Actress and Comedian Aubrey Plaza | The Backlot Podcast | NYFA


I gave my gay boyfriend’s boyfriend a hickey and it totally made my gay boyfriend jealous.

I don’t want you scaring off the guard coolest girl at my party Scott. We all know you’re a total lady killer wannabe jerky jerk.

Do you like music. Did you just ask me if I like music. Yeah, that’s like asking me if I like food you’re like no-nonsense.

Well, there’s no sense of nonsense especially when the heats hot.

Are you the kind of doctor who gets hooked on his own drugs? I bet you are. You ever face certain death? If it was so certain I wouldn’t be here would I.

Is there anywhere you don’t work? They’re called Jobs something a —-ball like you would know anything about here about.

You ever find a dead body in the trash? Or body parts? Like a torso or a head? Please say head.

I think you should lose the first line and the last line and all of the other lines and instead just walk up to the mike and meow really loudly for eight minutes.

Eric: Before she was known for her work in front of the camera, Aubrey Plaza spent a great deal of time behind the camera, including studying here at New York Film Academy.

Aubrey: I did the New York Film Academy summer session in 2001. I was a film student and I think the program was at Universal. I really have to honestly say that that experience was – I went on to go to NYU film school. I got into Tisch after that and I used my NYFA movie to get into Tisch. That was very helpful so that was something I got out of it. And honestly like my freshman curriculum at NYU like I feel like I learned more in this program than I did there because it was more hands on and I believe with filmmaking especially, like it’s like you have to do it and you have to just be like thrown into it and that’s how you learn. And like sitting in like critiquing movies is one way of learning about movies but I learned a lot more from doing what you guys are doing.

Eric: Ms. Plaza began acting in community theater at an early age. It was at this time she learned that even though Cinderella might get the prince it’s the stepsister who has the most fun.

Aubrey: I remember when I was like 11 or 12 I auditioned for Cinderella at the community theater and I really wanted to play Cinderella. And they gave me the part of the ugly stepsister and I was kind of devastated. But then I had like this one musical number that was like the big comedy in number of the show. And I remember like once I got on stage and started doing it I thought like it’s actually really fun to make people laugh so – and I don’t know I just grew up. I was really like I said into sketch comedy Saturday Night Live and then I got really into like improv in high school and I was really obsessed with like watching different sketch groups like on Kids in the Hall and Mr. Show and The State and I was like kind of my thing I really liked all that stuff. So I always knew that I wanted to go to New York and study at the UCB theater.

But yeah, I don’t know, and I was always you know like just like a weird person.

Eric: Like many comedic actresses miss Plaza has extensive training in improvisation including at UCB, the Upright Citizens Brigade. However, even after all these years she still finds herself intimidated by the form.

Aubrey: I still suck at improv. I really do improv long-form improv is so hard and I still get asked to do shows at UCB and like sometimes I lie and I say I’m busy because I’m so scared. Still.

So yeah but I make myself do it because it’s so good for your brain to like get onstage and just make stuff up in front of people. But yeah, I mean, I don’t know. I learned from really good people.

Eric: She found that her training and improvisation also enriched her dramatic work.

Aubrey: If you’re not familiar with UCB the thing that stands out with training at UCB is that they focus on finding the truth you know, in every scene. Like, when you’re doing a scene there, it’s not about trying to make jokes and being funny. Like, you’re not supposed to try to be funny because people that try to be funny never are funny. But people that commit to their characters like 200 percent and are just being really really truthful and reactive are always the funniest. So, I think that applies with drama too. And nowadays improv. I feel like everything that I go out for or like things that I work on they almost expect you to improvise drama too. So I think it’s really good training for both for sure.

Eric: Her time at UCB came in especially handy when working with one of the godmothers of modern improv., Amy Poehler.

Aubrey: Amy Poehler being on Parks was a really big learning experience too because I got to work with Amy who literally started the theater. So, when I was in college I interned at SNL. Amy was, she was in the cast when I worked there but I worked in the design office and I was just like in the shadows lurking.

And I didn’t like, to talk to anyone. You know I was like, an intern. I wasn’t like talking to anybody in the cast so no I didn’t know her.

