By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It’s getting harder to turn on the TV or find an indie film that doesn’t star Hollywood “It” girl Aubrey Plaza. Her day job is playing oddball civil servant April Ludgate on the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation.” She also has a recurring role on the NBC sitcom “Welcome to Sweden.” In her off time, she manages to squeeze in movie roles.
Last year, it was the raunchy coming-of-age comedy, “The To-Do List,” in which she played a recent high school grad determined to explore her sexuality. The Delaware native now has two films coming out back to back: the “Big Chill”-ish “About Alex” and the zom-rom-com “Life After Beth.”
The 30-year-old actress, known for her deadpan delivery, spoke about playing a zombie in “Life After Beth.” She co-stars with Dane DeHaan (“Kill Your Darlings,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”), who plays her boyfriend, who is delighted to see that his recently departed girlfriend has mysterious reappeared at her parents house. Initially thwarted by her overprotective father (John C. Reilly) in his attempts to reconnect with her, DeHaan Zach soon discovers Beth’s undead secret. The film, written and directed by first timer Jeff Baena, flaunts conventional zombie lore, where those afflicted immediately turn into deadly killers. Beth’s journey to mindless human hunter takes place over a period several days. That gives Zach an opportunity to reconnect with Beth, with whom he had argued just prior to her untimely demise.
Plaza says it was a journey for herself, going from a regular girl to a hungry, groaning monster. At one point, Zach takes the Beth for a hike; only she is strapped to a full-size kitchen stove so she won’t hurt him or anyone else. The actress, who stars with Johnny Depp in the upcoming action comedy “Mortdecai,” recently spoke about her zombie role, and how she feels lucky to be able to do what she most enjoys doing.
Q: What attracted you to the role of Beth? How did you find the tone for your character?
Plaza: I was attracted to it because of the script. It’s a great script and the dialogue is really funny. It was very appealing for me to do something physical. I’ve never really done anything that physical before, so I thought it would be really interesting and challenging to try to play someone that is kind of human and turns into a monster. Tonally, I just made weird choices and just collaborated with Jeff. But a lot of it was on the page, so that was a guideline and in the moment, when I was being a zombie, I was just trying to go to a dark zombie place and just be impulsive.
Q: Where else would you carry a stove on your back?
Plaza: Yeah, who would’ve thought that I would’ve carried a stove up a mountain?
Q: How heavy was it?
Plaza: It was really heavy. I hurt myself. I tore my abdominal muscle, but I’ve totally healed.
Q: What were the joys of working with Dane? You spend so many scenes together and the relationship is so crucial for the film. What were some of the cool acting moments that you got to share together?
Plaza: He’s very unpredictable in a great way. He’s not doing the same thing in every take, so I always felt like we were really present and listening to each other for real. That’s hard to come by too, because a lot of time when you’re in a scene with someone, you don’t actually feel that energy from them. But he knows what he’s doing.
Q: You two have a really great chemistry in the movie. Is it easy to stay friends after the film wraps since you probably don’t see each other until you’re doing press for the film?
Plaza: I feel like it’s rare and less frequent for me to make a connection with someone and then really, really remain really close. I feel like we all became very much like a little family when we were shooting. We always got each other’s back.
Q: What was the challenge or perhaps the easy part of working with a first-time director?
Plaza: I’ve worked with a lot of first time directors. I could write a book about it. I like working with them. It’s really fun to be a part of them learning and going through that whole thing. But on this movie, finding ways to communicate on set about the zombie stuff was a challenge sometimes because you’re shooting out of order, so there’s always a feeling that you have to remember all of these certain things to make it track throughout the movie. I think that was the biggest challenge. I can’t speak for Jeff, but we worked together to overcome that. At every moment in of the movie, we had to remember how much of a zombie am I, how sentient am I and, physically, what has happened to me. There was a lot of continuity stuff that we had to keep in mind.
Q: How much effort did it take to make your zombie realistic?
Plaza: I don’t even know what I did. I definitely never had a moment where I was like, “Whoa, that was really broad.” Honestly, we were just following the script so closely and the script was just so well written and it was really a great guideline. All I had to do was do what it said to do, down to the actions and growling and everything. What helped me ground my zombie character was that I felt trapped inside of myself kind of.
Q: Zach has a challenge connecting with Beth’s parents after she’s a zombie. Have you ever had an awkward experience meeting a guy’s parents?
Plaza: Every meeting I’ve had with anyone is an awkward experience for them. So, yeah, probably every set of parents I’ve ever met of anyone I’ve dated probably thought I was totally weird, but then they come around.
Q: Did you suggest the casting of your friend Anna Kendrick for a small part in the movie?
Plaza: Yeah, we just sent her the script. She’s such a professional and she’s really serious about her career and acting. I don’t think she would do a favor for anyone just as a favor. She only does things that are good so I was just lucky that it was good enough that she would do it. (She quips) I don’t think it hurt that we were lovers.
Q: You also star in the indie film “About Alex.” Do you feel super busy right now or is it a coincidence that these films are coming out around the same time?
Plaza: Yes. I don’t know how that happened. When you’re on a TV show, you only have a window of time to do other stuff and so it’s super-concentrated. When everything comes out, it all comes out at the same time. You never know if what you’re doing is good enough to come out. You just never know. I feel very lucky. I’ve been very lucky with the stuff I’ve done. I feel very busy right now but I like being busy.