As we enter November and December, we're already hearing a lot of people complain that 2012 was a wash at the box office. Sure, there has been some abysmal fare leading up to this point, but there have also been some great pieces of modern art bestowed upon us over the last couple of months, and Safety Not Guaranteed stands atop that list as one of the best seen in 2012.
It's high concept told through a more truthful and humanistic lens, which makes its conclusion one that will give you goose bumps. It's the kind of comedy that arrives at its point of destination with a lot of real heart, and it will leave you cheering for all the characters involved. Because you really do come to care about them. Especially Aubrey Plaza's Darius.
This is a breakout performance for the young comedian, one that shows her true range and gift for subtle, naturalistic humor. She plays one of two interns opposite New Girl's Jake M. Johnson, an investigative journalist who seeks out the writer behind a bizarre want ad looking for a partner to travel through time with. It becomes Darius' task to befriend this strange man, who claims to have a time machine that will take him back to 2001. Together, they set off on a mission to save his girlfriend, and her deceased mother. That's the initial set-up. To say anymore would be to ruin the fun and surprises that come with the inevitable conclusion to this thrilling sci-fi adventure.
We recently caught up with Aubrey Plaza to talk with her about the film. Though prone to pick her various performances apart, she seems to love the movie almost as much as we do. And she's a keen admirer of Mark Duplass and his array of talents as a director, actor, and musician. Oh, but that Jake M. Johnson? He is just a dirty, creepy old man.
Here is out conversation.
I guess I'll start by asking you a question, since this is an interview...
Aubrey Plaza: No! No questions! We are just going to sit here and do this in silence.
Just a blank page is what you want? That's your thoughts on the film?
Aubrey Plaza: Yeah, how amazing would that be? No one has ever done that before...
I actually did that the other day, and my site editor got kinda mad at me.
Aubrey Plaza: Oh, damn it! Then, fire away!
Last time we spoke about the movie, it was revealed that Colin Trevorrow actually wrote the script with you in mind. Is the character we see on screen who he thought you were before he actually met you? Is Darius a projected image of your personality as filtered through his mind?
Aubrey Plaza: Um...Wait? Derek Connolly actually wrote the script. They wrote it together. But it was Derek Connolly who saw my performance in Funny People a couple of years ago. He told me, he was inspired by that performance. He used it as a jumping off point in building this character. So it was more about that performance than me as just me. Everything I do is me. Darius is kind of me, too, but...I think he was inspired by that particular character.
Are you able to stand back and objectively look at this film as it comes out on Blu-ray and DVD? And see just how perfect and awesome the movie actually is? Because it's one of my favorites of the year...Or do you tend to pick things apart no matter how much time has passed?
Aubrey Plaza: First of all, thank you, it's really nice of you to say. But, it's really hard...I am really hard on myself, and I am constantly picking apart everything. But aside from my part, and just looking at the movie? I really love how it turned out. I think they did a beautiful job with the ending, and the subtleties throughout. But my performance? I don't know. I'm super critical, and I have a hard time watching myself. Also, it was my first starring role in a movie. Usually, I am just popping in and out, rolling my eyes, and saying weird things. Then I'm leaving. This is the first movie where I'm like, "Whelp, you are stuck with me for an hour and a half." It's me all the time. Which was hard for me. But I love this movie. And I love everyone else in it. I had a great time watching it. I am really happy about it.
I don't mean this as a joke, but the last third of the movie had my dog mezmorized...
Aubrey Plaza: Really?
Yes. Did you guys do something to intentionally draw dogs to the screen? Or do all women just love Mark Duplass unconditionally?
Aubrey Plaza: Okay. First of all. Everyone knows that dogs love time travel. That's obvious.
Yes. Just look at Mr. Peabody...
Aubrey Plaza: I am not surprised. This movie was made for dogs. It was only made for dogs. And the fact that she did like it, and she was enjoying it...That is just a bonus.
I want to talk about what might be my favorite scene in the movie. What some people might not know is that Mark Duplass is an accomplished musician. He even had a major recording deal back in the day. He sits down and plays this instrument, and it kind of blew me away. And your reaction looks genuine. Did you rehearse that seen? Or is that your real reaction?
