Your latest film, About Alex, has been called “The Big Chill for millennials.” Is there a way to describe it that doesn’t sound like a terrible studio pitch?
I’m the worst at describing anything. I can barely put sentences together. It’s about a bunch of friends who go in the woods and some of them have sex with each other and some of them fight and they learn things and you realize that the only thing that matters is love and the connections we have and that the Internet is evil.
Your character in About Alex is not at all like April Ludgate, your character from Parks and Recreation. Is it a challenge to play someone who isn’t droll or deadpan, or is it a relief to finally get away from that?
It’s a fun challenge to make people accept me as not April and to show that I can do more than roll my eyes. But everything is a challenge for me. Waking up is challenging for me. I can barely put my clothes on in the morning.
You’re so sarcastic that it’s sometimes difficult to tell when you’re being sincere.
Believe me, it’s a bigger problem for me. I don’t even know when I’m being serious or not. I can’t tell how I truly feel about anything.
Can your friends or family tell when you’re being genuine with them?
Sometimes. I think it’s just the tone of my voice that throws people off. Zooey Deschanel recently told me, “Everything that you say to someone sounds like you’re mocking them.” I was like, “But I’m not.” And she was like, “Even when you just said that, it sounded like you were mocking me.” I am actually sincere more than I’m not. In my real life, I’m a truth teller.
Some of the things you’ve shared in interviews over the years, it’s hard not to wonder if you were being tongue-in-cheek. Like that your parents named you after a song by the rock band Bread.
No, that’s real. I was named after the Bread song “Aubrey.”
And you had a stroke in college? That really happened?
I did have a stroke when I was 20 years old. I know it sounds hilarious, but that did happen.
You don’t hear about a lot of 20 year olds having strokes.
I will never be sure about the cause of my stroke, but many doctors attribute it to the birth control pills, specifically Tri-Cyclen, which literally on the label says it can cause a stroke. It’s not common for people that are young but it does happen.
Where do you see your career in 20, 30 years? Do you have long term goals?
I just want to keep people on their toes. I don’t know. I don’t really care much about fame or success. I think control is the long term goal. It would be nice to be in a place where I can be like Bill Murray and just have an answering machine and do whatever I want.
So you’ll be crashing people’s engagement photo shoots and bachelor parties?
I will do that. I will, I promise you that. I will just walk into people’s apartments and show up at people’s Bar Mitzvahs and wreak havoc on the world.
You kinda demonstrated that anything-goes spirit last year, when you walked onstage at the MTV Movie Awards and tried to take an award away from Will Ferrell.
I did? I don’t remember that.
Has it already faded from your memory?
I don’t remember what happened yesterday, honestly. I have a terrible memory, which I think is really good for me in the long run. I don’t dwell on the past, I just keep moving forward.
You have another movie coming out this month, Life After Beth, in which you play a zombie. Did you watch a lot of classic zombie movies to prepare for that?
I decided to purposely not watch anything and just kind of wing it. Because I have this brewing demonic monstrous energy inside of me, and I’ve never really had a way to express it. So I didn’t prepare at all. I just went with my instincts. I was like, I’m just going to see what happens when I tap into my monster self.
Were you surprised at what your inner monster was capable of?
I wasn’t surprised. It was more like, yeah, there she is. Come on, girl. Let it out. I knew it was in there.
I doubt many people think, Aubrey Plaza, yeah, she’s got a real rage inside her. That’s a bit surprising.
I’m holding a lot of things in. Let’s just leave it at that. Every movie that I do is cathartic, because in my real life I do have a problem with, you know, emoting and letting my feelings out.
The movie also stars your B.F.F., Anna Kendrick. Is it fair to describe her as your B.F.F.?
For your purposes, yes. Why not?
You’ve gone on a trip to Mexico with her. You were her Oscars date. You tweet to each other adorably. It seems only a matter of time before you get matching tattoos.
It’s true. We have a very deep connection, and it’s hard to have friendships in this town. We have a mutual respect for each other, professionally and personally. And we’re also sexually attracted to each other. That’s another kind of layer of our relationship. We always talk about how we were born in the wrong era of Hollywood. I feel like we could have really ruled the 1930s MGM studio system. If we’d been signed with MGM, we would have owned that shit. But it’s not really like that anymore.
Why does the old Hollywood studio system seem so appealing to you?
There’s just something kind of old-school about being signed with a bunch of other actresses and having to hustle and compete in that way. Now any old person can just, you know, pop up out of nowhere.
I thought you were going to say YouTube and the kids.
Well, I was going to say that. Still, I want Mr. Mayer to, like, call me up to his office and tell me that I’ve got a four-picture deal. That’s what I want, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I’ve got to do sexy photo shoots, and I don’t even know what I’m doing.
You don’t like the promotional part of it, the photo shoots and interviews and talk shows?
Have you ever seen me on a talk show? I’m the worst interview guest ever. I might get to a point eventually where I just say “Enough! I’m not doing it anymore.” Right now I do feel that it’s necessary to do these things. I consider myself an artist but I also know that without awareness of myself, it’s very hard to get jobs. And if you don’t get jobs you can’t get better jobs, and if you can’t get better jobs you don’t get to a position where you can then have control over what you’re doing. You’re at the mercy of everyone else’s shitty opinions and decisions. I just feel that there’s a necessity to that stuff and I like to find the joy in it.
Have you found that joy yet?
It’s humiliating. It’s the most humiliating experience ever. I mean, every photo shoot I do, I show up with a great attitude and four minutes into it, I just want to get out of there. I’m like, “What am I doing? This is the most embarrassing thing I could be doing today. Anything else that I would do today would not be as humiliating as ten people staring at me right now. This is demoralizing but I just have to laugh about it.” I think that’s when it gets bad, when people really start to believe all of the press about themselves and take those things seriously. That’s when you turn into a cranky person.
You’ve described doing talk shows as “fun performance art pieces.” So at least some of it must be premeditated.
Sometimes I decide ahead of time, I’m going to do something weird or I’m going to do some kind of specific thing that I think would be funny. But most times I just go with the flow. I try to play the game of retelling stories and making it seem spontaneous but it’s just not really how my brain operates. So in the moment, I sometimes go off the rails and I can’t really help it. It’s refreshing to have a moment of silence on TV, and just not speak. To just be like, we’re both sitting here like assholes, and people are watching, and I don’t know why.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the August 10, 2014 issue of the New York Times Magazine.)