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'Life Is Short': Aubrey Plaza Keeps Busy With 2 New Films And A TV Series

Aug 10, 2017
Originally published on August 14, 2017 12:32 pm
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our next guest, Aubrey Plaza, may be best known for her role as April Ludgate in the comedy series "Parks And Recreation." Since that show ended in 2015, she's been busy. Earlier this year, she costarred in the FX series "Legion," and this summer, she's in two films. "The Little Hours" is a comic take on "The Decameron," starring John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Alison Brie and Dave Franco.

And in "Ingrid Goes West," Plaza plays Ingrid, a young, mentally unstable woman who doesn't have the tools to deal with the recent death of her mother. Without a real support system, she turns to social media. After seeing photos posted live on Instagram from a wedding she thought she should have been invited to, she crashes the wedding, maces the bride and gets institutionalized. When she's released, she begins using Instagram obsessively and starts following Taylor Sloane, an Instagram celebrity who lives in LA, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Taking the money she inherits from her mother, Ingrid moves to LA, tries to emulate the life of the Instagram's star and eventually befriends her and injects herself into her life.

FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado recently spoke to Aubrey Plaza. They started with a scene from "Ingrid Goes West." Ingrid's just moved to Los Angeles and, using Taylor's Instagram feed, starts going to all the places that Taylor goes to. In this scene, Ingrid's at a hip restaurant sitting alone when an enthusiastic waiter approaches.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INGRID GOES WEST")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Welcome to Grateful Kitchen. My name's Eden. How can I nourish you today?

AUBREY PLAZA: (As Ingrid) I'm actually meeting a friend for lunch here. Have you seen her?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Oh, yeah, Taylor Sloane. Yeah, yeah, she comes in all the time.

PLAZA: (As Ingrid) I know.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) She was actually here like an hour ago. Wait; you said you're meeting her for lunch, or...

PLAZA: (As Ingrid) Oh, God, I must have gotten the time wrong - so stupid. Do you remember what she ordered?

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMERA SHUTTER)

ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: At the end of that scene there is the sound of Ingrid taking a photograph and then taking a bite and then spitting out the food that she ate. Aubrey Plaza, welcome to FRESH AIR.

PLAZA: Thank you.

BALDONADO: Seems like, you know, the topic of the film - it could seem like it would be a light, kind of fun topic or funny topic to make a movie about, but there is this element of a story that is really sad. We learn early on that Ingrid's mother passed away, and she doesn't have the tools to deal with it. She doesn't know how to cope, so she turns to social media. Did that part of this story interest you? Was that one of the things that drew you to this role?

PLAZA: Yes, for sure. Ingrid's character is kind of the personification of that unhealthy impulse to go down that rabbit hole of obsession with other people's lives and feeds on all of your worst toxic behavior.

BALDONADO: Yeah, the thing is, though - there is this scene near the beginning of the film when your character's scrolling through Instagram. And she was looking at these photos from someone's wedding, and it's a wedding she feels like she should have been invited to. And yeah, sure, your character is, you know, really damaged and hurt and has issues. But in reality, I feel like I've felt that way. I feel like everybody feels that way a little bit looking through social media. A lot of people feel, like, left out of something. Or you know, they'll see pictures, and they'll think, I should be there. Is that something that you can relate to?

PLAZA: I believe you're talking about FOMO.

BALDONADO: I believe that is the term.

PLAZA: Yes, of course I can relate to that. I think everyone can. You know, I mean I actually find that I have those wait-a-minute moments for anyone, really, anyone on vacation...

(LAUGHTER)

BALDONADO: Right.

PLAZA: ...Where I'm, like, wait a minute. Why am I not on a, you know, beach just having fun? I mean I have that moment all the time. I think everyone does. It's not real, though.

BALDONADO: Well, I want to ask you a little bit about "Parks And Recreation." I've read that they kind of wrote the role of April for you. How much of that role do you feel like came from you - and especially since you've said that you don't feel like you were particularly April-like when you were April's age?

