It was just about this time last summer when life changed in a big way for Aubrey Plaza, who can currently be seen as Seth Rogen’s love interest in the new Judd Apatow film “Funny People.” She had come to Los Angeles from New York for a final audition for her role in the Apatow film and in short order also landed a part in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” -- the next film from “Hot Fuzz” director Edgar Wright -- as well as a supporting role as a blase intern on the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
“I went literally from doing nothing to getting all three in the same week,” Plaza said. “It’s kind of a crazy story, how all this stuff happened to me.”
In “Funny People,” Plaza plays Daisy, an L.A. arriviste who is a neighbor to the competitive young comedians played by Rogen, Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill. Also an aspiring stand-up, she soon becomes enmeshed in a romantic triangle with Rogen, who just landed a job as assistant to a more established performer played by Adam Sandler, and Schwartzman, star of a cheese-ball sitcom called “Yo Teach . . . !”
Even before landing her role in “Funny People,” Plaza, 25, was already working her way up the comedy food chain. A self-described “comedy nerd,” she left her native Delaware for New York University in part to be near the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, a popular breeding group for young performers. She was an intern at “Saturday Night Live” before moving on to being an actual NBC page. She appeared in a series of online videos, including the popular faux-soccer-mom talk show “The Jeannie Tate Show.” She can also be seen in the independent film “Mystery Team,” which will be released in the fall.
Among the online videos she posted was an impression she was working on for her “SNL” showcase audition of the notoriously potty-mouthed comedian Sarah Silverman.
“It’s funny because back in the day, last year, I put everything on YouTube because that’s what people do,” Plaza said. “I didn’t put it there ever thinking (a) anyone would watch it, (b) she would watch it, (c) I would have to respond to it. People keep saying, ‘I’ve seen you do stand-up on YouTube.’ That’s not me doing stand-up. That’s me being Sarah Silverman.”
Tough act to follow
In fact, the first time Plaza performed stand-up was for an open mike night in Queens, N.Y., which she videotaped as part of the audition process for “Funny People.” The third time she performed stand-up was as part of a pre-production warm-up outing, when Apatow made her go on after Adam Sandler in front of a packed house at a comedy club.
“It went OK,” she said. “There was nothing I could do but sink or swim. He hadn’t done stand-up in years, so forget about it, he comes out on stage and gets a 20-minute standing ovation. Without saying a word. I’m crying behind the curtain, ‘I’ve got to follow this?’ When he was done, I went onstage and said, “The night just gets better and better, everybody. Adam Sandler and now me.’ It kind of instantly connected me to them. Things like that I learned fast because I had to.”
It was just that combination of nervous uncertainty and go-for-it ambition that Apatow was looking for in Daisy.
“Judd kind of made that character me,” Plaza said, “even to the point of being from Delaware. I was playing myself, not myself, but she’s an up-and-coming stand-up just figuring out stand-up. And that’s who I was at the exact time we were shooting it, because I dove into this world I didn’t know. And I think that was his intention.”
‘Funny and weird’
“Her experience in Hollywood is supposed to be similar to Seth’s character,” Apatow said. “Seth wants to make it in the business, so he attaches himself to this more successful older comedian. And she just moved to town and makes the mistake of sleeping with the first semi-successful actor she meets. I wanted it be the worst, messy courtship you can imagine.”
For her part, Plaza has no reservations about being “the girl” in a Judd Apatow movie, and feels she was given equal footing to her male co-stars, down to the scene in which she expresses to Rogen her second thoughts about her dalliance with Schwartzman’s character.
“I wasn’t just the love interest . . . the girl you fall in love with for no reason just because she’s there,” Plaza said. “It wasn’t like, ‘All the jokes go to the men, you just stand there and look pretty.’ I think allowing me to be funny and weird and on the same page as the guys hopefully made it more real.”