Interview

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Aubrey Plaza on Playing A Zombie in ‘Life After Beth,’ the ‘Daria’ Movie, and More

The Parks and Recreation star opens up about her hilarious turn as a zombie girlfriend in Life After Beth, which premiered at Sundance and a potential Daria movie.

Aubrey Plaza isn’t just the fresh princess of snark anymore. After seducing small screen viewers on the NBC series Park and Recreation with her indelible brand of deadpan humor—bored eyes, monotone voice, and all—the 29-year-old actress has seamlessly transitioned to indie leading lady. 

The opening salvo came two years ago with Safety Not Guaranteed, where she played a greenhorn reporter tasked with probing a small town oddball who wishes to travel back through time. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, taking home the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. And last year’s turn as a naïve high schooler exploring her sexuality in The To-Do List saw the actress receive top billing for the first time. Now, Plaza is back at Sundance with a hilarious performance as a raging zombie girlfriend in the black comedy Life After Beth.

Written and directed by Jeff Baena, the film centers on Zach Orfman (Dane Dehaan), who is grieving the death of his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Plaza), who died after being bitten by a rattlesnake on a hike. He mourns with Beth’s parents, played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, and wishes he could have been a better boyfriend. There’s just one little problem: Beth isn’t really dead. Well, she is … but she’s a zombie. And a very needy one at that.

Plaza sat down with The Daily Beast at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival to discuss Life After Beth, her amazing friendship with Anna Kendrick, frisking Johnny Depp, and more.

What was the toughest part about playing a zombie?

I would have to say balancing my zombie-ness with my Beth-ness, and trying to emote as Beth, but through a monster body.

Did you convince your pal, Anna Kendrick, to cameo in this?

I’m secretly her agent. I basically just tell her what to do. Every career choice she makes, I’m involved somehow.

So you’re getting some of that Twilight money?

Oh, I gotta get that Twilight money! I gotta get that Pitch Perfect cash! We were very lucky to have her. We felt like we didn’t deserve her, but we did.

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Greg Smith/Sundance Institute

I heard you two just randomly went to Mexico together.

Yes, we randomly went to Mexico. I texted her and I was like, “Do you want to go to Mexico tomorrow?” And in my head I thought, “If she says yes, it’s on.” And she’s the only person that, for some reason, I thought would say yes. And she said yes and didn’t ask any questions. So then we went. There was a lot of tequila and a lot of hot-tubbing.

Sounds like an episode of Blind Date. That was the funniest thing about Blind Date—the expectation that, if it went well, you’d end up in the hot tub together. 

[Laughs] Yes, I remember that. That was a show people would watch in college dorms. What about Next? I did a Next parody called Kaplowee! Nobody’s seen it, but it’s one of my proudest digital Internet videos that I did back in the day. Check it out.

I will. That was always the worst on Next when someone would come off the bus and the person would immediately yell NEXT! just from glancing at them.

I love it. And all the weird facts they give about all the contestants? “This guy loves sausages, is afraid of tigers, and … is Mormon,” or some shit.

Back to this Mexico trip with you and Kendrick. What were the highlights?

It was a very personal trip so I’m not sure if I want to share the highlights, but I’ll say that Anna and I have a very dangerous relationship. We are very attracted to each other. We’re also friends. We’re also enemies. It just gets very spicy when we’re around each other, but we just can’t get enough.

I really enjoyed that fake Daria movie trailer you did with CollegeHumor. Are we going to see an actual Daria movie?

I heard that MTV or someone is shopping it around. Sam Reich of CollegeHumor told me there were some rumblings.

With you starring?

I hope so! But I heard that there were some people that were looking into making that a real thing.

It seems like there’s a lot of nostalgia for the ‘90s these days. I mean, look at awards season. Every time I see Jared Leto I think of the ‘90s. And Leo.

He made it very easy for me to molest him because he’s very attractive, and there’s just something about him that makes me want to eat his face.

Oh yeah, Jared Leto! Leo just transcends all time and space though, don’t you think? He’s a beautiful alien.

Plaza’s phone starts buzzing.

Oh, that’s probably him right now!

