Actors are self-promoters by necessity, and they’re usually eager to tell you about all the projects they have coming up. But when given the opportunity to plug upcoming roles, Aubrey Plaza turns it down. That’s how much she loves Colin Trevorrow’s new film Safety Not Guaranteed.
“No, I’m totally all about Safety Not Guaranteed,” she says. “I’m just so excited about it, and I think people are going to love it. The reaction that we’ve gotten has been amazing, and people literally are cheering at the end of the movie. The ending of the movie is like no other ending that people have seen in a really long time. It’s very special; I can’t tell you what happens or spoil it. But it’s really something, and I think people actually leave the theater feeling hopeful. It’s like a witness test for believers. If you like the movie, you believe in life and happy things and people. And if you don’t, then maybe you should see it again.”
Plaza’s performance is one of the keys to an emotional film, and her experiences in episodic television (most readers will know her best, of course, from Parks and Recreation) were invaluable in preparing her to play film roles. “Being on a television show is so good for me as an actor,” she says, “because I’m able to work with different directors every week. I’m thrown in with different directors who all have different styles and different ways of doing things. Some people that just do movies, maybe you do 20 movies in your lifetime and that’s 20 directors. I’m working with 22 directors in a year. I think I’ve grown a lot from working on the show. But I have a long way to go, I think.”
Another perk of being on a huge network sitcom is that sometimes people will write parts just for you. That was the case with Safety Not Guaranteed. “Derek Connolly wrote the script, and I didn’t know him at the time,” Plaza says. “But he wrote the part of Darius with me in mind. I got the script a couple of years ago, and I was very flattered. And then I was very surprised that it was so good! I loved the characters, and I loved the journey that they all go on together. I was looking to do something a little different than what I had done in the past and branch out and try something new. I thought this movie was a really organic way for me to play a character that maybe has a similar vibe to things I’ve done previously, but then she’s totally transformed into this different kind of person, this different version of herself. I just really love the transformation that she has in the movie. In a way, I felt like it was exactly what I was looking to do with my career. To find a place that’s different and kind of open.”
Plaza has worked with Roman Coppola and Whit Stillman, but she didn’t have any hesitation about working with first-timer Trevorrow. “All directors are different,” she says. “And of course, the level of experience kind of informs how people direct. I was so excited to work with [Coppola and Stillman] and to experience their different ways of doing things, because everyone has such a different style. I think with a first-time director, they’re establishing their style a little more. I wasn’t sure of what to expect with Colin. I had seen his short film, and I had a feeling that he would be a good director, and I was right. When we shot the film, he was very focused on the right things always, on the performance. And he was always willing to discuss any emotional moments or truth of the scene. I think that is what made him so good and will make him a very successful director.”
One of the most striking things about Trevorrow’s film is that what appears to be (and, in a way, actually is) a high-concept movie turns out to actually be a moving character study. That’s a combination often attempted, but seldom successfully. “He’s a big movie kind of director,” Plaza agrees. “He loves Spielberg movies, these high-concept blockbuster movies. But, he’s also very focused on the small, human elements of the story. I think the combination of that is what made him so good, and I think that’s what makes the film special. It’s a time-travel movie. But it’s also really a love story and a movie about people dealing with their issues, with this booming sci-fi element over the entire story. That’s what’s interesting about it; you get both, really. You get the time travel stuff. There’s lasers and crazy stuff in the movie. But, then there’s also just a really genuine story about human beings connecting to each other.”
Towards the end of the conversation, Plaza is finally enticed to talk a bit about Parks and Recreation. She’s given a hypothetical – suppose you’re on the set of the show, having a terrible day, and you can have five minutes with any one co-star to cheer you up. Who would it be? Her answer is immediate: “Nick Offerman, hands down. He’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever worked with. He’s such a good reminder of joy in general, and being grateful for the job that we have. Anytime that I’m down or I’m complaining about some stupid bullshit, I just have to go to him and he brings it all into perspective, because he is so happy to show up to work every day. He doesn’t let anyone forget it. He always makes me laugh, sometimes when I don’t want him to!”