PLAZA: From what I remember from that meeting, Mike Schur and Greg Daniels had let me in on the idea of this character that would be, like, an assistant to the Leslie Knope character. And I remember them kind of saying, well, we think it's going to be, like, a blonde, you know, kind of not-so-smart, kind of woman or something like that.

And I remember pitching to them the idea of, what if it was a college intern who was just doing the job to get college credit. And she is really smart, but she doesn't care at all - because I was like, there's just something really funny about pairing up someone like Leslie Knope, who cares so much about everything in such an extreme way, with someone that really doesn't care at all. And I was like, that's a funny dynamic to me.

And so from what I know, that was what inspired them. And they went on to write the character, which - in the original pilot, they used my actual name in the script. And I have that script, still. But then, of course, they changed it to April. You know, for me, yes, April is a part of me always. It's not all me, but a lot of it was.

BALDONADO: I want to play a clip from "Parks and Recreation." You play April, who started out as a college intern, kind of a disaffected youth. But she sort of grows up and, you know, through the course of the series, gets married and ends up loving the people that she works with, while still sort of keeping that edge about her.

April, and Leslie and the other characters are in D.C., and they're thinking about their next steps moving on from working together. And, you know, this is also your last season, so you guys, as actual actors, were going to be moving on from working together. In this scene, April's - goes on to sort of thank Leslie for all of her help over the years and, of course, is uncomfortable with thanking Leslie. Here's the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")

AMY POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) Hey, thank you for coming.

PLAZA: (As April Ludgate) Yeah, well, I had to miss the Memorable Rain Gutters of Washington Walking Tour, so this better be good.

POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) I'm sorry I blew up at you yesterday. I really want all of my friends to be happy together. But more importantly, I just want them to be happy. If you feel like you need to move on, I totally get it.

PLAZA: (As April Ludgate) OK, turn around.

POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) What? Why?

PLAZA: (As April Ludgate) Because I'm about to say something serious and I can't do it if I have to look you in the eye. Please...

POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) OK.

PLAZA: (As April Ludgate) Now take your shoes off and wear them like mittens.

POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) April.

PLAZA: (As April Ludgate) OK, sorry. When I started working for you, I was aimless and just thought everything was stupid and lame. And you turned me into someone with goals and ambition, which is really the only reason why I'm even thinking about what I really want. And I just want to say thank you. And I love you very much, which is why I've decided not to turn you into a sea urchin, which I could do because I am an actual witch with powers. And I'm evil.

POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) I know.

PLAZA: (As April Ludgate) And I hate everything.

POEHLER: (As Leslie Knope) I know you do. I know. Thank you, April. So you don't have any idea what you want to do? Well, here's the good news. I am on the case.

BALDONADO: That's a scene from the last season of "Parks and Recreation." Now, you grew up in Delaware. You grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school - an all-girl Catholic high school. What was your high school like? And what did you relate to most in high school, like, what - how did you define yourself?

PLAZA: I went to Ursuline Academy, which is a really amazing, you know, all-girls Catholic school. I was a very active student. I think people would be surprised to know that I was, you know, always the president of the class. I was the president of student council. I wasn't the weird, eye-rolling, sarcastic, April Ludgate, sitting-in-the-back kind of person.

DAVIES: Aubrey Plaza stars in the new film "Ingrid Goes West." We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSETTE EXPLOSION PERFORMANCE OF VISEUR'S "DOUCE JOIE")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening to FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado's interview with actress Aubrey Plaza. She stars in the new film "Ingrid Goes West."

BALDONADO: I wanted to ask you about something scary that happened to you when you were younger, when you were in New York. I think you were still in college. You had a stroke while at a friend's house. And at first, your friends thought it might be a bit you were doing. Can you describe what happened?

PLAZA: Yes. I was 20, and I was living in Queens, in Astoria. And I was going to my friend's apartment for lunch. It's really kind of a very typical I think stroke story where it just happened mid-sentence out of nowhere. I don't think I had even taken my jacket off. I walked into the apartment. I was telling my two friends about a Hilary Duff concert that I had taken my younger sister to the night before.

