Aubrey Plaza isn’t used to leading roles. Sure, she has a decent part on the NBC ensemble sitcom Parks and Recreation, but when she appears in films, it’s usually in small supporting roles. So her experience as the lead in Safety Not Guaranteed, the quirky romantic dramedy that opens in San Diego on Friday, June 15, was very different from what she’s used to.
“It’s terrifying,” she tells CityBeat. “It’s something that I wanted for as long as I can remember, so it was also amazing, but I was so scared. I’m used to getting in there, doing a couple of scenes and getting out. I was always conscious of wanting to have a real, honest transformation from the beginning to the end, which I think is your job as a lead.”
Plaza is front and center in Safety Not Guaranteed, in which she plays Darius, an awkward young Seattle 20-something who lives with her dad (Jeff Garlin) in the wake of her mother’s death and is trying to determine what to do with her life. She’s interning at Seattle magazine, and it’s there that she ends up driving with another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni), and a pompous writer, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), to a small town to do a story on the guy who posted a classified advertisement looking for a partner with whom to go back in time. There are no guarantees when it comes to time travel, apparently, ergo the film’s title.
Yes, it’s awkward and strange, but the movie is pretty charming, too, and it’s about more than just a guy who thinks he’s working on a time machine. The guy is Kenneth, played by Mark Duplass, best known for his mumblecore work and the cable show The League. Duplass and his brother Jay are executive producers on the film, and their involvement was one of the deciding factors in getting financing. Plaza says that until they came on board, the film was in limbo, which was too bad, because she was dying to do it.
“The writer, Derek Connelley, wrote it with me in mind. That’s how I came to it,” she says. “No one had ever done that for me before. I was really flattered. He had seen me in Funny People and used that performance as inspiration for the character. I read it and immediately said that I wanted to do it.”
The movie is sweet, and often very funny, and for Plaza, the work was completely different than what she’s used to at her day job.
“It’s fun and satisfying in different ways,” she says. “When you’re doing a movie, it ends—you know, it starts and it ends. You have to give it all you’ve got in this window of time and try to bring real life to it in that particular time in that character’s life.” On her TV show, she says, she knows her character April Ludgate so well that the writers can throw anything at her and she can respond without a problem. But film is different. “You don’t have as much time in a movie,” she says. “Everyone’s different, but for me, I feel that I have to do a lot of work before I show up to shoot it. It’s a little less spontaneous. You have to be prepared and really know what you’re doing and where you’re going at every moment.”
In some ways, the time travel in the film is really a metaphor for the parts of our lives we wish had turned out differently. Every character wishes he or she could get a do-over for parts of their past, which isn’t so different from real life. But the movie doesn’t hit the audience over the head with that idea. It has some sci-fi undertones, but, mostly, Safety Not Guaranteed is a showcase for Plaza and her deadpan style of comedy. As she says, “In this one, you’re kind of stuck with me.”
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