Over the last decade, the actor has built a loyal fan base from her indie roles. But after the stratospheric success of The White Lotus, is she ready for superstardom?

Photography by JACK WATERLOT
Fashion Direction by JESSICA PASTER


VALENTINO dress, $6,500, tights, $300, and shoes, $920. POMELLATO earrings, $27,600, and ring, $2,450.


If emotional growth is about turning ghosts into ancestors, putting to bed once and for all the relationships or experiences—or TV characters—that haunt you, then Aubrey Plaza may be experiencing a bit of a regression.

It’s the middle of January, and the last of the season’s atmospheric rivers is hurling sheets of rain against the windows of the Los Angeles house where Plaza, when she isn’t working nonstop, lives with her husband, writer-director Jeff Baena, and their two dogs. She is wearing red pajamas. She flew in yesterday from Atlanta, where she has been filming Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, in order to shoot the C Magazine cover story before presenting at the Critics Choice Awards. (Elsewhere in the house, a black sequined Louis Vuitton dress hangs at the ready.) Tomorrow she takes a red-eye to New York to begin rehearsal for hosting Saturday Night Live—a childhood dream come true for an actress who once interned in SNL’s set design department and cut her teeth in improv and sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. This was supposed to be the year when Plaza finally shed the skin of April Ludgate, the sardonic, eye-rolling millennial she played for seven seasons on Parks and Recreation. Or was it? She’s not really sure.

“The ghost of April Ludgate is swirling around right now,” says Plaza. “Because lately I’m trying to decide, well, what do people want from me? What do I want from me?


ETRO bra top, $420, top (tied around waist), $1,020, and skirt, $1,020. BULGARI bracelets, from $7,800


GUCCI top and pants; POMELLATO jewelry.


SNL is an interesting exercise in deciding for yourself what version of yourself you’d like to put on display. Starting with the monologue—which I’ve thought about my whole life—when you walk down the steps and you go out there and you say, ‘I’m so excited to be here hosting Saturday Night Live,’ and everyone starts clapping, and then joke-joke-joke. My brain starts to short-circuit, because I have a hard time knowing what people expect. Of course, the first thing I go to is the April Ludgate deadpan weirdo persona that people project onto me. But then I don’t know anymore. I must be on this show because everybody saw The White Lotus, or everybody saw my movie Emily the Criminal, or some combination. When I see someone else tapped to host SNL, it makes total sense, and I can say, ‘Oh, it’s because he did that.’ But I can’t figure out what that is for me, because I’m doing the same thing that I’ve always done. It just seems that all of a sudden people started paying attention.”

People wanted and got April Ludgate in all her snarky, hoodied glory on Plaza’s brilliant turn hosting SNL. But she gave them a lot more: a pugnacious Puerto Rican bartender, France’s full-throated candidate for Miss Universe, and a film noir femme fatale, among other reminders of her comedic bona fides.

If the last year has proven anything about Aubrey Plaza, it’s that, far from being a serial weird girl, she’s got range. The post-pandemic on-screen landscape has been rife with class commentary (Triangle of Sadness and The Menu come to mind), and in 2022 Plaza delivered a pair of performances that grabbed hold of that zeitgeist. “Apparently I’m having a moment,” she says in that flat style that has sometimes made it hard for late-night talk show hosts to tell if she’s kidding or not. “I hope it doesn’t go away soon. Robert De Niro once said, ‘Everybody’s dispensable.’”


“I’m way more square than people think”



SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO dress, $7,500. DAVID WEBB rings (from left), $13,500, $46,000, $4,400 and $9,600.


PRADA dress, $3,450, and PAUL ANDREW shoes, price upon request. BULGARI ring, $623.


In last summer’s Emily the Criminal, Plaza played the titular character, a young woman who resorts to credit card fraud to pay off her crushing college debt before sliding into more serious crime. Plaza also co-produced the film through her own company, Evil Hag Productions. (The name harks back to her comedy days, when she liked to make fake websites—one of those was saltyseahags.com, in which she blogged from the perspective of a sea witch living in a cave.)

“Emily was one of those characters where I felt like, I really got it,” says Plaza, who worked with a dialect coach to nail the New Jersey accent. “I understood the kind of rage that people feel being thrown into an economy and a job market that are so stacked against them, and I feel excited that people could watch that movie and feel that it’s for the underdog. Those characters are more interesting to me.”

But it was the newly moneyed and frequently appalled Harper in The White Lotus, Mike White’s murderous, satirical anthology series now preparing for its third season, that has pushed her into the spotlight. An attorney whose husband has just made a fortune in tech, Harper often seems like the only sane person in the fun house of a Sicilian luxury hotel, and Plaza’s highly emotive face, with its myriad contortions, makes her a sort of viewer-participant, a natural ally for the show’s audience.


