Guest of Honor

Aubrey Plaza on Moustache Protests and Awkward Encounters

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Back in November, we hosted our first-ever live DPD show, held before a sold-out crowd at public radio station KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum in Los Angeles. Today, for those who couldn’t make it, we’re sharing some of the highlights from the evening —  including this interview with actor and comic Aubrey Plaza.

Aubrey plays the deadpan assistant April Ludgate on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” She made memorable appearances in the films “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Funny People,” and threw a long, scary tantrum in the video for Father John Misty’s tune “Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings.” When we spoke to her last month, the DVD for her most recent film “The To Do List” had just been released.

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Rico Gagliano: [“Aubrey” by Bread plays] You hear this?

Aubrey Plaza: Yup.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Are you familiar with this song?

Aubrey Plaza: I am; I was named after this song.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Why did your parents name you after such a sad song?

Aubrey Plaza: I ask myself that every day!

Rico Gagliano: All right — so this week the “To Do List” comes out on DVD…

Aubrey Plaza: That’s right. [Pause.] I told you I’m terrible at this!

Brendan Francis Newnam: So are we — that’s why we brought you here! You’re the ringer.

Rico Gagliano: It’s our first time!

Aubrey Plaza: OK.  I’m really glad to be here.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Thanks… thanks.

Aubrey Plaza: I am!   This is the weirdest room I’ve ever been in, hands down.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Let’s make it weirder —  Let’s play a clip from “The To Do List.” Now, this is a raunchy movie…

Rico Gagliano: Yes, it’s about an overachieving high school senior — She’s a virgin — and she decides that she’s basically going to try out every sex act known to man before she gets to college. It’s a little raunchy…

Aubrey Plaza: Yes, she makes a list of sexual things and treats it like a homework assignment. And she’s very good at homework. She’s a valedictorian.

Rico Gagliano: We found one clip that we can play in a semi-family-friendly forum. Let’s see the clip.

[plays a few seconds of an establishing shot]

Rico: And that’s it, there you go.

Aubrey Plaza: Okay, that’s funny —

Brendan Francis Newnam: You won a spirit award for that, didn’t you?

Rico Gagliano: No, seriously… let’s watch the rest of it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So you play Brandy Clarke. She’s a straight-A student. She’s incredibly awkward. What were your high school years like?

Aubrey Plaza: I was not a straight-A student, but I got pretty good grades and… awkward? Everyone in high school is awkward, I think…

Rico Gagliano: Were you super awkward?

Aubrey Plaza: No, I wasn’t a freak in high school.  Like I am now.  I went to a really small all-girls private Catholic school, so my high school experience was probably different from other people’s experiences, but in my school it was cool to get good grades —

Rico Gagliano: — But we understand that you were maybe a little bit of a rebel. There’s a moustache story…?

Aubrey Plaza: Yes, I did pull a lot of pranks. It’s a long story but a short version of it is that, at my school — it was called Urselon Academy — there was a handbook of rules. I was very obsessed with this handbook. The principal at the time was also very obsessed with this handbook, and I wanted to do something that was legal — that wasn’t in the handbook — and that would still make her really angry. So I convinced everyone in my class to wear facial hair to school.

Brendan Francis Newnam: In an all-girls school.

Aubrey Plaza: Yeah.  Because I wanted to do a mustache protest.  And I remember there was a moment in my Spanish class where my teacher, we just had a standoff and she said, “You have to take that off right now.” And I was like, “I will not take it off.”

Jason Merritt / Getty Images Entertainment

Brendan Francis Newnam: Because it’s not against the rules!

Aubrey Plaza: “Because it’s not in the handbook.”  And then I got a detention, and they wrote on the detention: ‘disorderly conduct.’ And I said, “I will not take that home unless it says exactly why I am in trouble.” So then they wrote ‘failure to remove mustache when asked.’  And I took it home and I gave it to my parents, and we had a laugh.

Rico Gagliano: You are now my hero, by the way.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That rebellious spirit is in keeping with your characters: for instance April on “Parks and Recreation.” And we have a clip of that…

[Clip plays]

A lot of people love April — and there aren’t a lot of characters like her on television. When you interact with your fans, what goes down?

Aubrey Plaza: When it does happen, I feel like a lot of people expect me to be like April, or to be mean…

Rico Gagliano: Do they ask you to be mean to them?

Aubrey Plaza: One time, yeah.

I was in New Orleans and I was standing on the street waiting for a taxi cab, and this couple, they aggressively came up and they were like, “You’re her, you’re her, you’re her!!!” And I was like “What?” And they were like, “Do something mean, say something mean!”  And I was like, “Leave me alone!”

And they loved it, and they were laughing… and I was like “No. Leave me alone.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s like that story about Groucho Marx; people would ask him, “Please insult my wife.”

Rico Gagliano: So you’re like Groucho Marx, basically, is what we’re saying.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Basically.  If you got a moustache.  Did you ever think about that?

Rico Gagliano: This is all coming around.

We do have two standard questions that we ask everyone on the show. The first one is, if we were to meet you at a dinner party, what question should we not ask you — like what is the question you’re tired of being asked?

Aubrey Plaza: I do feel like I get asked… well, not at dinner parties, but in interviews I do feel like the number one question I get asked is: “How much are you like your characters?” And I feel that’s kind of like asking, “How good of an actress are you?”

And I want to say, “I don’t know.”  Because I don’t know what I am like.  I think I’m a crazy person… but so I don’t know.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Our next standard question is, tell us something we don’t know.  And this can be about you, or the world at large.

Aubrey Plaza: Okay, well one thing that you don’t know — or that a lot of people don’t know about me — is that I know how to Irish dance. I took Irish dancing lessons as a child, and I competed.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Because you’re Irish?

Aubrey Plaza: No, I’m Puerto Rican. I’m half Puerto Rican and half Irish, but I grew up with my foster grandparents and they are very Irish, and their kids all had to go to Irish dancing lessons, so I was thrown in with that bunch.  And I was the only dark-haired,  ‘spicy’ Irish dancer.

Also a thing that I learned recently about the world is that dolphins have penises that can grab you.*

Rico Gagliano: Aubrey.

Aubrey Plaza: I swear to God!

Brendan Francis Newnam: You don’t listen to much public radio, do you?

 

*This seems to be an overstatement. But on a lazy day at DPD HQ it certainly made for an interesting afternoon of Google searches.