interesting take on it.
ELLE: Has anyone ever sung to you, like Kenneth sings to Darius?
AP: When I was thirteen, the first guy I ever had be my boyfriend asked me out through a song he sang on stage in front of people. Cut to years later, and it’s Johnny Gallagher, Jr. who won a Tony for Spring Awakening. I still have an audio-cassette of the song he wrote for me, and it’s called, “When We Get Married.”
ELLE: What’s another thing most people don’t know about you?
AP: It’s really weird, because when you talk to my mom—people ask my mom, like, “What was she like when she was a kid?” I was really shy. I’m actually a shy person, but not, or something—I don’t know. I think that’s why I’m so awkward in interviews and on late night TV shows or whatever, because I don’t really love being myself in those situations. So, I tend to play a different character or make some weird performance out of it, because that’s more fun for me.
Safety Not Guaranteed hits theaters today.