Snapchat?

He’s always Snapchatting me his dick. Don’t use that as the headline, okay?

[Laughs] I won’t. Now that we’re in the thick of awards season, what were some of your favorite movies from the past year?

I loved Afternoon Delight. I thought that movie was one of the best movies this year and Kathryn Hahn’s performance was amazing. It’s a classic example of why reviews mean nothing because, to me, that movie was almost perfect, but some people didn’t like it. I really loved Her. I think that script is so beautiful and it made me cry so many times. It’s just crazy that Joaquin Phoenix can pull a performance off like that. He’s on another level. I think he’s the best right now. He’s the one to beat. Amy Adams is so good, too. She’s crushing it right now. I watched Her and American Hustle back-to-back, and I thought she crushed it in both movies. She’s definitely a role model for me. That’s the dream—to get parts that are so different, and to be able to have people trust that you could do both.

Back to the movie. There’s a hilarious scene between you and Dane in Life After Beth where your zombie is basically trying to rape him—licking his face up and down and straddling him against his will.

[Laughs] It was awesome. Dane is such a talented actor. He’s so professional and giving, and just the best partner to have. And it was great for our movie because this movie wouldn’t work if we couldn’t get someone who could ground all those situations and scenes in reality, and make people believe or care for his character. And he made it very easy for me to molest him because he’s very attractive, and there’s just something about him that makes me want to eat his face. So that wasn’t hard.

Let’s say the zombie apocalypse is actually happening. Things have gone completely to shit. What are your first moves? 

Guns. Ammo. Fuel. Water. Rations. I’m pretty into end-of-the-world survival situations. I love that. I’m into it so much that I bought my boyfriend, who happens to be the director of this movie, helicopter lessons for his birthday just so he would learn the basics of flying a helicopter in case there was a zombie apocalypse and we had to steal a helicopter to fly it somewhere. I thought, “I want to be with someone who knows how to fly some type of plane.” That’s how serious I am with the end of the world.

Did you meet your boyfriend/the director while making Life After Beth? 

No, we’ve been together for three years. Life After Beth came together about a year ago, I guess. [Jeff] wrote the script 10 years ago, however, and it was a script I’d always heard about while we were dating. People would say, “Have you heard of Jeff’s script?” And I was like, “No, I haven’t.” But he’s written a lot of scripts. He wrote I Heart Huckabees. But I got the script, read it, and we both felt like it should happen now, so we willed it to happen. And now we’re here.

And it must be fun to debut the film at Sundance. I know you’ve been here before with Safety Not Guaranteed. Are you a fan of the fest?

I love it. The energy here is so fun, everyone’s in a good movie, and everyone’s excited about good movies. It doesn’t feel bad or soulless—it feels joyful to me. And I like being in the snow, and I like whiskey, and I like dancing.

What’s your favorite kind of whiskey?

I don’t know if I have a favorite kind. Is Buffalo Trace whiskey? I like that one.

Your Twitter avatar of your Beth co-star Matthew Gray Gubler is hilarious. Whose pair of boobs is his head on?

I’m pretty sure it’s Kate Upton? I had a friend help me with that Photoshop job. But I’m pretty sure it’s Kate Upton. 

Oh by the way, congrats on the Parks and Recreation renewal—and the 100th episode. Did you guys have a crazy party to celebrate the 100th?

Yeah. We had a whole 100th episode party all day long, then we had a party at night. Then, we had a demon chant circle where we all held hands and offered up our blood to the network gods and just said, “A hundred more, please!” Bob Greenblatt was there slicing up a tiny baby. That’s tradition.

Heard you were just cast in this Mortdecai movie project with Johnny Depp. Pretty exciting stuff.

It’s a Johnny Depp movie that’s probably going to be the best movie ever. I have a very small part in that movie so don’t get your hopes up. But I’m very excited about it. I play a Homeland Security agent that gets to interrogate Johnny Depp.

There’s going to be a lot of jealous women on your case.

I know. I’m going to have to use some special techniques from Homeland Security where I just touch his penis to get all of the information out of him. [Laughs] I hope it works!