Being able to relate to a character within a film can be important. That’s part of the reason I walked away from Safety Not Guaranteed with such genuine happiness, understanding this story of an outcast and the joy one can have of truly just being yourself. During SXSW I had the chance to sit down with the film’s two stars, Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza, and we discussed watching themselves on screen, the nerves of viewing it with an audience, finding chemistry, and typecasting. Check it out below.
The Film Stage: This film played at Sundance already and garnered a positive reaction. Did you come into South by Southwest with that expectation or were you still in the audience nervous about how everyone would receive the movie?
Aubrey Plaza (AP): I was nervous. I was less nervous after seeing it at Sundance because people seemed to like it but I was definitely nervous. I think it’s only natural to be nervous.
Mark Duplass (MD): As soon as the lights go down you get nervous, it’s just a visceral reaction. But I’ve brought probably five different movies from Sundance to South by Southwest and it’s pretty interesting; there’s a type of audience here, it’s a film lover audience and they want to like the movie. I was hopeful it was going to be as explosive as it was in the theaters based on some of the other movies I’ve brought to Austin.
You two have a certain amount of chemistry that naturally progresses throughout the film. Did you find that during table reads or does it actually take getting out on set interacting with that kind of environment to get that kind of chemistry going?
AP: That’s a good question. I think for me table reads really don’t help in that way at all.
MD: I essentially believe they’re worthless.
AP: We did do a read through of the script before shooting and we did find some things in there but it was because it was the first time that we met and we really interacted as the characters so that was helpful.
MD: It was like a first date kind of thing.
AP: The chemistry started there, and of course when we got on set and were playing with each other in the moment…
MD: I think at the table read we all walked away saying “there’s gonna be a romance in this movie” and it kind of snuck up on us a little bit that this was something we could play in the film.
Aubrey, you’ve had a career built on these certain characters that are kind of “shrug your shoulders, let everything slide.”Are you afraid of being typecast? Do you seek these sorts of roles out or do they come to you?
AD: I wouldn’t say I seek them out, they do come to me only because the first couple of things I did all happened to be similar. So once people saw Funny People and Scott Pilgrim and Parks and Recreation, I’m playing that character and people are used to it. When people are used to you playing that character, they offer you that role because that’s how they think of you. I’m not worried about it; it’s only frustrating to me when it prevents me from getting a job or something. But I like playing those types of characters and I think it is a part of myself so I don’t mind it. But it’s not all I can do and this movie is a step towards me breaking out of that only so I can do different roles and be fulfilled as an actor.
Is there a tendency to kind of coast because you are playing that kind of character on Parks and Recreation?
AP: Oh I always put full effort. I think it’s deceiving; I think when you see me play a character that doesn’t care about anything…if I didn’t put the work in and have stuff brewing underneath it would get old fast and it would be a joke. They respond to it because they know there’s something underneath it. That’s the work I put into it.
A lot of actors talk about how they don’t like watching themselves on film and a lot of those actors that make those comments typically are on the drama side of things, doing deep and heavy work. On the lighter side of things, is it easier to watch yourself in a comedy or is it also difficult?
MD: I don’t have a problem watching myself but I come from a filmmaker background as well so a lot of the movies I was in first I was also the filmmaker of so I’ve gotten used to being critical of myself from a filmmaking standpoint. And to me, to be perfectly honest, there’s really no distinction between the comedy and the drama in the stuff I’m making. They’re not one moment or the other; when you’re watching The Puffy Chair for instance; when it plays at the Paramount [central location of South by Southwest] it plays like Dumb and Dumber. And then when couples watch it at home they e-mail me crying, saying like “this is the hardest relationship movie I’ve ever watched.” So they’re not empirically funny or dramatic; they’re very relative to the screening and environment you’re in so there’s less of a divide between them.
AP: I hate watching myself.
[laughs] Just point blank?
AP: I’m super critical and paranoid and I hate it.
Do you ever wish you could have someone else play your role and you could just sit back and watch it?
MP: As long as you get the money.
AP: No! I don’t want anyone else playing my parts. But yes as long as I get the money. But yeah I like watching everyone’s else stuff; I have no perspective on anything I do. Sometimes. Well, with Parks and Recreation I’m able to sit back and enjoy it and laugh at it, more than I was in the beginning.
MD: And it only took you four years. [laughs]
Safety Not Guaranteed hits theaters Friday, June 8th.