And then I kind of blacked out for a second. And then I remember there was just like a really loud kind of sound happening. And I brought my hands to my throat, and I was kind of making like an ah (ph) sound because I couldn't talk because the blood clot was in my language center of my brain. So I had expressive aphasia instantly, which means that if you're talking to me, I could understand what you're saying in my mind and understand how to respond. But I couldn't actually get it out. I couldn't actually talk.

So my friends were kind of - I think they thought I was - yeah, that I was making a joke or that I was just - I don't know. I was always doing something stupid, so - but then after a couple of minutes, you know, they kept saying, you know, like, do you want us to call an ambulance, or - and I was aware enough to shake my head yes. And just - I kept just shaking my head yes because I knew something was really, really wrong. But I didn't know what it was, and I couldn't talk.

BALDONADO: And then was the recovery for that a long recovery? Like, what happened after they brought you in?

PLAZA: So what happened was the paramedics came, and they also - I think because I was so young - didn't assume that I had had a stroke. They were thinking that I was dehydrated. And I really think they thought I was on drugs because they kept asking me if I'd taken drugs, and I hadn't. I hadn't really put anything into my body that day and - except for birth control, which ended up being maybe the cause of the stroke.

So they took me to the hospital in Queens, and I sat in the ER for about two hours before a doctor examined me because I physically looked fine. But I couldn't talk, and I was confused. I also couldn't write. And so then a doctor finally examined me, and I believe she asked me to put my right hand on my left knee. And I couldn't do it. I was confused about right and left. And I think that's when everyone realized, oh, like, she had a stroke.

And so I was taken to the stroke unit, and I was there for a couple of nights. And then I was transferred to a hospital in Delaware near my family. And the recovery was - you know, it was - there was no recovery. I mean when you have a stroke, you have a stroke. It's - there's nothing you can do about it. Your brain has to heal itself. And that part of - you know, the blood clot area in my brain will never be healed. It's a tiny, little black hole in my brain. So I had some cognitive, you know, therapy that I went to. I went back to school in the fall. This happened in the summer. I stayed in Delaware for a couple of months. And there was nothing really I could do except for rest and try to understand why it happened.

And I had a cognitive therapy specialist work with me. And my writing came back, and I started talking again really quickly. I think I was lucky. I was so young that my brain was really - healed itself really fast. So I was talking after a couple of days. But I still have - there's still certain, you know, things that only I would notice that are kind of residual from - left over from that incident. And since then, I've had some minor - they call them TIAs, which are transient ischemic attacks, that are tiny little strokes. So something's up with my blood, but I don't know what it is.

BALDONADO: Did the experience change anything for you? Like, did it change sort of the way you looked at life or work or anything?

PLAZA: I think unconsciously, yeah. I mean it was terrifying. It was really scary. And I didn't change anything dramatically, you know, in my life. But I guess it sounds cheesy to say, but I think I always am aware of how precious life is, and I try to remember that every day. And I'm sure that has something to do with my approach and my attitude about, you know, about everything. I tend to see the bigger picture or try to see the bigger picture and try not to take things so seriously and try not to get hung up on the small things. And - but I just - I can't help but think that it has affected me in ways that I won't even know until later. But I do have a overall feeling of life is short. And I might as well just do as much as I can. Maybe it's why I'm so busy.

BALDONADO: Aubrey Plaza, thank you so much for coming on FRESH AIR.

PLAZA: Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: Actress Aubrey Plaza spoke with FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID FELDMAN, RAUL DE SOUZA, TONINHO HORTA'S "SOCCER BALL")

DAVIES: If you'd like to catch up with interviews you missed with Howard Markel about the Kellogg brothers of Battle Creek, Mich., who were pioneers in wellness, or our archived interview with Glen Campbell, check out our podcast where you'll find those and any other interviews.

FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID FELDMAN, RAUL DE SOUZA, TONINHO HORTA'S "SOCCER BALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.