According to Aubrey Plaza, living in a five-star hotel in Sicily is not the paradise we think it is. The vibe can shift from Eloise to Jack Torrance pretty quickly. For her, it took only a month.

Last February, Plaza, along with the rest of the cast and crew of the HBO series The White Lotus, holed up at the Four Seasons San Domenico Palace for five months to film the show’s second season. The hotel, a centuries-old convent in the seaside town of Taormina, was shuttered to actual tourists so that the actors could play fictional ones. “A Charlie Kaufman experiment,” as Plaza puts it, with no retreat from work. Every time she stuck her head into the hallway, she heard “motore, motore, motore!” (“rolling” in Italian) echoing from some marbled corner of the property. Every time she returned to her room, a staffer was inside performing an unsolicited task. Eventually, she hung a do not disturb sign on the door and began blasting R.E.M. She ignored pleas from housekeeping. “I was a suspicious character for these Italians,” she says. “They thought I was sketchy. Which I am.”

Then, in March, things got weird. One of Plaza’s costars, Adam DiMarco, discovered the reed diffusers that normally scent the hotel’s nooks and terraces had been arranged in a large Blair Witch–style symbol on the floor of his dressing room. A few days later, Plaza’s dressing room was similarly defiled. Furious, she started freaking out to fellow cast members Haley Lu Richardson and Meghann Fahy. “Who did this?” she demanded. Was it a prank? A poltergeist? The ghost of a nun who, centuries later, still can’t be a priest? No one knew.

Well, the hotel staff knew. “It’s Ms. Plaza,” they agreed. They proffered security footage. Plaza swore it wasn’t her. She threw suspicion on her similarly dark-haired Italian costars. “It was Beatrice! It was Simona!” Papers with ominous messages that read here lies… were being slipped under people’s doors. “I was definitely questioning my reality for a while there,” says DiMarco. Over bottles of red wine, Plaza assured him she wasn’t to blame until eventually he recruited a mole of his own: “I didn’t know who to trust. It was like Murder on the Orient Express. Everyone was the murderer.”

But it was Ms. Plaza. Of course, it was Ms. Plaza. “She’s a disruptor by nature,” says her close friend Mike White, creator of The White Lotus. For the sake of work and self-preservation, White avoided the chaos. “Aubrey’s the most fun. I said to her face, if I’m on a cross-country trip, I want nothing more than for you to be on that bus with me. But if I’m driving the bus, and you are on it, I want you off the bus.”

The “she’s so weird” narrative that has followed Aubrey Plaza around for most of her career often feels like a cliché. She’s inscrutable and brunette–is the industry so devoid of imagination that this is the threshold for weird? But then she’ll say things like: “Adam was so innocent, like a baby bird. It was really sick, what I was doing to him. I got him to the brink of a psychological break.” And she’s… kidding? It’s hard to tell.

Plaza and her persona have long been impossible to separate. The first time I met her, in 2012, at a Sundance party for her movie Safety Not Guaranteed, her costar Jake Johnson tried to make an introduction, but she rolled her eyes and walked away. It was exactly what I would have expected of April Ludgate, her character on Parks and Recreation, a role that showrunner Michael Schur created specifically for her. Her reputation for being saturnine and mildly unapproachable informed other roles, like the mutant in the FX series Legion or the flinty actress in the psychological thriller Black Bear. It also allowed her to reach the age of 38 without being forced into traditional zones like The Wife or The Mom (except for when she gave her son a demonic doll in the 2019 Child’s Play reboot).

The flipside is that she’s frequently inhabited characters who might laugh at a funeral. “Nowadays I’m really over it,” she says. “I hate when people want to cast me in something and then say ‘we’re going to really tailor it for you.’ I want to be like, ‘please don’t.’”

Plaza, in an oatmeal-colored sweater wrap and jeans, is sitting at a café near her home in an undisclosed Northern California town, which on a late September morning smells of autumn hay, sweet and hoof-y. She occasionally waves to a local. “I’m so much more normal than people think I am,” she insists. “Look at me, I’m eating yogurt.” Parfait is normal. So are dogs, and a house, and a husband who’s at home sick. Plaza has all of that. “Shine away,” yells her hippie neighbor. “Shine away, dude,” she responds.

