By Zoe Stagg
Photography: Jim Wright
“… Online campaigns create noise, and that noise puts pressure on the governments of these different countries because they don’t want bad publicity. It puts pressure on them to change the laws that keep women down. In that way, you can see social media really can change the world. That to me, is really inspiring…”
“We won’t know how this is affecting us for years to come.” If you picture Aubrey Plaza saying it as April Ludgate, the deadpan character she played for seven seasons on Parks and Recreation, it becomes a perfect reaction GIF in your mind. But in real life she’s passionate, about everything from women’s rights to equal representation—and she’s passionately torn—on social media. “I think it can be fun, but I don’t think we’re capable of understanding the implications of what this is doing to our brains, to our society, and how we interact with each other. It comes down to science, the chemicals in our brains that get addicted to these hits of dopamine that you get when you go on these apps and you get ‘likes’ and it’s like this instant gratification.” It’s a notion that’s pretty “hashtag relatable” in the filtered world of social media “Influencers” that’s the setting for her award-winning performance in Ingrid Goes West.
“…I think it can be fun, but I don’t think we’re capable of understanding the implications of what this is doing to our brains, to our society, and how we interact with each other. It comes down to science, the chemicals in our brains that get addicted to these hits of dopamine that you get when you go on these apps and you get ‘likes’ and it’s like this instant gratification…”
Plaza scooped up an Impact Award from the National Hispanic Media Coalition for her portrayal of Ingrid, a girl driven to obsession by Instagram and the movie scored an Independent Spirit Award. Hours after a whirlwind weekend and fresh from her win, Plaza feels the love of this real-life ‘like.’ “Honestly I’m just so honored and grateful just to be part of that community, still. I grew up wanting to go to the Spirit Awards from a very young age. I was obsessed with independent film, always. To be such an active part of that community is still kind of mind-blowing.”
As skeptical as she might be about living in the social media world, she has fully harnessed it as a force for change. “If you have something to say or a cause and you want to rally on something, you can use your platform for it. I think a lot of people are doing that, and I think it’s awesome.” Here, her voice loses the thoughtful pauses and prickles with power. “I recently had a get together with a few of my friends, some actresses who all have social media—we were meeting with Yasmeen Hassan, the head of Equality Now. They’re a group of badass female lawyers whose mission is to change laws that oppress women in every country, law-by-law.” In the wake of the #MeToo movement, this rallying cry for equality might very well be digital, especially for global organizations like Equality Now. “Online campaigns create noise, and that noise puts pressure on the governments of these different countries because they don’t want bad publicity. It puts pressure on them to change the laws that keep women down. In that way, you can see social media really can change the world. That to me, is really inspiring.”
While she’s uploading for a cause, she’s chill if people want to use their feeds for cat memes and keeping up with cousins. “It’s a personal choice. I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want to use their accounts for activism, people should be able to do what they want.”
Whether an online platform or a stage, Plaza is going to use it. Accepting her Impact Award was a chance to call for greater representation in Oscar winners —a direction she feels like the industry is heading. “It’s so important for children to see diverse characters and to see different cultures represented, and to not just see these clichés and stereotypes that I feel like my generation grew up with. I think it’s so awesome that kids have Coco and Black Panther, too! It’s a really exciting time.” With an Oscar for the former, and a billion dollars and climbing at the box office for the latter, it seems like the tide has shifted. Plaza is hopeful, but careful. “I don’t think that means that we’re done. We still have to keep fighting and keep that train moving.”
She puts her own momentum where her mouth is, advocating for continuing relief following Hurricane Maria. Plaza’s dad is Puerto Rican and together they put together a screening of Ingrid Goes West to raise money for the island still struggling to recover. “The destruction was really serious, and even now there are reports that things are not going okay, people don’t have power and it’s been months. We’re all sitting over here with the resources and Puerto Rico is a part of our country.” In a year where every day brings a headline more unbelievable than the one before, attention skews niche, and action follows passion. “I have cousins who still live there. It’s something I feel very passionately about.”