I met her -Day one – they had us do these like Olympic promos for the Olympics before we even shot the show. And I showed up and that’s when I met her. They put us together on a swing set and we just started playing our characters.

— What do kids like more than a playground? Candy. No, no. Nothing is better for kids than a playground.

You know I know I know because I am – a virgin – expert at playgrounds. —

Eric: She’s worked with many of her favorite performers but only one of them consistently made her break character

Aubrey: I have a pretty good poker face so I can keep it together. The hardest person I’ve ever had to work with that would make me laugh is Fred Armisen. Hands down. I cannot keep a straight face around him. When I did Portlandia I couldn’t say my line for like 45 minutes I couldn’t do it.

— We have classes here. Abby D’s queer question why don’t you take that? I have pole dancing class that day. Excuse me? Pole dancing. Pole dancing? Exercise. We’re about to freak out right now we’re about two seconds away from jumping up on this table and kicking everything in sight which by the way is our own property. So I…Guess I’ll go somewhere else. No, let’s find these books for you. —

And I ended up having to pinch myself so hard that I started bleeding and so, I learned to just hurt myself.

That’s only one way that I can not laugh is if I physically hurt myself. Yeah.

Eric: Despite working with some of Hollywood’s biggest names she still occasionally finds herself starstruck.

Aubrey: Yeah it is weird to work on things like such famous people but I don’t know, there’s like always like a couple of people that I’ll get nervous around and surprise me like one time I met Jeff Goldblum.

And I don’t know why that made me really nervous. Oh God. I don’t know. Yeah, I get nervous. I’m nervous now.

Eric: For Miss Plaza a small role on a small web series led to so many big things.

Aubrey: As an actor, there’s so many different ways to get in and everyone has a different story. There’s no – that’s why it’s so hard to be an actor there’s no set thing that you can do. But I can kind of pinpoint what happened to me because I was training at UCB and it was right around the time when Internet videos like web series and all that stuff started like that was becoming a thing. Now it’s like you know, that’s all it is. But at that time it was like sketch groups were like just starting to like put out videos. And I got asked to be in a web series called The Jeannie Tate Show which was written and directed by Maggie Carey who is Bill Hader’s wife. And it was about a soccer mom who is running a talk show from her minivan while she is running errands.

— It’s The Jeannie Tate Show —

She cast me as I heard delinquent teenage daughter who’s like always in and out of rehab and I would harass all the guests that would come on and stuff.

— Jeannie’s stepdaughter, Tina Tate.

This is my chemically dependent teenage stepdaughter. I have a name and so does your illness. Dr. Gustavo says we have to label our problems before we can solve them. If I label you queen of the lame-o’s can you solve that? Zip it. Shut. Your.

Mouth hole. Don’t look at me. Keep it shut. —

And then, then went on to direct this movie I was in called the To Do list. She wrote and directed that. But this was back when I was like I think I was like 19-20 ish and I was in one of her improv classes. Maggie and I from that some agent saw it because there were other people like on SNL in it and they noticed me and made contact with me and then I just was like harassing that person, sending them emails, sending them links to you know invitations to shows or whatever, and then a while later that agent who wasn’t working with me who was just like being nice to me was like Judd Apatow is having this you know, wide casting search for his movie he’s trying to find a stand up comedian to play this part. You should put yourself on tape for it. So I did that. You know I was really lucky to be in the right time and the right place and I wasn’t a standup comedian at the time. I was just doing like live shows and stuff but he really liked my tape. And then they told me like well, we can’t hire you because we have to hire a standup because they have to write their own jokes and there’s going to be a lot of live shows and stuff in the movie. So then I just started doing standup and like taping myself and just pretending I was a standup comedian and then sending those tapes, and then I did it so much that he finally was like “OK I’ll bring you in to read with Seth Rogen.”

It was mostly like just really you know like small, small shows in like Queens or in a bar you know just really little things.

