Most famously known as the deadpan and mischievous April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation, or most recently as the evil Lenny Busker in Legion, Aubrey Plaza has been forging a path for herself portraying dark, damaged, but ultimately sympathetic women on the big and small screen. Her latest starring role is as the titular character in Ingrid Goes West, which she also produced, about an emotionally needy young woman addicted to social media who becomes obsessed with an Instagram celebrity played by Elizabeth Olsen. We managed to catch up with Aubrey during the BFI London Film Festival where she is promoting the film to discuss the pitfalls of social media in the 21st century, her role as actor and producer, and the scarily accurate Batman fixation shared by both her co-star O’Shea Jackson Jnr, and the character he plays in the film, Dan Pinto.
You are credited as producer on Ingrid Goes West, how did you first become involved in the project?
I read the script initially as an actress, but the second I was done I knew I wanted to produce the movie and I wanted to have as much creative input as I could with the entire process. I was so excited about it, I had just come off doing The Little Hours, which I had a producing credit on as well, but I was just ready to get my hands on something and really shape it.
What did you connect with the most, the story or the character of Ingrid?
It was the character. It felt to me almost like a character study and it reminded me of movies that I grew up loving, movies that made me want to be in movies, like To Die For and King of Comedy, movies where you’re really digging really deep with one character and seeing all the many layers and following that character through an entire journey. That’s what really appealed to me about it.
Ingrid is quite a dark, if sympathetic character, do you feel a kinship with these darker characters or is this just a quality you wish to explore in your own acting?
It’s something I want to explore. I think any role that I end up doing there is a reason for it and it’s that I either find it interesting or it’s scary for me or I think it’s very challenging to play someone like that. I like to do things that are scary.
As a producer were you involved in casting?
I was really involved in the casting process. Matt, the director, and I had many conversations about who our dream people were for each of the parts. Elizabeth Olsen was our dream girl and we weren’t sure if we could get her but we somehow did, we were so lucky to get her. And O’Shea, it was just this weird, cosmic coincidence where we weren’t sure who should play Dan Pinto, what kind of person should play Dan Pinto. We had a lot of different ideas about it and I met O’Shea very briefly at some event and I just had a moment where I thought, like, that could be a very interesting take on the character and so I messaged him on Twitter. We didn’t know each other, so I behaved as Ingrid would and I stalked him on Twitter. I said I had this amazing script and I would really love for you to consider it, and here’s my number, and that kind of thing. Then a couple of days later he texted me “Yo, what’s up, its Batman,” and I just initially thought that he must love the script and he must want to be in the movie if he’s calling himself Batman, but then I met up with him and I found out that he had never read the script or know anything about the movie, it’s just like, what he says because he wants to be Batman and referred to his car as the Batmobile. So I was just like, you ARE Dan Pinto and you have to be in our movie. Then for the next following months Matt and I just harassed him until he finally caved and decided to do it.
Yourself, Elizabeth Olsen and O’Shea Jackson Jnr are perfect in your roles, were the character interactions between the three of you tightly scripted or was there leeway for some improvisation?
We improvised a lot. I think the script was really specific and really funny so we didn’t have to improvise but we were all so committed to our characters that I think it was really fun to open the script up and just play around. Lizzy got really into it, she’s an amazing improviser and she had never done it before; and O’Shea just really said a lot of things that weren’t in the script but the movie’s better for it.
The film is very funny but quite profound in its exploration of identities in the social media age. Was this an important issue you wanted to address and what is your relationship with social media?
I feel conflicted about social media. I always have and I think the film is a really great conversation starter about the impact of social media and how we are all engaging with it and I’ve always felt there are more negatives than positives when it comes to social media, so for me it was satisfying to be in a film that highlights the negatives and shows you what can really go wrong. But again, it’s not supposed to be an indictment of social media and it’s not supposed to have a clear message, it’s supposed to just build awareness about something that is a big part of our lives.
Was there a concern that film might be a bit too preachy?
I don’t think we ever wanted the film to be too “finger-waggy” and I don’t think we wanted the movie to end in the way that the message was so clearly, like, “everyone put down your phones” because it’s just the world that we live in. It’s the reality that we live in that this kind of platform is really popular and that’s the way people communicate with each other. I think it’s more about just building some kind of awareness about it.
Ingrid Goes West is in Australian cinemas from October 26, 2017. Read our review here.