Guest of Honor

Note to America: Stop Labeling Aubrey Plaza!

The actor trades in slacker ennui for intensity (and a little insanity) in Hal Hartley's film "Ned Rifle," out this week.

Photo credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Aubrey Plaza stars in Hal Hartley’s latest film “Ned Rifle,” (out Wednesday) the third in his trilogy of movies about the Grim family, whose lives are turned upside down by a talent-less, roguish novelist named Henry Fool. Brendan was about to introduce the former “Parks and Recreation” star to our audience, when she decided to do the honors herself:


Aubrey Plaza: And, we begin. Aubrey’s deadpan humor since “Parks and Rec” has now followed her into her film career as a Hal Hartley character…

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re great at this.

Aubrey Plaza: …She takes her deadpan skills and uses them in the independent film “Ned Rifle.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You could be a host. Actually, you know what I’m doing right now? I’m looking up a synonym for “deadpan,” so I don’t say that word.

Aubrey Plaza: Oh, God. I hate that word.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I know, but it needs to be acknowledged.

Aubrey Plaza: Well, you know, I have something to say about that word, actually.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Okay, let’s hear it.

Aubrey Plaza in "Ned Rifle." Photo credit: Possible Films
Aubrey Plaza in “Ned Rifle.” Photo credit: Possible Films.

Aubrey Plaza: Well, I was doing interviews with Hal, at South by Southwest, and it was so nice to do interviews with him and have people almost ask him the same questions that they ask me. Someone said something about “deadpan,” and my style.  And Hal kind of pointed out that when you say something is “deadpan,” what you’re really saying is that that person is not being obvious about their motivation. That you have to actually pay more attention to what they’re saying, because they’re not being so obvious about it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s interesting — that’s exactly right: by limiting one’s expression, the actor kind of gives greater emphasis to other parts of the scene.

Aubrey Plaza: It was interesting to me, because I’m so used to hearing that word thrust upon me, and it always has a negative feeling for me. I think because I’m just so associated with it, after a while I’m like, “Ugh.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well it’s a label and that’s uncomfortable to be —

Aubrey Plaza: Stop labeling me, America!

Brendan Francis Newnam: So I’m not going to ask you about that.  But maybe you can help me with one thing so that we can move on to talk about other things: For people who aren’t familiar with Hal Hartley, he does have a distinct style. From your perspective, how is what he does different from other filmmakers?

Aubrey Plaza: Well, I would have to say that his writing is so different. It’s very philosophical. A lot of his characters are contemplating the meaning of life, always, in different ways.  And it reads like a novel almost, his scripts. It’s very stylized and very specific.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, I don’t want to get too lost, because I’m so familiar with Hal Hartley, and I just watched the film and I’m trying to keep in mind the listeners who haven’t seen it. So let me step back for a second…

Aubrey Plaza: Who cares about them?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I have to care about them or I won’t have a job.

Aubrey Plaza: I’m kidding.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I know. So, let’s quickly explain the plot of the movie, to people who haven’t seen it.

Aubrey Plaza: Well, it’s really about a boy — Ned Rifle is the boy — who is searching for his father, who has been in prison and who has shamed his family. And then my character is kind of a girl that’s from his father’s past. She’s just fresh out of a mental institution and she’s also in search of the father, for different reasons. So, she and Ned Rifle join forces to find him and it’s a bit of a road trip movie, and it’s a little bit of a thriller. A little bit.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It is. It gets violent.

Aubrey Plaza: There’s violence, sex…

Brendan Francis Newnam: …There’s sex and violence.  And tension.  And all this is quite a departure from your background, which is improv comedy. Obviously, you like Hartley and were excited to be in it, but did you also choose this film because you wanted to mix it up as a performer?

Aubrey Plaza: Oh, yeah. I mean, for me, there are a couple of reasons I really wanted to do it. One was, you know, I’m so associated with playing unmotivated, disaffected characters, and I just really love characters that have a strong motivation for something.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And, she’s a kind of genius, too. I mean, she’s a complex person.

Aubrey Plaza and Liam Aiken in "Ned Rifle." Photo credit: Possible Films
Aubrey Plaza and Liam Aiken in “Ned Rifle.” Photo credit: Possible Films.

Aubrey Plaza: She’s way smarter than I am.  Really. I learned a lot. I read a lot of French Symbolist poetry. Not to sound pretentious, but I really got into it.





Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, I think it’s a fine performance. I could talk about it forever. But, now it’s time for two standard questions — You know this, you’ve been on the show before. Maybe you have two different answers.

The first one is, what question are you tired of being asked in interviews?

Aubrey Plaza: I’m afraid I’m going to say the same thing I said last time. What did I say last time? Do you remember?

Brendan Francis Newnam: You said, you don’t like it when people say, “How much are you like your characters?” Because that’s like asking if you’re actually a good actor.

Aubrey Plaza: I was just about to say that again!

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s fine — that’ll save us time, because that’s legitimately your answer. So, our second question is, tell us something we don’t know.

Aubrey Plaza: Okay. I’m pretty sure I remember last time I talked about dolphin penises. So, I’m not going to go there.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You did. You have a good memory.

Aubrey Plaza: Did I ever talk about Ghana?

Brendan Francis Newnam: No.

Aubrey Plaza: I lived in Ghana for two months when I was in college and I had a really crazy experience. I took that anti-malaria medication called Lariam, which is very controversial, and I had really bad hallucinogenic, neuro-psychological side effects from this drug.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh my goodness. How did that manifest?

Aubrey Plaza: It manifested in that I had a crazy panic attack on a beach and I was convinced that I wasn’t safe and that people were trying to kill me. They took me to the hospital. They drove me to the military hospital in the middle of the night.

But, it was really bizarre:  I remember, before I had the major panic attack, standing outside and I was feeling these little raindrops on my arms, and it was sunny out.  And I kept going, “It’s so weird that it’s raining because it’s so sunny out! Where’s the rain coming from?” My roommate was like, “It’s not raining. You’re insane.” I was like, “Oh, I’m insane?” So, ever since then, I think I lost my mind.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You were straight up tripping.

Aubrey Plaza: And now I’m in Hollywood.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did that prepare you for Hollywood in some way? Now you can deal with anything.

Aubrey Plaza: Oh yeah. Any aspiring actress, I always tell them, “Go to Ghana”…

Brendan Francis Newnam: …Yeah. Take the wrong drugs, almost lose your mind…

Aubrey Plaza: …Take some drugs, freak the fuck out, and then you’ll be set!  Then you can just walk right into Harvey Weinstein’s office and nail it.