A Conversation With Aubrey Plaza
The Safety Not Guaranteed star on internships, mental illness, and the metaphorical meaning of the hand job.
Photograph courtesy FilmDistrict and Big Beach.
Parks and Recreation fans know Aubrey Plaza as the acerbic yet lovable April Ludgate, the intern-turned-assistant who has become an integral part of Pawnee’s parks department in recent seasons. In this week’s Safety Not Guaranteed, Plaza plays Darius, an editorial intern at a Seattle magazine investigating a classified ad soliciting a partner for time travel. Darius becomes close to the man who posted the ad (played by Mark Duplass) and finds her beliefs about the possibility of time travel shaken.
Slate spoke with Plaza about her new role, the evolution of April on Parks and Rec, and Plaza’s upcoming film projects.
Slate: For people who know you from Parks and Rec but haven’t seen Safety Not Guaranteed, how would you describe the similarities and differences between April and Darius?
Aubrey Plaza: They’re different characters. Their similarity is that they are both interns, but actually that’s not really a similarity anymore, because April’s not an intern in the parks department anymore. I guess in the beginning of the film the characters have a similar way about them. Darius is kind of closed off to the world, and that makes her a little weird and dark and moody, and I guess some people would describe April like that, so that’s a similarity.
Slate: How do you feel April has changed over the seasons? It seems like recently she’s become this weird source of advice for the other characters.
Plaza: I think she’s grown up a lot over the past few seasons. You can kind of see her change from a teenager to a young woman. She does end up becoming a backboard for people when they need advice for whatever they’re going through. It is kind of funny that she’s in that role now, because she’s a smart, logical, mature adult now, but still maintains her creepy weirdness.
Slate: Well put. If you had to do either April’s internship or Darius’ internship, which would you choose?
Plaza: Oh, God. I guess I would choose Darius’ internship. I think I would rather live in Seattle and be writing ironic articles about Internet memes than living in Pawnee, Ind.
Slate: So it comes down to location, primarily?
Plaza: Yeah. Pawnee sucks.
Slate: In Safety Not Guaranteed, there are two plotlines in which men want to go back in time and relive or fix relationships they had when they were younger. Do you think that that’s a common experience that men or women have at a certain point, wanting to go back and fix earlier relationships? Has anyone ever come out of the woodwork to try to rekindle a relationship they had with you in the past?
Plaza: I think that happens to people a lot, because people change so much, and after you’ve been in a couple of relationships, you look back on some of your early ones and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I was like that at the time. If I only knew, maybe it would have worked out.” But truthfully, no, I haven’t really had much of that. The only thing I’ve had that’s similar is that I dated a high school Swedish exchange student when I was 16. And about 10 years later, I actually went to Sweden to see him, not knowing what that would bring. That’s the only time I’ve ever been like, “Wait, what if that relationship didn’t work out because we’re 16 and now we’re older but we still are in love?” I was very wrong.
Slate: I think that’s how it usually goes, unfortunately. At the beginning of the movie, it seems like your character is depressed, and her father even says as much to her, that he thinks that she’s depressed.
Depression was also definitely a theme of Damsels in Distress, and you played a depressed person in that as well.
Plaza: Literally. My character’s name was Depressed Debbie. I barely did anything in that movie, but I’m the go-to—if you have a depressed character in your movie, you gotta get me in there.
L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. Follow her on Twitter.