You know actress Aubrey Plaza from her dry, cynical and sarcastic roster of TV and movie characters, such as April Ludgate on the NBC sitcom “Parks and Rec,” but the doe-eyed 29-year-old has begun her transition to serious roles and more versatile comedic forays.
Last year, Plaza earned critical praise for her performance in the indie drama “Safety Not Guaranteed,” and this Friday, the actress steps into her first true leading role in the raunchy female-driven sex comedy “The To Do List.”
Written and directed by Maggie Carey (wife of “SNL” alum Bill Hader), the film tells the story of new high school graduate Brandy Klark (Plaza), an awkward overachiever who aims to experiment with boys and, ultimately, lose her virginity before college. To organize her plans, Brandy creates a list of physical errands she plans to complete, including kissing, [censored], [censored], [censored] and more things I can’t print here.
The movie, which is set in 1993, costars Rachel Bilson as Brandy’s sister, Hader as a local pool manager, Scott Porter as college hunk Rusty Waters and Connie Britton and Clark Gregg as Brandy’s parents.
I recently joined Aubrey for a cross-country phone interview to talk about her new movie. And if you’re worried she’s ditching her expertly timed deadpan humor – trust me, it’s still alive and well.
David Onda: I heard that Maggie Carey created your “To Do List” character with you in mind. How flattering or, perhaps, frightening is that?
Aubrey Plaza: I think she had it in mind that I would play the character, which is flattering, because it’s a role that is very different than a lot of the other parts that I’ve played. So, just the fact that she had the confidence in me that I could pull it off was very flattering.
Onda: We don’t see many teen sex comedies written by women. How did Maggie’s female perspective lend itself to this movie?
Plaza: The movie is kind of really loosely based on her own personal experiences, so the point of view is really unique and important and, I think, as a female, she was able to focus on some specific things that women relate to more than guys and bring those things out in all of the sex scenes. I think that made it funnier and different than other movies that we’ve seen about sex.
Onda: Which of the items on the to-do list were you dreading or looking forward to filming the most?
Plaza: I was really looking forward to [censoring] Christopher Mintz-Plasse. I actually was kind of dreading the scene where Donald Glover [censored] me, because I knew that the only way to sell that kind of scene is with the different sounds that are coming out of my mouth, and that was just kind of humiliating.
Onda: There are a lot of close-ups on your face in this. Did you practice your many expressions in the mirror?
Plaza: You wish.
Onda: There’s this great “Caddyshack” moment in the movie where you find poop floating in the pool. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was made out of.
Plaza: What do you think it was made out of?
Onda: Some sort of cookie dough, maybe?
Plaza: It was chocolate. Some kind of chocolate. I think it was a chocolate energy bar. It wasn’t straight-up chocolate. It was like a weird, healthy energy bar thing. It was actually kind of gross.
Onda: What were you like in your high school years?
Plaza: I was very… fun. [long pause] I was smart and I was into school and extracurricular activities, and I was always kind of doing a million things at once. But generally likable, and a little bit of a troublemaker.
Onda: Of all the guys Brandy hooks up with in this movie, which is most like the type of guy that would have caught the eye of a young Aubrey Plaza?
Plaza: Oooh, good question. I mean, I guess Johnny Simmons, honestly. I would have gone for him. He was cute. Any boy that listens to Sarah McLachlan wins.
Onda: Johnny seems like a really nice guy. Was he fun to work with?
Plaza: Yeah, he is so fun. He’s just like one of those people that is always looking for an adventure and the world is his playground, so we had a really fun time. He doesn’t take himself or anything too seriously. He’s just a really hard worker, too. He’s a really great actor. It was really fun to have someone like that to work off of.
Onda: What are some of the things you miss the most about the ’90s?
Plaza: I don’t know. I guess I kind of miss the music and the clothes. Not so much all the clothes. Not so much the hairstyles. I think we could do without all of the hair and beauty trends. Those were not so good.
Onda: I think we could certainly see a “skort” comeback thanks to this movie.
Plaza: I think that’s already happening. I saw someone wearing them yesterday and I asked her where she got them from, and she said ZARA.
Onda: The soundtrack is really awesome, too. Do you have any favorite ’90s songs?
Plaza: I love ’90s R&B and ’90s Mariah Carey, and I listened to a lot of female singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Tori Amos. I’m into all that.
Onda: If you were watching this movie with an audience and could point out some of the little things you love about it, what would you point out?
Plaza: I don’t know. I would definitely make sure that people are paying attention to Scott Porter’s wig. And my wig. There’s a lot of wigs going on in the movie.
Onda: I wouldn’t have guessed you are wearing a wig – although your bangs are epic.
Plaza: Yeah, I was wearing one the whole time. I wanted to have that teenager, ungroomed hair. I wanted that texture – that kind of mousey, dry texture of a person that doesn’t know how to do their hair right.
Onda: What do you have coming up after “The To-Do List”?
Plaza: I have a movie coming out in the fall called “A Many Splintered Thing,” starring Chris Evans. I also start “Parks and Rec” in August. And I’m filming a movie in Los Angeles called “Life After Beth.” It’s a dark comedy with John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon playing my parents, and I play kind of a zombie, which is awesome.
[The publicist cuts in to give the two-minute warning.]
Publicist: Two minutes, David.
Plaza: Did you think that was a real person or a robot? Take a guess.
Onda: I assume it was real person.
Onda: Was it not?
Plaza: [quietly] I don’t know.
Check out Aubrey Plaza in “The To-Do List,” which is in theaters everywhere July 26. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.