Lest her deadpan delivery and devastating eye roll deceive you, Aubrey Plaza is an actor who takes her craft seriously. "I have an acting coach [Ivana Chubbuck] that I've worked with on every single movie I've ever been in, save for the very first film that I was in," she says. "I love her approach, because it's all about getting your power back."
After breaking out on Parks and Recreation — alongside parts in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Judd Apatow's Funny People — Plaza overcame any early typecasting to curate a CV in which no two performances are alike: the deranged influencer wannabe in Ingrid Goes West, the sadistic nun in The Little Hours, or the jilted but sympathetic ex in Happiest Season.
That's no happy accident, as Plaza has taken her career into her own hands by producing many of the projects she stars in (including Ingrid Goes West and The Little Hours, as well as 2020's Black Bear). Her newest films are the thriller Emily the Criminal, which might be her first proper dramatic role, and the out-there comedy Spin Me Round, directed by her husband and frequent collaborator, Jeff Baena. Plaza produced both.
"I want so much to be in a great film and not just a good film or an okay film. I want to be in movies that are memorable, that people remember and want to watch again. Because there's so many movies that are made, and it's hard to be in a film that really stands out," she says. "So, for me, it's all about trying to find a film that could be great."
Below, Plaza shares with A.frame five great films that have inspired her most in life.
Directed by: George Cukor | Written by: Moss Hart
Judy Garland is my number one, and the 1954 version of that movie — with Judy and James Mason — is one of my all-time favorite movies ever. Becoming obsessed with Judy at a young age and doing a real deep dive into all of her films in my formative years had a really big impact on me. I continue to think that she's one of the most talented people that's ever come out of this country. I loved all of her films. A Star Is Born is one of the movies that made me want to be an actor from a young age, so I had to put it on the list.
Directed and written by: John Cassavetes
It was hard for me to pick a Cassavetes film, although I think this is my favorite of his movies. But A Woman Under the Influence is up there. I loved Gena Rowlands, and I think the approach that Cassavetes had when he was shooting films, especially with her, and how real those scenes feel, there's a chaotic kind of vibe to his movies. It's almost so real that it's painful when you watch her perform in his movies.
When I started watching Cassavetes' movies, I understood performance on a different level than I ever had before. It felt so real to me that I couldn't get over it. I would rewind those movies and watch them over and over again, and I'm always just blown away by her performance. And I've worked with my husband on movies and he's directed me, so I think I'm always fascinated by creative partnerships and what kind of art can come out of intimate relationships.
Directed and written by: Ingmar Bergman
Bergman is one of my all-time favorite directors. I love his films. Scenes From a Marriage is all about performance, but what was so impactful for me watching that film for the first time was just how compelling it is to watch two people talk to each other for three hours. And how do you make a film that's still interesting, when you're just watching two people in a conversation? That, to me, is an art.
I think there's very few filmmakers that can do that, and he makes it look so easy that you don't realize what a feat it is to point a camera at two people and have them talk for three hours and have it be interesting visually, instead of having it just be a play on stage or something. As a filmmaker, as a film student, that blew my mind, thinking about how to shoot something like that and make it compelling. And obviously, the performances are incredible.
Directed and written by: John Waters
I love John Waters. He changed my life. I worked at my hometown video store in high school — it was called Classic Video — and my Aunt Bonnie got me a job there. That was my introduction to independent films, because up until that point, I had seen mostly blockbusters and more mainstream films. And then when I started working at the video store, I started finding weird DVDs.
One of my friends introduced me to John Waters, and Serial Mom was the first John Waters film I ever watched. The humor and the absurdity of that film blew my mind. I had no idea that you could make something so weird that people would still accept and could be a movie in a movie theater. That movie inspired me on so many levels and kind of gave me hope that it's possible to make real art but in a mainstream way, and that you could do both.
Directed and written by: Elaine May
Elaine May is someone that I don't think people know enough about, especially this younger generation. She was a prolific figure in the comedy scene in the '60s. She was a brilliant writer and a brilliant filmmaker. She herself is just inspiring to me and is one of my all-time heroes. And I love this movie. She's incredible in it. I think knowing that she's behind the camera directing this film, making something that was so good and so funny, and then acting in it, and having her hands all over it and just being the badass that she was, she's been an inspiration for me every step of the way. So, I have to give it up to her.