And I would just have my friend tape them and they were really unofficial and I did it. And then I – they cast me in the part and then Judd called me and was like you got the part. In two weeks you’re going to come to L.A. and we’re going to do like two months of shows just in pre-production and then start shooting the movie. So I came to LA and like literally like the fourth or fifth time I ever did stand up, I followed Adam Sandler. He made me do it. He was like torturing me. And he just made me get up there. So I – yeah I kept doing it for the movie. And then after we shot the movie I still kept doing it but I haven’t done it in a long time. And every time I did it I always like wanted to run away and I always had a meltdown backstage and I was like “Why am I doing this?” This is the worse. This is a nightmare. The reason I bring up the Jeannie Tate show is because that day that I did that show like I actually had a thing in my head I was like I don’t want to wake up on Saturday like 6:00 in the morning go to Hoboken. Like I went to sleep in and not do that but I just did it.

And if I hadn’t done that I really don’t think that I would have ended up getting Funny People because I can see how all that stuff led to it and I feel like I learned from UCB to always have like a, you know – their mission is “Yes, and” – you say “yes” and then you add to it. And that’s kind of like how I try to like approach life and just – it’s true: the more you say yes and the more stuff you – just never know who’s going to connect you to who or what you know what’s going to happen.

Eric: Ms Plaza it feels that it was her diligence even more so than her talent that enabled her to break into the industry.

Aubrey: I literally went from nothing to being in Funny People which making that jump is crazy that this doesn’t happen, ever. But I just wanted it so bad. I believed that it would happen too. You know you have to be delusional. You have to really. I grew up in Delaware. I didn’t grow up around any you know, Hollywood people. I was just like you know watching like you guys just watching stuff on TV watching movies and just like thinking like that’s what I want to do. And so I just believed it really strongly and then I wouldn’t back down. I would really harass people. You know? I would – not in a bad way but like the agent that I was saying that saw me in the web series like instead of not pursuing her I would just be really diligent about just sending her anything you know. And I would just try to meet as many people as I can. And I think I always was myself. I think that’s one thing as actors that people forget early on is that the reason Judd hired me in Funny People – I mean he really hired me because of my personality. I was playing a character a lot of people didn’t know that at the time like because it was really close to what I – you know like my humor and what I was doing onstage and stuff so it was because of my unique personality that he was like I want that personality in my movie you know.

So I wasn’t trying to be someone else at that time which I think it’s helpful and I think people forget in auditions you know when you’re auditioning and stuff like you just have to be yourself and be individual and like believe in that because people respond to that if you try to be someone else then there’s a million people doing that. So I think that’s one thing that I was always just being true to like my own sense of humor and what the kinds of things that I was interested in.

Eric: Despite growing up 3000 miles from Hollywood, Miss Plaza fully believed she would find her place in the entertainment industry.

Aubrey: When I was in high school I took some acting classes in Philadelphia because I grew up like 25 minutes outside of Philly and I had an acting teacher who was a professor at the University of the arts and she told me she was someone that helped me a lot with acting and she’s a very important person for me.

You know when I was like your age and she told me something really early on where she was like if you want to be an actor you don’t have to study theater necessarily. I mean you can cause. Which I also did I took many theater classes but she kind of told me like you could also major in film and learn other skills. And then also at night or whatever. So I kind of just decided that I wanted to go to New York and in school I wanted to study film production so that I could learn cameras and do writing and stuff but that I would always keep doing the acting thing on the side so I don’t know I just like tried to do both because I always knew I wanted to be an actor but I didn’t know how was going to happen. And I don’t think anyone does as an actor you just kind of like do as much stuff as you can and then you see what happens.

I didn’t have a plan. I was just like going to New York just hustlin’ you know. I really really hustled. That’s all I can say. I just try to do as much stuff as I could.

Eric: Even when she hit a rough patch early in her career Ms Plaza refused to consider a backup plan.

Aubrey: Even though it did happen really fast for me and I was young I had a stretch of time in New York where I wasn’t acting and I had graduated and I was broke and I was living in Queens and I was waiting tables and even though mine was small but I had it. So yeah. During that time I was always questioning what I was doing and you know my family was very supportive but they were always telling me like you got to have a backup plan you got a backup plan was your backup plan. And I would always quote Rosie O’Donnell because I was really Rosie O’Donnell was another big person for me when I was in high school I read her autobiography Rosie and in her autobiography she like has this whole thing where it’s like she says if you have a net you will fall into it. So don’t have a net because you’ll end up being a dentist or whatever your backup plan is. So I just always have that in my mind. And so whenever I was doubting myself I would always be like no. Like I’m just this is the only thing that can happen. So it’s going to happen. Which is crazy. So you have to be a crazy person.