In the same vein, where there’s an overwhelming amount to pay attention to, Plaza realizes her role in helping people cope. “People need escape. The history of movies and why people love movies is always about escape. They’re that much more important when things aren’t going so well in the world,” she gives the sort of exhausted half chuckle that would make anybody alive in 2018 respond, ‘GIRL SAME.’ “I think that now is the time people probably do appreciate being transported into these other worlds. People are kind of yearning to expand their minds, or something. This can’t all be it, you know?”
In her TV series Legion, an expanded mind is practically a prerequisite. The gorgeously insane show on FX pairs the X-Men universe with the director of TV’s Fargo, and it’s almost more than the small screen can contain. “It’s so hard for me to talk about Lenny,” the character she plays to outlandish, whiplash results. “I think the trajectory of that character is like a weird riddle that has yet to be solved. It’s already complicated enough for me, and I’m in the show. I can’t imagine being an audience member and trying to put it together, it’s so trippy!” There might be a reason beyond escape that makes a show like this so poignant right now. “I think there’s something about these mutant characters with abilities that people are really drawn to, because people can relate to characters that are kind of oppressed, or characters that are not ‘normal.’ I think there’s something really relatable and important about these stories for people that feel like they’re on the edges of society.” Heading into its second season, Plaza can barely wait for it to hit. “I think people are going to lose their shit.”
She’s racking up projects from Ingrid and Legion, to The Little Hours and An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn—all in the same generation where a box-office hit like Thelma and Louise was once considered an oddity for its female leads. The trend looks good. “I think there’s more attention being given to female characters on the page. If a man wrote the script, a lot of times now, they’ll have a woman come and read the script and really focus in on the female characters and make sure they’re portrayed in the right way. I don’t get to read every single script, I have a little bubble of things I’m exposed to, but I do see a ton more female lead characters, which is really, really exciting. I don’t think that’s going to go away any time soon.”
Especially not if Plaza has anything to say about it—and she’s going to. “I’m taking a bit of a writing break, I’m really inspired to write and direct something myself. I’m ready for that.” She won’t give any hints, other than “Absolutely, yes!” it’s a project that will feature her…and beyond that, we’re out of luck. “I don’t want to jinx it!” she laughs. Her job might be living in public, but she takes time to clock out. “I’m honestly a more private person, and for me anytime I’m doing interviews or talk shows, they’re in some ways a performance. I don’t necessarily feel like I need to share every part of myself with the world. I need to keep some of that for myself, so I can exist as a real person and not feel like I have to be totally exposed at all times.”
She’s pushed herself even further from her “real life” stealing that spotlight, after a year of roles that shatter the April Ludgate Effect. That’s in part because Plaza treats each role like a real person. “It’s weird, but I don’t approach comedy and drama any differently. For me, it’s all about commitment.” She didn’t deadpan for the lols of it, she did it for keeps. “I committed to April at all times, and the comedy comes out of that commitment.” Even the edgiest of characters on the page have a beating heart at their core, and Plaza, quickly becoming Queen of the Quirk, is the master of finding it. “I really focus on the behavior. For Ingrid, I never wanted to treat that character like she was ‘crazy,’ I always thought about the behavior and why would someone behave like that. I start from a place of compassion for the character. Maybe she behaves like this, because she’s so insecure she just wants someone to love her. That’s something I can relate to, and I think a lot of people can relate to. And,” she laughs and repeats a piece of advice from Meryl Streep herself, “A wig never hurts.”
Neither, does the truth. “The funniest stuff always comes from the most truthful moments. And then of course, the timing. That’s something you’re either born with, or you’re not.”
She pauses, in full reaction GIF-style. “Sometimes I’ve got it, and sometimes I don’t.”
photography by Jim Wright
stylist Katie Bofshever @ the wall group
hair Maranda @ the wall group
makeup Mai Quynh @ the wall group
location Studios 60 los angeles, ca
Thank you for your blog post.Really thank you! Awesome.
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