It was White who saw the untapped potential for Plaza to play what he called a “normie” in the current season of White Lotus. Plaza’s Harper is a lawyer on vacation with her husband and another couple whose happiness she finds onerous, especially in comparison to her own marriage. She’s uptight. Her smile is forced. Her clothes are dry-clean-only. “This character is me,” says Plaza, to my surprise. “It’s probably the first project that I’ve ever done that I’m like, whoa, this is really close to home.”

As Plaza begins listing the things she and Harper have in common, what she seems to be saying is that this part plumbed her for real-life stuff rather than a superficial collection of quirks. To begin, she says, “I don’t have kids.” Plaza has always wanted them, and thought about having a baby during the pandemic, but was alarmed by the apocalyptic state of the world. Furthermore, she continues, “I’ve been with my husband for 12 years. I relate to being in a relationship that has peaks and valleys, and going through a rough patch and comparing yourself to another couple that seems perfect.” Plaza met writer-director Jeff Baena over a game of Balderdash, they married in a quickie ceremony in 2020, and have collaborated on several of his offbeat comedies, including The Little Hours and this year’s Spin Me Round. And finally: “I don’t watch Ted Lasso.” Harper likewise doesn’t watch Ted Lasso because Plaza improvised that line in the script. “No offense to Ted Lasso. Whatever’s super popular, I’m always like, no. I have an aversion to things that everybody else is doing.”

Plaza had dreamed of working with Mike White for almost two decades, although he never could have guessed as much when they first crossed paths at a party in 2017. “She’s kind of intimidating when you first meet her,” says White. “You feel like you’re going to come up lacking in her estimation.” Soon, though, he found himself intrigued by a story she told him, which goes as follows: When she was 16 and attending an all-girls Catholic school in her native Wilmington, Delaware, Plaza dated an extremely handsome Swedish exchange student. They fooled around in cars, it was thrilling and furtive, and she was heartbroken when he returned home. She thought about him periodically, especially after other relationships ended, and figured they never officially broke up. A decade later, during a hiatus from Parks and Recreation, she had the idea to write a script about tracking him down. Due diligence required that she actually track him down. So she sent him a Facebook message about a (totally fabricated) work trip to Gothenburg. When he didn’t respond, she booked the flight anyway. Two days prior to her arrival, he wrote back to say he’d love to get dinner. “It was a total disaster,” says Plaza. He brought his girlfriend, they had just moved in together. “She was very suspicious of me. Lots of stuff happened that night.”

Plaza is momentarily distracted by a handsome, well-heeled couple kissing in the middle of the street. “These people, they’re totally in love, it’s cute,” she whispers, even though they’re out of earshot. She gazes over her sunglasses. “I don’t buy it. It’s a front.”

White was keen to turn the Swedish Ex-Boyfriend Project into a movie, but given that almost 10 years had passed since Plaza’s visit, he insisted they go to Gothenburg again, together, so he could stalk Plaza while she stalked her ex, which is what they did in 2018. They’re both circumspect about what exactly transpired on this Scandinavian excursion, other than Plaza convincing White to take an ill-advised edible during lunch with Amy Poehler’s brother’s family. In any case, White was in pre-production on the film in Finland in 2020 when the pandemic forced him to return home, and that’s when he pivoted to The White Lotus. The first season scored 20 Emmy nominations and won five, including for best limited series. In season two, he wrote a role for Plaza.

“Obviously, Aubrey plays deadpan, she plays to the humorous aspects of her dark side,” says White. “But the more you know her, you realize she’s very big-hearted and, in a way, insecure. The classic somebody who is projecting strength, but the vulnerability is so palpably there. I just felt like it would be fun to capture some of that, something that I haven’t seen her do.”

Plaza tried to escape the deadpan niche years ago. In 2016, she experimented with broad, raunchy comedies, costarring in two Zac Efron vehicles, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Dirty Grandpa. In the latter, she invited Robert de Niro to do a panoply of obscene things with her before concluding the film by asking “Are you cumming or dying?” Plaza fought hard for both parts, proving that she could be the wild busty blonde the script called for despite being neither busty nor blonde. “That was a time when I was consciously trying to get out of the April Ludgate zone,” she says.

