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Aubrey Plaza on her new film, Instagram life and logging off

The actress plays a social media-addicted stalker alongside Elizabeth Olsen in Ingrid Goes West, a black comedy about our online obsessions

Would you describe your social media use as “healthy”? If you’re under 40, living in 2017, and were really honest with yourself, probably not. Despite our protests, it’s pretty easy to see that being constantly logged on maybe isn’t that mentally great for any of us. Matt Spicer’s new black comedy Ingrid Goes West tackles our current obsession with Instagram; in it, Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) becomes obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an “influencer” who she moves across the country to stalk. Ingrid, who had a pre-existing mental illness and had spent a spell in a psych ward for stalking someone from Instagram previously, gets all Single White Female and tries to become Taylor while befriending her and trying not to get caught out.

The film casts a critical eye over our use of social media and asks us to question it without being a condescending indictment of our culture; perhaps because its writers, Spicer and David Branson Smith, are both 33 and as at fault as any of us. The film is sharply funny and, despite some slightly outdated references due to just how quickly our culture moves, entirely aware of the time that we live in. As Ingrid, Plaza is dry, quietly unsettling, and as darkly funny as ever. Plaza made her name as sarcastic teen April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation before graduating to roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) and Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). With Ingrid Goes West, TV show Legion and the upcoming The Little Hours, she is a funny, engaging, and sometimes devastating lead actress – while not entirely losing the sardonic streak she’s loved for. We caught up with Plaza IRL to talk about the film, Instagram, and how she manages to log off.

What was it like working on the film?

Aubrey Plaza: It was really stressful. I was a producer on the movie also so it was really hard to go back and forth. Plus, my character is in every single scene in the movie, so I never really got a break. I was constantly in a zone, the Ingrid zone, which was really stressful.

Did it make you start to think critically about your own social media use?

Aubrey Plaza: I didn’t have a public Instagram when we were shooting the movie, I just got one a couple of months ago. I had a private one but I didn’t really use it that much. I just decided if my character is obsessed with this then I’m going to be obsessed with it, and I was so obsessed with it when we were shooting. Even when the cameras weren’t rolling I was on Instagram a lot just scrolling through different people and looking at different things and allowing myself to indulge. And it just started to become a part of my life because it’s very addictive. There would just be moments where I wouldn’t even think and I would go on it mindlessly and then I’d realise I didn’t even remember deciding to go on. It just becomes second nature.

I find that happens more for me on Twitter than Instagram...

Aubrey Plaza: That one is an easy one too because you get the news on there and everything. So you feel like, ‘I’m just seeing what’s going on’.

With the premise, it could so easily have been prescriptive or a complete condemnation of social media, but it managed to avoid that.

Aubrey Plaza: The script does a really good job at making you think about it but it’s not necessarily an indictment on social media. It’s not necessarily telling you, ‘put your phone down’, it’s highlighting the good things about it and the really toxic things about it and make you question it. 

It shows Instagram as a symptom of her madness, but it's not the cause. She’s obviously struggling and very obsessive anyway. 

Aubrey Plaza: To me, the movie is not about Instagram, it’s kind of about what happens to someone that already has a hard enough time socially connecting with people and maybe has a mental illness or a serious chemical imbalance. What happens to that person when they’re confronted with a tool like social media? In the hands of someone like that it can become very dangerous. It’s been interesting to see that because there are people out there that are like that and have a really hard time functioning in the real world it's easier for them to exist online. And what does that mean?  She doesn't find Taylor on Instagram, she finds her in a magazine, initially, but because of Instagram she's able to have access to her. So it's not the cause of her illness, but a symptom, like you said. 

Do you have any way to pull away from Instagram? 

Aubrey Plaza: Yeah, I mean I honestly just try to be really aware of the times I go on it because once I get into a habit of just going on it all the time and not thinking about it, that’s when it starts to get bad. I don’t really do it that much, I did a lot this summer because I had two movies coming out and I can wrap my head around it by using it as a more professional tool than anything.

Your twitter feels more irreverent, you have more fun with it. 

Aubrey Plaza: I tried to not take it so seriously because at the end of the day I can say whatever I want. Just because people know who I am doesn’t mean I can’t just act how I want to act. I don’t like feeling that every single thing I’m doing is under a microscope. I can tell whatever story I want and keep whatever I want to be private. I don’t like the idea that I have to use it differently to someone that’s not famous or someone that's not an actor. If I feel like saying something some random stuff that doesn’t make any sense then I’ll just do it. 

What was it like working with Elizabeth Olsen? 

Aubrey Plaza: It was amazing. She was our dream person for the part, so we were so lucky that she responded. We weren’t sure that she’d even read it or anything. So when we got her we couldn’t believe it. Matt and I talked from the beginning how Taylor Sloane needed to be played by someone who is really obsession-worthy in real life. I wanted someone where you were like, ‘wow, everything about them is so perfect’, and she’s just that person. She’s so gorgeous, smart, funny, interesting and grounded all at the same time and you’re like, ‘how can you be all those things I hate you’. She’s just the best and I just love the choices she makes career-wise too. I think she is creepily good in the movie and she nails it. She’s so funny because she is so committed to the character. It’s just biting and you think, ‘wow, I know people like this’. Its bizarre.

What were your favorite moments on set? Was it a lot of fun to shoot out there?

Aubrey Plaza: It was so fun. I loved working with O'Shea, all of those scenes were so fun because he’s such a ridiculous person to be around. So I'd say those are probably in the top favourites. But then going to Joshua Tree with Lizzie was really fun too. Doing all of our driving scenes and being stuck in a car with her. All of that stuff was really fun too. I loved doing fake coke. That whole sequence was really fun, being able to be at the bar just having the cameras rolling when we were essentially just listening to a concert and dancing around that was fun. 

Do you find that people try and typecast you as April (Parks and Recreation), even though you're moving away from that?

Aubrey Plaza: Yeah, I think that is always going to be a thing because when you're on a TV show for that long and you're playing the same character and in people’s living rooms and that’s their first impression of you, it's probably hard for people to get that out of their mind. But with all the movies I’m doing I’m trying to not play the same kinds of characters over and over again. But, it just takes time for people to see you differently and I don't mind it. I mean, it’s funny to me. People think I am like that and I am a little bit but I don't want to play that my whole life. It’s kind of cool people respond to it that way, but it’s always a challenge to break out of it. 

Ingrid Goes West is in cinemas from November 17.