Aubrey Plaza goes crazy in Ingrid Goes West. But the 33-year-old comic actor — renowned for her ability to make sarcasm, world-weariness and being downright mean hilarious in everything from TV’s "Parks and Recreation" to big-screen broad comedies like 2016’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates — also went somewhere else in this cyber-stalking dramedy; deeper and more dramatically into a role than she ever has before.
“This film allowed me to have the screen time to really develop something that is really layered,” says Plaza, wearing a flower-print sundress during a Los Angeles interview. “I don’t get that opportunity that much, and this is all from Ingrid’s perspective, I’m in every single scene in the movie. That’s a lot of time to be on screen and be in that character.”
Plaza was so excited about Ingrid’s possibilities that the instant she read it she also signed on to produce the sharply satiric yet ultimately moving screenplay by relative unknowns David Branson Smith and the film’s director Matt Spicer.
“I mean, I read the script so fast and I — not to be ironic — became obsessed with it,” cracks Plaza, who got her training with the improv comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade. “This movie is written from the perspective of the main character, which is something I was really interested in doing.I wanted to be in a movie like To Die For, which is one of my favourite films. And I wanted to take this script and really elevate it, create a real character piece.”
Ingrid Thorburn is a lonely Midwesterner with a penchant for mistaking the most superficial of online connections for strong personal friendships. This leads to at least one term of institutionalization for everyone’s own good, but when she gets out Ingrid blows an inheritance from her late mother to travel to L.A. and meet her latest girl crush, Elizabeth Olsen’s Instagram influencer Taylor Sloane.
In remarkably and ruthlessly devious ways, Ingrid insinuates herself into Sloane’s life, becomes her best-friend-forever for a minute, then of course can’t let go as Taylor and her family discover that they’re dealing with a deceptive psycho. But if you’re worried that Ingrid is just another movie that demonizes the mentally ill, think again; Plaza uses the troubled young woman’s condition to explore universal themes like longing and belonging.
“I approach every part the same,” she insists. “I work very hard on developing a very specific journey that my character is going on in terms of what they want and what they think they need versus what they really need, but really what they want by the end of it. I studied borderline personality stuff and all that, but that was more about trying to understand the behaviour of someone who has that kind of illness. So I read a lot of articles and things about that kind of disorder just to inform me, but I wasn’t trying to play it perfectly in that way. I wanted Ingrid to have layers of that kind of behaviour.”
Add in a constant barrage of fresh satire aimed at such common targets as social media and Southern California kookiness and we start to transcend simple laughs and build characters and scenarios that demand to be taken seriously.
Proud as she is of making Ingrid into such a complicated character, Plaza is still in her arch-comic wheelhouse here, and accepts that she’ll always be outrageous in her distinctive way. “I never treated it like, ‘Oh, this has to be funny’ or ‘I have to find the joke’ or anything like that you would do in a normal comedy,” Plaza says.
“But yeah, I can only draw on my own experiences and personality, I only have my own body and my own voice to use. I tried my best to create a character that you forget is me, but of course my comic timing and my sensibility is always going to play into whatever I’m doing because it’s me.”
Bob Strauss lives in L.A. where he writes about movies and filmmakers.
Ingrid Goes West Hits Theatres August 18th.