How Aubrey Plaza went from indie film fan to star

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As her new film Black Bear comes out, the American actress and Parks and Recreation star reflects on her love for independent cinema, her career in the industry and her collaboration with her husband, Jeff Baena


Like all the best love stories, Aubrey SquareS’s relationship with independent filmmaking began in high school, when she worked part-time at her local video store. “My aunt was one of the managers and there was a small monitor that we played random movies on,” she told AnOther, before her new movie was released. Black bear. “I would walk down an aisle picking indie films at random and just throw them away. I never looked back. By Christopher Guest Waiting for Guffman to John Waters Mom in series, Plaza soaked up the wave of Golden Age independent cinema that swept America in the ’90s – and it shows.

Since then, independent projects have held a special place for Plaza, as anyone who watched his opening monologues at the last two Film Independent Spirit Awards can attest. Simply put, the American actress and comic thrives on the kind of quirky rhythm that only independents can provide. Of The small hours (directed by her husband, Jeff Baena) at Ingrid goes west (in which Plaza both starred and produced), the genre leaves enough room for Plaza to deliver its poker face humor that everyone first fell in love with on NBC. Parks and recreation. In Black bear – a dreamlike meta-tale of creative movie dead ends, directed by Michael Lawrence Levine – Plaza is fed enough to run free and explore uncharted territory, delivering a career performance along the way.

Playing, however, is just one of Plaza’s many bowstrings. From directing to production, lighting and editing, she’s in it for the long haul – guts and everything, from start to finish. This enthusiasm for all aspects of the industry owes much to his time at New York’s Upstanding Citizens Brigade Theater, a hugely influential stronghold of the city’s comedy scene. After moving to New York City in her late teens, the theatrical philosophy around improvisation is something Plaza has carried with her ever since. “The lengthy improvisation they teach is about supporting your stage partner, collaborating with other people, and being really present,” she says. “It’s about trying to get the truth out of the matter because the funniest things come from what is truest.” UCB is also where Plaza first discovered the genius of Amy Poehler, co-founder of the theater and already a Plaza hero by the time the two met on the set of Parks and recreation. “She doesn’t get caught up in the fake Hollywood stuff,” Plaza says of her co-star. “She just does her thing and is still the funniest person in the room.”

Like Poehler, who was married to fellow actor and comedian Will Arnett before going their separate ways in 2016, Plaza mixes the personal and the professional through her various projects with her husband Jeff Baena. It’s something she shares with Black bear director Levine, who frequently collaborates with his wife, actress and director Sophia Takal. After working together on the set of the Netflix comedy series Easy (shown as husband and wife, no less), Plaza and Levine bonded over the pitfalls of working with their spouses. “I think it was just something the two of us were really connected with, but I had no idea he was writing a script. So when he called to say, ‘I wrote this and I thought of you to join in and produce ”, didn’t know what to expect. Then I read it and was terrified at first to do it, but also just blown away by the nuance of the characters.

Levine’s film takes place in two parts. In the first, we meet Alisson (Plaza), a successful director looking for inspiration in a secluded lakeside house where she’s staying with a young couple: Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon). A three-way tension immediately becomes apparent – fueled by a lot of red wine, an uncomfortable evening turns into tragedy. Act II sees a change in the balance of power. Now Alisson is an actress married to Gabe, who directs her in her new movie alongside Blair. Gabe feigns an affair with Blair to coax the ultimate performance of Alisson, who bites the hook and hits the bottle, delivering a savage performance that blurs any distinction between reality and performance.

“The mere idea of ​​playing a character who is playing a character was instantly exciting to me,” said Plaza, who viewed the opportunity as “one of those acting challenges”. “A lot of people have tried to do it and have done it well,” she continues, “I mean Leonardo DiCaprio in Once upon a time … in Hollywood – this whole sequence when he plays and goes in his trailer and panics. I watched this over and over again – so good. As for his message on husband-wife partnerships, Black bear should be enough to put anyone off. As Plaza notes, “It’s like you can hurt that person the most and you can help them the most. It’s just loaded with complexity.

Nowhere is this complexity more felt than in the film’s visceral climax, in which Alisson, on the verge of a nervous breakdown with a bottle of whiskey in hand, gives Gabe and Blair both barrels on a descent. paranoid worthy of the underlying obscurity of the film. In style and substance, this frenzied ending is reminiscent of Gena Rowlands, the Hollywood actress and wife of legendary freelance author John Cassavetes. Their notoriously explosive relationship, virtually indistinguishable from their electric dynamics onscreen, was responsible for the raw authenticity that distinguished their work. In Woman under the influence, the couple’s crowning achievement directed by Cassavetes and starring Rowlands, Cassavetes’ famously manipulative treatment of his wife during production gave, in his own words, a career best performance. Treating breakthroughs and purlins as two sides of the same coin is just a common thread Black bearbroader meditations on the heavy and slippery affairs of the creative process. Plaza is well aware of the dangers, but like anyone truly committed to their profession, has long accepted them. “If I’m going to expose myself and surrender to this process,” she said, “I hope to make it out alive… and I hope the camera is rolling.

Black bear is out now.


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