"I'm here for work," Plaza reports, a Romanian din dinning in the background. "I'm shooting a movie called The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, with Shia LaBeouf. … I'm only here for a couple of days. It's a small part. I'm actually leaving tomorrow.
“That's how I like to do it: get in, and get out."
Plaza, who turns 28 in a week, might be best known for her recurring role as office heckler April Ludgate in the hit NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. But the comedian has been developing a following, and a flair for pitch-perfect deadpan drollery, in supporting parts in films for awhile now. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, she's the scowling ex of Mark Webber's character.
In Funny People, she's the crush object of Seth Rogen's character — and a one-night stand of Jason Schwartzman's. There's a great scene in the Judd Apatow-scripted-and-directed film in which Schwartzman's Mark, who shares an apartment with his struggling stand-up comic buddies (Rogen and Jonah Hill), "accidentally" leaves a paycheck lying around from the new TV series in which he stars. His weekly salary, his pals are sickened to discover, is in the five figures.
Did Plaza — erstwhile struggling actress and stand-up artist — flash back on that moment when she signed on for Parks and Recreation?
"You know what's funny?" Plaza says. "My friends get mad at me now because I still live my life as if I'm completely poor. And I haven't come to terms with the fact that I'm not. … I forget to go shopping because I feel like I can't afford anything. So, I'm still learning not to be poor."
Plaza stops, says something about European football to her neighbor at the bar, and returns with an important caveat.
"By the way, and sorry, but you know I was never poor poor — I'm totally exaggerating. I don't want to say that, because there are people who are really poor, really struggling in this world. No, I was never like that.
“I'm just saying I was never super-comfortable after college, and now I am and it's great, but it's something I haven't gotten used to yet. And maybe I'll never get used to it, and maybe that's a good thing."
Plaza, whose dad hails from Philadelphia ("Fifth Street in Fishtown") and whose mom is from Wilmington, grew up in North Wilmington, went to Ursuline Academy, and then on to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
She always has wanted to act, to perform. She grew up watching two movies a day ("my mom is obsessed with movies"), scrutinizing the comedy moves of Janeane Garofalo and Bill Murray and fantasizing about being on Saturday Night Live. And Plaza never considered an alternate career path.
"I always felt like it would happen," she says, "but everyone around me was kind of telling me, ‘You know, maybe you should come up with a backup plan, a plan B, because who knows?'
“But I said no — I would not come up with a backup plan! I read Rosie O'Donnell's autobiography when I was a kid and she said, if you have a net, you'll fall. And I never forgot those words. Thank you, Rosie O'Donnell!"
And here Plaza is, living in Los Angeles, with a lucrative day job (being on the series with Amy Poehler is "a dream come true") and a film career that takes her to places like Bucharest and Seattle (where Safety Not Guaranteed was shot). And after patenting a certain eye-rolling hipster cynicism, Plaza seems poised to move beyond her comfort zone.
In Safety Not Guaranteed, in which she stars opposite Mark Duplass, Plaza even gets to cry.
"I do, I get to cry, finally," Plaza says. "I've been wanting to cry my whole life, and now finally I get to cry.
“It felt good to let it all out, I've got to say."
And in The To Do List, in which she heads a cast that includes Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Rachel Bilson, and Super Bad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Plaza is a recent high school grad determined to do something proactive — and R-rated — about her sexual inexperience. It's set for release next year.
But in the meantime, Plaza — who remembers coming to Philly and tailgating at Dave Matthews Band concerts — can sit in a bar in Romania and not be recognized.
"No, no one recognizes me, no one knows who I am," she reports, and happily at that. "I'm totally undercover here. I'm a non-famous spy.
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.
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