Eric: All this paid off with possibly the greatest single week of any actor’s life.

Aubrey: It’s interesting like when I got cast in Funny People Scott pilgrim and parks and recreation I got all of those jobs in one week.

Wow. One week which is like insane. And it doesn’t happen to anyone. Which is why again I was in like the right place at the right time. I don’t know how it happened it just happened.

All of those characters were kind of similar. And I think parks especially because I drew on so much of my personality and they basically wrote that part for me. It wasn’t in the original idea of the show. They wrote it based on a meeting that I had with their creators. So April Ludgate is me.

You know it’s not me but it is me and yes because of that you’re put in a box and people don’t believe that you can do anything else.

But I try all the time to play different characters. This year I have two movies that are going to come out where I play really different characters like not sarcastic or whatever you know. But I had to really fight for them really hard. And hopefully those things will show people that I can do other things.

But it’s something that I’m always fighting against. But I welcome it. I used to get really like annoyed when people be like you’re always doing the same thing and I’d always be like well those are the parts that people are giving me I can’t control anything.

I’m auditioning you know like if someone offers you a part as an actor you’re like yeah I’ll do it. I’ll do anything like i’m just trying to work. So you know you only have so much control so it’s hard but you just got to like keep hustling.

Eric: Despite Hollywood’s attempt to typecast her as the queen of sarcasm. Ms Plaza continues to expand her repertoire of characters jumping from TV to film and back again.

Aubrey: I think the biggest difference between I mean being on a web series that to me is like television. Those kind of things feel the same. A little bit to me but it depends on what kind of web series you’re in. I think because some of those also feel like movies so I don’t know about that. But the biggest difference between TV and movies for me is like the pacing is so different because when you’re working on a film as you know there’s so much time that goes into like lighting a shot and you’re just like waiting for your moment.

And for me the hardest thing on set in a movie is to conserve my energy because if you know like you’ve got this like monologue to deliver or whatever and they’re like setting it up for an hour you know like maybe you feel ready to do it now.

But then in an hour you’re like I just ate like four cookies and I’m like crying I don’t know how this happened and then and then you’re supposed to do it then. So like it’s like yeah it’s like a weird film is so weird like that it’s like you really have to be able to just like bring it when the moment is there and when the film is rolling especially if it’s film because you can’t waste film. And so it’s like intense because you’re just like —- I got to like deliver. Now all these people and then in television it’s like you can do it a million times over and over again like on parks like there’s so many outtakes of like especially Aziz Aziz was like the king of this is where he would just reset himself over and over again in movies you can’t really go like let me take that again. And then you do it. Let me say you know. Like we were just reset ourselves like we were like robots because there was no lighting setups at least when we shot our thing. It was just like we had three cameras.

Also the amount of cameras is a thing like on television you have multiple cameras so like you’re able to just kind of like do whatever but in movies you’re like always like you’ve got to be on your mark and you’ve got to know exactly like where the light is hitting you there’s just like things like that that affect you.

You know that you have to like figure out how to not think about when you’re working. I don’t know.

Eric: Before he directed the velociraptors and Jurassic World Colin Trevorrow directed miss plaza in the low budget indie film Safety Not Guaranteed.

Do you sell guns here something sexy and affordable with killing power what exactly is the intended use.

If your ad had been written properly and they have a better idea of what I need I hope you worked harder on your calibrations.

My calibrations are flippin pinpoint ok you ever face certain death If it was so certain I wouldn’t be here would I. You come to that launch site.

You take my hand and I’ll show who can’t time travel.

Aubrey: That movie was the first movie I was ever really like the lead in so it was a really scary experience for me and I was definitely worried at every step. I was like so worried about it because I had never really had to take a character from the beginning to the end and have like a transformation you know.

But Colin was great and I think that’s why he ended up being plucked out of indie zone and taken into this Spielberg land because he’s so interested in the acting process and in really like having those discussions about characters how they’re feeling at every moment why they’re doing what they’re doing and not all directors are like that especially first time directors I find because first time directors are so preoccupied with everything that’s going on it’s so crazy to be a director for a film you have eight departments that you’re running and it’s hard to remember that really when all is said and done and people are sitting in the theaters and they’re watching the movie all they’re going to see is the performances and so much goes into making a movie.

