Actress Aubrey Plaza, star of Parks and Recreation and the new sci-fi drama Legion, plays a social-media addict stalking an Instagram star in the new satire Ingrid Goes West. Ahead of the film's release, The Globe and Mail spoke with the actress about playing crazy and getting pigeonholed as deadpan.
How crazy is Ingrid in your estimation?
What do you mean?
Because it's a satire, where would you place her …
On a scale of one to 10?
How exaggerated or real is her behaviour?
How real? There are a lot of things about Ingrid that I relate to. The actions she takes are extreme and she does things I would never do, but the work I did was really focused on trying to understand where all that comes from, why would someone behave like that. It was all coming from a place of deep insecurity and loneliness, a feeling of wanting a friend, just trying to connect so badly. Those are things I have felt at different times in my life. I tried to focus on the more human aspects of her, but the movie is a satire. It's an extreme version of that unhealthy impulse to go crazy on social media.
For the viewer, she can be quite an annoying person and anxiety provoking – what crazy thing is she going to do next? How do you create a character the audience can still sympathize with?
I didn't approach it in that way: "Oh, what can I do to be more likeable?" I didn't try to manipulate the audience. I just tried to create a human being that felt real to me, and it is uncomfortable and it felt uncomfortable for me to do it.
You often play characters that are uncomfortable for the viewer, that have an edge to them. Where do you find that aspect of performance?
I only have myself to use for any character I play, my own experiences and feelings about the world, my own take on it. I'm always interested in playing complicated characters who have a lot bubbling underneath. I guess I do relate to that in my own life, but it's a universal thing, we all have so much going on inside of our minds.
So the character's abrasiveness hints at what's underneath?
I guess. I don't like to lump everything into one. Every character I have done has a different thing going on. It was a different process. It's hard for me to make one comment on all of them in that way.
So how do you react then when people identify a style in your performance? I think of you as a master of deadpan.
I think the deadpan thing is coming from being heavily associated with the characters I played early in my career, April Ludgate [on Parks and Recreation] especially, being on a television show for seven years and having that be the first character that an audience is seeing me play and not knowing any of my other work. Because I hadn't done anything else. That is a very strong first impression. It's hard for me to have perspective on that, to see myself in that way. I am not a standup comedian, I am a comic actress. It's hard for me to comment on a style. I just see it as different characters that I play.
Have you always been funny?
I was really obsessed with comedy growing up. It was really important to me; I loved Saturday Night Live; I loved comedians but I also always wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be in movies, so comedy was my way into Hollywood, I guess. I started training at the Upright Citizens Brigade [a comedy and improv theatre in New York] when I was really young, which led me to my first projects. So I guess my answer is yes.
Would you like to play straight dramatic roles?
Yes. I would like to play all kinds of roles, I love drama, comedy, romantic parts …
I found it interesting that Ingrid is a young woman looking for friendship, not romance. Yet romance is sitting there right beside her and she's slow to clue into that.
Yeah. For me, part of the movie is a love story. There is an undeniable connection that Ingrid and Dan [played by O'Shea Jackson Jr.] have. I love that part: Two weirdos find each other, these two who have their weird obsessions and flaws. It's a reminder there is someone for everyone out there. The ending, for me, is all about that. You have this person who is showing up for you at your darkest time and it's a real relationship right in front of your face and is she going to recognize that or not? Is she going to put value in this real connection she has in the real world or is she going to continue her delusion?
Has she learned her lesson?
I think it's a question mark.