Rest­less sense of ex­plo­ration

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - mark.olsen@la­

Plaza gives a per­for­mance that is a finely tuned bal­ance be­tween un­hinged com­edy and del­i­cate vul­ner­a­bil­ity, an­chor­ing the movie’s un­likely blend of sav­age con­tem­po­rary satire and fine-tuned char­ac­ter study.

Although the movie’s use of In­sta­gram — as well as ref­er­ences to av­o­cado toast, Joan Did­ion, Clare V. clutch bags and a host of other on-point, au courant L.A. sig­ni­fiers — gives it a sense of be­ing very much about right now, the deep well of iso­la­tion it draws from con­jures feel­ings that are more eter­nal. It was those deeper feel­ings that drove Plaza to be­come in­volved in “In­grid” as a pro­ducer to help bring out the movie she thought it could be.

“For ‘In­grid,’ that movie is re­ally a char­ac­ter piece, at least that’s how I saw it. I wanted to have as much con­trol, and I wanted my opin­ion to mat­ter as much as I could,” she said re­cently in Los An­ge­les. “I saw the movie in my mind when I read it. I was, like, ‘I know what this can be and as a pro­ducer I can help it get to that place.’ As an ac­tor, I can only give my opin­ion and hope that some­one cares.”

Plaza’s com­mit­ted per­for­mance in “In­grid” also moves the 33year-old even fur­ther from the caus­tic, dis­af­fected screen per­sona of ear­lier roles in movies such as “Funny Peo­ple” and “Safety Not Guar­an­teed” and most es­pe­cially her seven sea­sons on TV in “Parks and Recre­ation.”

As “The Lit­tle Hours’ ” wri­ter­di­rec­tor Jeff Baena (also Plaza’s long­time boyfriend) was quick to note, “she’s a lot more than that.”

Spicer co-wrote the “In­grid Goes West” script with David Bran­son Smith, which won the screen­play prize when it pre­miered this year at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val.

The pair did not write the role with Plaza in mind, but she was nev­er­the­less a top choice as the project be­gan to come to­gether. Once Spicer and Plaza met in per­son, any of his ini­tial un­cer­tainty faded away.

“Lit­er­ally the first meet­ing, the films she was ref­er­enc­ing were all the films that Dave and I had talked about when we were writ­ing it,” he said. “I was so im­pressed with her, how thought­ful she was and how she wanted to ap­proach it. We were to­tally on the same page. It was pretty clear from the start, this is In­grid.”

The pair talked about movies such as “The King of Com­edy,” “Chuck & Buck,” “To Die For,” “The Tal­ented Mr. Ri­p­ley” and the TV show “En­light­ened,” which all fea­ture a mix of light and dark tones, a catch-in-your-throat sense of hu­mor and a cer­tain play with iden­tity.

“The idea that some­one kind of doesn’t have an iden­tity un­less they are mir­ror­ing some­one else was some­thing I re­ally re­late to,” Plaza said.

“I don’t know if it’s be­ing an ac­tor or be­ing a per­son that’s in­se­cure in the world — I don’t know what it was — I felt like I un­der­stood the idea of some­one that wanted some­one to like them so bad,” she said, “and some­one that would want to do things that weren’t re­ally OK, but you felt bad for her any­way be­cause her mo­ti­va­tions are re­ally pure. Her mo­ti­va­tions are com­ing from a place of lone­li­ness.”

Plaza noted that she of­ten has trou­ble shak­ing off her roles af­ter a pro­duc­tion ends. But “In­grid” was some­thing else, in par­tic­u­lar be­cause of the amount of screen time she had. So much of the shoot was spent with a phone in her hand, al­low­ing her­self to in­dulge in In­grid’s toxic be­hav­ior, that it only high­lighted her own am­biva­lence to­ward so­cial me­dia.

“My re­la­tion­ship with [so­cial me­dia] is so com­pli­cated be­cause I don’t like do­ing it and it makes me feel bad most of the time. I have a hard time with it. But it’s also such a way to com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple now, so it’s hard to dis­miss,” Plaza said. “You’re not go­ing to see me do­ing a bunch of self­ies and stuff like that. That’s not part of my life. I can’t. The idea of that is just no.”

One of the most im­me­di­ate ways in which Plaza’s be­hind-thescenes in­flu­ence was felt was in the cast­ing of O’Shea Jack­son Jr. for the role of Dan Pinto, a Bat­manob­sessed as­pir­ing screen­writer who be­friends In­grid.