Aubrey Plaza: That was not rehearse. In fact, they did not let me hear the song, or anything he was going to play until literally the moment that we filmed it. We only did one take of that. That is my real reaction, and he sang that live. He is a ridiculously amazing and talented person. I had no idea he could write music, or sing, or play this instrument called a Zither. I just had no idea. I was totally blown away by it. I don't know if I pulled it off.
What is that instrument called?
Aubrey Plaza: It's called a Zither. With a Z.
You did pull it off. I looked at you halfway through the song, and you can see it on your face. I love that Mark is pulling out this genuine emotion from you.
Aubrey Plaza: I really couldn't believe it. His voice is so beautiful, and that instrument is so weird. I had no idea. He wrote that song, too. Or some part of it. I don't know. It was totally real for me. I had no idea he was that talented.
You get to here the studio version of that song, too, at the end of the movie, and its beautiful. It takes you away. Then you look at Mark's body of work, and you're like, Jesus, this guy can do anything...
Aubrey Plaza: I know. It's not very good for me. I only have, like, two talents. Maybe just one. He has so many. I wish that I could just absorb his talent, and then run away.
You say you have only one talent, but that talent is so strong, that's all you need to get through this life, right?
Aubrey Plaza: Well, yeah, I don't know (laughs)...Thanks!
Now, Jake Johnson. Were you guys together in The Upright Citizen's Brigade? Or is it just that every one in Los Angeles, who dabbles in a comedic performance of some kind, has to be wrung through that particular process?
Aubrey Plaza: Well, Jake M. Johnson is MUCH OLDER THAN I AM! Hopefully you can write that in capital letters. And in bold. And Red. Just to get that point across. He was a different generation than me. If we are talking in high school terms, I was a freshman, he was the dirty weird guy in college. You know? I didn't really interact with him back in those days. But yeah, we did both dabble in UCB improv. Well, I more than dabbled in it. I was in it for a long time. But we didn't really know each other back then.
The way you say that...I don't think audiences really became acquainted with Jake until recently, with his work on New Girl, and his supporting roles in a few movies here and there. The way you just said that makes me think that UCB is ageist. They don't allow old people into their company?
Aubrey Plaza: No! No, no, no...I am just saying that our age gap is so wide. That's all. He was actually young when he was doing that. Now, he is just old. But UCB loves old people. Old people are hilarious. Old people are the funniest...
It was just your tone. It sounded like you were saying, "There is no way this old guy could be in here with us young kids."
Aubrey Plaza: I see what you mean. There is a way. I have been in improv groups with some oldies. (Laughs)
You have this movie coming out...I forgot the name of it...
Yes. At the beginning of Safety Not Guaranteed, we see a montage of you in High School and college, and those quick couple of minutes actually remind me of The To Do List. Is there any correlation between the two?
Aubrey Plaza: No. They are not tied together at all. They are totally different. My character in The to Do List is a completely different kind of character. I am full on Valedictorian of my high school. The movie starts with me graduating. It follows me during the summer before I go to college. It's a completely different movie. It's like a crazy teen adult sex comedy about a type A girl who treats losing her virginity like a homework assignment. And she is really good at homework. So, there you go!
How did that even get made? They just don't make sex comedies anymore...
Aubrey Plaza: I don't know. Magic? The script was so funny. It was on the Black List for a while. We did a reading of it at the Austin Film Festival a couple of years ago. It got a great reaction. It is a completely risky, weird movie. But CBS Films decided to take it on. I think we have an amazing, amazing movie that people are never going to forget. I am never going to forget, because the things I had to do in that movie have scarred me for life. I hope that the audience will remember that when they watch it.
One last question. I want to go back to something you said earlier. About a piece of you always being in the roles you play. All three of you, Mark, and Jake, and yourself, all have TV shows currently on the air, and we're seeing new episodes as this movie comes home on Blu-ray and DVD. The remarkable thing about the film and the characters in it, is that I didn't think about any of those characters from those TV shows while I was watching it, even though they are very present in my life at this moment in time...
Aubrey Plaza: If that's true, then there you go. That's the goal. I am not speaking for all actors. But for myself, you need to do different parts, that allow the audience to forget about all the other parts that you've done. So, I love hearing that. I'm sure Jake and Mark would, too. Because when you are on a television show as we all are, people identify you with this one thing that you do, because you are in their living room week after week. It's hard to make people see you in a different light. So that is awesome to hear. I really hope other people feel the same way about it.