When the notoriously poker-faced Aubrey Plaza says that she’s wanted to be an actor since she was 13 and thus isn’t surprised it’s happening, or that perhaps the universe responded to her acting daydreams, you have to wonder, does she really mean that?
Understandably, Aubrey Plaza used to hate the word “deadpan,” as associated as it’s become with the detached, almost unreadable delivery she’s cultivated as characters like Julie Powers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Darius in Safety Not Guaranteed and perhaps most famously, Parks and Recreation’s wryly impassive April Ludgate. Then her Ned Rifle director Hal Hartley cast the term in a different light: maybe it occasionally serves a character to drop lines with a certain lack of personal involvement. Though no one expects much from a zombie in the way of emoting, The Guardian said of Life After Beth, “…Plaza steals the show with one foot in the grave, her rotting heroine ricocheting between adolescent snarkiness and cadaverous rage…” When you think about it, it takes a certain amount of equanimity to put a line out there and let it sit without telegraphing what we’re supposed to think about it or how we’re supposed to react. If that means viewers remain a bit off balance, all the better to hold our attention while we supply our own context.
But back to those comments. She was (we’re pretty sure) quite sincere, though Plaza herself likely had more to do with moving her career along than the universe. Philosophically, she seems to fall somewhere between fatalism and determinism. When her mom introduced her to Saturday Night Live, young Aubrey decided it was her dream job. When she looked up cast member bios and saw standup comedy as the common thread among her idols, she went promptly into improv, and later actually interned at SNL. Shortly after, she started growing the career she’s still building today with drolly arresting roles in films like Funny People and About Alex and The To Do List, often playing younger, still-at-that-awkward-stage characters. Perceptive viewers of her arc on the recently-ended Parks and Recreation might have noticed Plaza’s very intentional efforts to add layers and different choices to April Ludgate, without any overreaching departures from the essence of her character. Now able to poke her head up take a look around after six seasons on Parks, Plaza plans to continue her attempt “…to be considered a well-rounded actor, not a weirdo.” That starts next year with Dirty Grandpa and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.
Given her peppy, workmanlike embrace of masturbation (The To Do List), doll parts (Playing It Cool), and, um, quirky guest appearances (any number of talk shows), she’s demonstrated she’s unafraid to attempt almost anything, including being herself – no small feat in her line of work. If part of the outrageousness allows her to remain a bit of an enigma, we can live with that. What we most want to see is what Plaza does next, because if there’s one thing that’s obvious, the woman’s capable of almost anything.