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By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—How often do you get a chance to go through someone’s diary—and get paid to do it?
Aubrey Plaza, who plays wisecracking April on the hit TV series “Parks and Recreation,” had the good fortune to do just that. Cast in the lead role of “The To Do List,” a raunchy coming-of-age comedy by writer-director Maggie Carey, the big-eyed brunette was given the filmmaker’s personal journal from her high school years to get an idea of what it was like to be a young woman in the early 1990s.
Sure, there were period-specific events in the diary such as the time Carey camped out all night at the Boise (Idaho) State Pavilion for Vanilla Ice concert tickets, but what Plaza was most interested in unearthing were Carey’s sexual fantasies—all in the name of research for the role, of course.
In the R-rated sex comedy, Plaza plays nerdy high school overachiever Brandy, who upon graduation realizes she has not enjoyed the—ahem—carnal pleasures in life, so in her methodical way she starts a list of sexual acts she hopes to accomplish over the summer before college (most of which cannot be identified here in a family newspaper). In a very clinical way, she targets young men she knows from her job as a community pool lifeguard and from school to carry out her goals.
The Delaware-born actress, who is about decade or so out of high school, explains in her deadpan way, what it was like to play a sexually adventurous teenager determined to experience life to the fullest, and learning a few life lessons along the way.
Shot in just 24 days for $1.2 million, the production didn’t offer Plaza and the rest of the cast, including Carey’s husband actor Bill Hader, who plays Brandy’s boss, a lot of luxuries, but she found the experience rewarding nonetheless.
Q: Did you feel you were playing Maggie in this?
Plaza: Maggie gave me her diaries as research. (The movie) is loosely based on her but not it’s not completely true. I learned a lot of things shooting this movie.
Q: Being in an R-rated sex comedy, was there pressure to do nudity? When you started in the business was there pressure to enhance your breasts?
Plaza: (deadpan) Every morning when I wake up I think if these things were bigger… I don’t know. I guess. Pressure? No, not really.
Q: What kind of advice do you give to people who are stuck in the friend zone like Brandy’s friend Cameron (played by Johnny Simmons)?
Plaza: Friend zone? That’s an interesting term; I’ve never heard it before. For people that are friend-zoned, I would tell them keep your chin up, keep your eye on the prize and find someone quickly to make your friend jealous, because that always works. Pick the most hurtful person it could be. Go after that person and then see what happens and where your zone is.
Q: What did you think when you read in the script that your character was going to have to accidentally eat feces from the pool?
Plaza: Honestly, when I read the script I thought it was one of the funniest ones I’d ever read. I wasn’t thinking about what I’d actually have to do in it until I had to do it. I didn’t wrap my head around it usually until the day of shooting when I realized, “Oh, it’s the scene where I have to eat **** today.” We didn’t have much time, so a lot of the stuff I wasn’t mentally prepared for. I just kind of did it. I knew what I was getting myself into but you can never actually visualize what it actually will be like until you’re actually taking a bite out of a piece of ****.
Q: It was it actually chocolate, right?
Q: Did you have a job after you graduated from high school?
Plaza: I had many jobs after high school and summer jobs. A memorable one was as a hostess at Joe’s Crab Shack. That was one of my jobs that was really interesting. I also spent a lot of time at community pools. I’m not going to tell you what I did, but I spent a lot of time there. So I felt like I related to that time in life when you’re spending summers at the pool.
Q: You play the nerd in this but what were you really like in high school? Do you prefer the jock or the nerd in real life?
Plaza: I went to an all-girls Catholic high school. Looking back on it, I realize in my school, it was kind of cool to be a nerd. We didn’t have traditional cliques like you see in movies. I was kind of nerdy, I guess, but I wasn’t a loser. (She laughs.) I was nice. I had a great time and really gave it my all. As for jock versus nerd—I don’t know who wins. Everyone loses.
Q: What’s the difference between doing a TV show like “Parks and Recreation” and a film like Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?”
Plaza: I can’t believe I’m still on a TV show. I love being on my TV show. It’s totally different from working in movies. I feel that I know my character on “Parks and Recreation” so well. It’s fun to go with any story they throw at you. I also like doing movies like this because it allows you to do completely different kinds of things. That’s the most fun, exciting part about my job—to get to keep doing things that surprise people and challenging myself. I was looking for a long time to do a movie where I could give a **** *** and a **** *** and get ****, so I’m just really lucky that I found this script.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene from the film?
Plaza: One of the most memorable scenes for me was the masturbation scene. You don’t know how a scene is going to be shot when you read the script. I didn’t really think about it until I showed up on the set and I saw that the camera was mounted on the ceiling and I was just wearing a pro-Clinton t-shirt and my underwear. I couldn’t help thinking there is going to be some camera trickery where you don’t really see anything. And then I just realized I have to put my hands (in my underwear) and do it.
Q: You have a large and dedicated Twitter following. How much effort do you put into Tweeting? Is social media a correct launching pad for you?
Plaza: No. I don’t think of social media in that way. I started my Twitter account a long time ago, before anyone cared about my Twitter handle or what I was saying. So I do it more for my own entertainment. I don’t value any of that stuff in a way that I think has anything to do with my career. I’m sure some people make connections to it. Some actors use it as a branding tool but for me it’s just another app on my phone and I do it whenever I feel like it. I don’t care if anyone likes it or not.
Q: Did your performance in the critically acclaimed 2012 comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” have a significant impact on your career?
Plaza: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to have perspective on that sometimes. Sometimes I can feel something has changed but I don’t know what that is. I think things are always changing and I’m trying to keep focus on making good and interesting choices and working with good people. I guess it’s changed a little bit. It’s allowed me more freedom in what I can do but I still have to make people want me for jobs.
Q: What’s next for you?
Plaza: I’m shooting a movie right now called “Life After Beth.” It’s a dark zombie comedy. I play Beth.
Q: What do you look for in a script?
Plaza: I look for who’s directing it, the writing and the character.
Q: Do you only want to play lead roles?
Plaza: No. I’ll do any part. I just like to do good parts.
Q: Have you talked to Edgar Wright about being in his upcoming “Ant-Man” movie?
Plaza: No. I haven’t. We’re friends but I haven’t talked to him about it.