But as big, original comedies dried up, she returned to more idiosyncratic projects, in particular 2017’s Ingrid Goes West. Rather than dialing into Plaza’s too-cool-for-everything wavelength, Ingrid wasn’t cool enough for anything. As a social media stalker desperate for an Instagrammable life, Plaza’s outsider attitude felt once again new. A few years later, she downright charmed audiences in 2020’s Happiest Season, the first holiday rom-com to center a lesbian couple. Plaza played Riley, a supporting character whose chemistry with Kristen Stewart was so electric that many viewers wished she was the love interest, preferring her to the closeted romantic lead played by Mackenzie Davis. The movie ended up being a showcase for Plaza’s empathic, down-to-earth side. “In my head, I play normal people all the time,” she says, “but other people don’t think so, because I’m not necessarily your average Jane.”

With Ingrid, Plaza leveled up, becoming a producer, although her company, Evil Hag Productions, which formed in 2016, didn’t officially put its logo on a feature film until last summer’s critically lauded thriller Emily the Criminal. (“I don’t know how companies work, or when they become real,” she says.) Emily is a struggling caterer who resorts to credit card fraud to pay off her student loans before being drawn to riskier, more lucrative gigs. Plaza was handed the script from a friend of John Patton Ford, who wrote and directed, and she imagined it as a sort-of companion to Good Time, the tense, gritty Safdie brothers’ film starring Robert Pattinson.

But instead of the $5 million budget she wanted, they made it for $2 million, which is next to nothing when shooting in L.A. Every day required a creative solution. At one point, they were filming at a bus stop in Hollywood at 3 a.m., only nobody was entirely sure whether they had permission to do so. Inspired, Ford asked Plaza to board an approaching bus. “No actor would ever do that, but Aubrey was like, ‘You got it,’” he recalls. (Like White said, sometimes you want her on the bus.) So they rode around filming until they reached Echo Park. This time, there was no room in the schedule for mischief. “She’s a great scene partner,” says Ford. “She helps the other actors be spontaneous. She looks at you and you’re so convinced she’s going to poke a voodoo doll. Magic happens.” Emily the Criminal was released on demand the day before we met. Plaza pulls out her phone to show me a screenshot of the Apple TV homepage, where the film ranked third behind box-office blockbusters Bullet Train and Top Gun: Maverick. “It’s the little movie that could,” she says.

Plaza unwinds the leashes of her dogs, Frankie and Stevie, two part-retriever rescues, who have been dozing peacefully at the foot of her chair. Next year is an exciting one for her, and she is visibly animated to talk about it. In early 2023, she stars in Guy Ritchie’s action comedy Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre, as the hard-drinking CIA partner of Jason Statham, for which she drew inspiration from Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, a personal fave. Spoiler alert: It’s not a love story. “Strawberry Aubrey,” as Ritchie calls her, was so frustrated by this that she tried to make it one anyway. She pulls out her phone again to show me photos of her giving moony eyes to Statham onset while wearing a smoking red dress. “Statham is playing like a Bond character, but my approach was like, ‘I’m the female Bond,’” she explains. “And if I’m the female Bond, what does Bond do? Bond gets the girl. Bond is objectifying everybody and also being a badass. So I objectified Statham the whole time. Literally slapping his butt. I think they were all scared of me. Like, who is this girl who’s coming in so hot?”

Plaza shows no signs of cooling off. In a few weeks, she heads to Georgia where she joins a flock of talent in Francis Ford Coppola’s long-gestating dream project, Megalopolis, starring Adam Driver and Forest Whitaker. “To go from Mike White to Francis Ford Coppola, that’s a good year for me,” she says. “I’m trying to manifest this. I’m trying to work with brilliant directors.” She was equally pleased to announce that she would soon be venturing into the Marvel universe with “a really pivotal role” in the upcoming WandaVision spinoff, Agatha: Coven of Chaos, co-starring Kathryn Hahn. And she wrote and plans to direct her own family-friendly movie, which is top secret but sounds just as ambitious. “I’m trying to fill the female Tim Burton slot,” she says, dropping a few clues. Think Hocus Pocus. Or Beetlejuice.

Then there’s always the Swedish Ex-Boyfriend Project. Plaza thinks maybe it’s better if it never happens. She does some math in her head anyway: “I should go back and harass him in 2028.”

Source: GQ Magazine