But I think one quality in a director that I really like is when directors are really able to take a step back from all of the chaos and then look an actor in the face and go like Let’s talk about what the truth of what is happening right now is. And that’s something that Colin and I always did that’s why I really liked working with him and I think that’s why he’s who he is now.

Eric: Ms Plaza also has fond memories of working with Chris Pratt who played her goofy husband Andy on Parks Recreation. Long before he went on to save “Jurrasic World” and guard the galaxy.

Aubrey: I got my ankles microwaved x rayed. They took my blood away to use for science. Cholesterol test. April had her sinuses removed look at some guy looked at my wiener touched it.

That was weird. And that guy wasn’t even a doctor.

What Pratt is like the most fun guy ever. He’s like Andy except he’s smart. He’s a very special guy and he’s a really good actor and comedian.

So I loved working with him because also on TV sometimes you feel really robotic because you’re just doing so many episodes and you can’t help but feel like I’ve said this before I’m doing the same thing whatever in every scene it’s like the same. But with Chris it was never the same.

I got it I got it. Nice I also got some dude’s briefcase. I believed in you buddy but you should put that back. You shattered you shattered it not only well that’s a wrap. That’s not something that props can fix that’s going to be a little harder to fix. Sorry I’m out.

He was always really interested in finding new discoveries and surprising me with different things. You know he’s like a really special dude. That’s why he’s like the most famous person in the world right now.

Eric: When dealing with the publicity that comes with their fame. Miss Plaza approaches it like she’s portraying another character the publicity media.

Aubrey: All that stuff is not something I ever thought about when I was trying to be an actor. You don’t think like oh like what’s that part of it going to be like going on talk shows and doing stuff like that. It’s been a journey for me to figure out how to deal with that stuff. I can say that when I do like publicity when I’m promoting like a movie or something and I have to go on talk show I don’t have to do any of it. First of all no one does it’s not. I mean maybe some people have to alright you’re right. Well I don’t have to alright. Yeah I have to do some of it. But so I try to just have fun with it because I think that one thing about the publicity stuff is for me is like once people start taking themselves too seriously and letting all of the fame and that stuff you know like believing the hype about you know I think it starts messing with people’s minds. Not everyone is capable of handling fame and those kind of things so it’s tricky because you know it’s like weird to have a lot of people know who you are. So I try to in those situations I try to just always have fun and try to approach it from like what would my high school version of myself think about me going on like Letterman. Right now I’d probably be like that’s crazy where a hot dog costume do something weird.

It doesn’t always work out for me because people you know it’s hard to like be a version of yourself or whatever on those kind of things but I just try to have fun and have truthful moments happen and not do anything too stupid. But I fail at that too sometimes.

Even after all her success M Plaza still has one role that she is dying to play.

I really want to be Catwoman. Like so bad.

I do really want to remake Catwoman like the Halle Berry movie. I think i give me a really weird and funny like Guardians of the galaxy funny but still like badass.

That’s what I really want to do.

I would do any franchise.

Eric: A big thank you to Aubrey Plaza. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was written by me, Eric Conner, based on the Guest Speaker Series produced and moderated by Tova Laiter. edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden; produced by David Andrew Nelson Kristian Hayden and myself; executive produced by Jean Sherlock, Dan Mackler and Tova Laiter; associate produced by Vinny Sisson. Special thanks to Anne Moore for co-moderating, and to Robert Cosnahan, Sajja Johnson and the entire staff and crew who made this possible. To Learn more about our programs check us out at Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on Apply Podcasts. See you next time.

See Kretz stole from the pens.

You know the song already. Of course I do. Everyone knows the song is amazing. The drum beats out of time last year.

Good luck and you will find me time after time. I love the way you describe it.

So after time.

It’s never happened.

New York Film Academy
New York Film Academy film and acting school offers the best hands-on degrees, accelerated courses, and intensive workshops. Call +1 (212) 674-4300 for more info.
New York Film Academy