Plaza had only a pass­ing ex­change with the “Straight Outta Comp­ton” star when they were both pre­sent­ing at an awards show, but they later com­mu­ni­cated via di­rect mes­sages on Twit­ter, then texts, and soon ar­ranged to meet. It turned out Jack­son is him­self fix­ated on Bat­man, mak­ing him even more of a per­fect fit for the role.

“One of the things Spicer and I talked about when we first met was that I wanted the movie to not feel like an­other quirky Sil­ver Lake indie,” Plaza said. “I wanted it to have weight, and I wanted it to feel big.”

Plaza re­ceived rave no­tices this year for her work on “Le­gion,” a psy­che­delic trea­tise on iden­tity and men­tal ill­ness set within the world of Marvel’s “X-Men.”

She plays a char­ac­ter who in­hab­its a com­plex tan­gle of mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties and per­son­al­i­ties and ex­ists within al­ter­nate planes of re­al­ity, some­times within a sin­gle scene. Plaza also per­formed a brassy solo dance num­ber set to a remix of Nina Si­mone’s “Feel­ing Good.”

The role was orig­i­nally writ­ten as a mid­dle-aged man, but show cre­ator Noah Haw­ley saw some­thing in Plaza that he thought could an­i­mate the part in un­ex­pected ways.

“If it wasn’t Aubrey I don’t think I would have opened it up,” Haw­ley said. “She is such a sur­pris­ing per­former in gen­eral. From one take to the next, she’s al­ways re­ally alive.

“If you’re look­ing for range, if you’re look­ing for true ex­plo­ration of the char­ac­ter,if you’re look­ing for some­one who is re­ally just try­ing to be in the mo­ment, there is re­ally no one who is more alive on cam­era, be­cause she never wants to feel rote or pre­dictable. She doesn’t want to get bored.”

That rest­less sense of ex­plo­ration can be found even in her com­mit­ted, bound­ary-bust­ing per­for­mances in main­stream come­dies like “Mike and Dave Need Wed­ding Dates” or “Dirty Grandpa,” some­how fit­ting right along­side her work in head­ier films such as Hal Hart­ley’s “Ned Ri­fle.” There are even her un­likely ap­pear­ances on the TV pro­ce­du­ral drama “Crim­i­nal Minds.”

“I think be­cause she’s been re­ally smart with her choices — she doesn’t just do every­thing — it to some ex­tent lim­ited her ex­po­sure early on,” said Baena. “In­stead of cat­a­pult­ing to fame by just sell­ing out and do­ing some big, stupid com­edy and not caring about it, she ac­tu­ally does care. I think by man­ag­ing her ca­reer in that way, it’s pay­ing off now be­cause she’s able to do it on her terms. She’s not re­ly­ing on some kind of for­mula. Her tra­jec­tory is su­per her own.”

At a time when ac­tors en­joy in­creas­ing free­dom to move be­tween film and tele­vi­sion, Plaza re­cently com­pleted a guest role on Joe Swan­berg’s Net­flix an­thol­ogy series “Easy” and will also ap­pear in the next film from “The Greasy Stran­gler” di­rec­tor Jim Hosk­ing. She be­gins shoot­ing the sec­ond sea­son of “Le­gion” soon.

Spicer and Baena both say they ex­pect Plaza to di­rect some­thing her­self sooner rather than later, head­ing fur­ther in the di­rec­tion of greater cre­ative con­trol pointed to by her move to pro­ducer. Plaza sees di­rect­ing in her fu­ture too, though she doesn’t have any­thing spe­cific in mind just yet and ex­pressed re­luc­tance to step away from where act­ing has taken her — “I’m hav­ing too much fun,” she said.

Although “The Lit­tle Hours,” “Le­gion” and “In­grid Goes West” don’t have much in com­mon, to­gether they sug­gest Plaza has turned a cor­ner into a new phase of her ca­reer.

“There’s a place for me, but I’m al­ways fight­ing,” she said. “It’s not an ob­vi­ous place for me. Peo­ple don’t know it un­til you show them.”

Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

AUBREY PLAZA says di­rect­ing is in her fu­ture, although right now, “I’m hav­ing too much fun.”


UN­LIKE HER ti­tle char­ac­ter in “In­grid Goes West,” Plaza is not a big fan of so­cial me­dia.

Michelle Faye FX

PLAZA’S char­ac­ter on “Le­gion” was first writ­ten for a man un­til its cre­ator saw her per­form.

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