CHANEL swimsuit, $950, shorts, $1,500, belts, $1,900, and $2,800, boots, $2,025, and earrings, $900.


Plaza has said that Harper is more like her than any character she has played—perhaps inevitable given that White, the show’s creator, is an old friend and wrote the part specifically for her. “I haven’t really played a mature, professional, married woman,” explains the actor, who has excelled at hot messes and permanent adolescents in films such as 2017’s Ingrid Goes West. “Most people think I’m 10 years younger than I am. I’m going to be 39 this year. It’s funny to me: People think I should be starring in Wednesday or something.”

It’s hard to believe that Plaza shares Harper’s prissiness in the face of her new friend Daphne’s conjugal compromises, but she insists that she isn’t as world-weary as her gimlet eyes sometimes suggest. “I’m way more square than people think,” she says. “I was raised very traditionally. I’ve been in a relationship for 12 years—that’s just how it happened for me. Harper’s an extremely intelligent character, but she’s not as evolved as Daphne in certain ways. There comes a point when people discover something about someone they’re close to that kind of opens their eyes to what people are really doing out there. Daphne has kind of cracked open her reality. That really does happen.”


BUCCELLATI earrings, $64,000.


Plaza grew up in Wilmington, Del. Her mother is one of nine children adopted by what she describes as “a very Irish Catholic family.” Her father’s parents immigrated to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico. “I got to experience what many people experience growing up in this country: a pretty normal, middle-class upbringing,” she says. “I feel very connected to that, which is probably why I’m suspicious of fame. I have parents who came from nothing, and I grew up watching them make something of themselves, real American dream-style. That’s always an underlying thing for me, and I feel lucky that I can tap into some of those experiences and play characters who, I hope, people feel seen by.”

As a kid, she was a prankster, a lover of the public spectacle. “I was either performing in some way or leading a weird protest or drumming up something to make life interesting,” she recalls. One day in middle school, she followed the principal home in a giant cardboard box. She was president of her high school class two years running—“very Tracy Flick,” she says—and was always looking for ways to bypass the Catholic school’s rigid rules. On one occasion, she convinced her entire class to come to school wearing mustaches—technically not a handbook violation, though the nuns were not amused. By the end of the day, Plaza was the only student still in her mustache.


“I’m suspicious of fame. I have parents who came from nothing”



Aubrey Plaza wears GIORGIO ARMANI. Price upon request.


Megalopolis, the self-funded passion project that Coppola began developing in the 1980s about an architect trying to create a utopia out of postapocalyptic New York City, will be Plaza’s first big-big-budget film. She auditioned over Zoom from Sicily while shooting The White Lotus, and while she cannot reveal much about her role, she believes that Coppola was looking for someone who could play funny and sexy at the same time.

“It’s like working with an excited child,” Plaza says of the legendary director. “He’s not jaded in any way. He loves actors, and you’d think that all directors would, but it’s not true. A lot of directors don’t care about the acting process; actors are like pieces of furniture to them. But Francis is really interested in collaboration. I’m not a very technical actor. I’m not really a line memorizer, and every take I like to do completely different. Francis has the number one quality that I think makes a successful director: He lets the movie evolve. He has no preciousness about what he has written. He’s the first person to throw it out the window and say, ‘You know what? Do what you did just there again.’ That’s why I like him.”

Even before Megalopolis wraps, Plaza will begin shooting Agatha: Coven of Chaos, a spin-off of the television series WandaVision and her point of entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although she is focused for the moment on acting—“got to strike while the iron is hot, you know?”—Plaza looks forward to producing and, eventually, directing. She is also pitching the third in a series of children’s books she co-authored about the long-lost tales of the “Christmas Witch.” She has read live from the books, voicing all the characters, on KWMR, the Marin County community radio station that she adores.


MICHAEL KORS COLLECTION top, $990, skirt $1,490, and shoes, $175. CARTIER ring, $4,950.


Plaza recently surprised herself and bought a house in West Marin. “It’s just a wild, dreamlike place that is really my happy place,” she says. “I honestly feel like there’s no more beautiful place on earth. And the oysters are the best in the world.” Despite her new fame, the actress is perhaps better suited to the mist and fuzzy sweaters of Northern California. “I’m not an L.A. scene-y person,” she says. “I don’t go anywhere.” She and her husband are happiest at home watching old movies.

Plaza has an almost instinctive mistrust for what’s popular. (Although, she says, she gets there eventually—such as The Sopranos, which she finally watched while shooting The White Lotus so that she could come downstairs and pick cast member and writer Michael Imperioli’s brain between episodes.) At home, she has an exhaustive collection of classics on DVD. “I like to watch old movies. That’s my thing,” she says. “Friends come over, and everybody picks two or three DVDs from the closet, and we put them in a pile and start to argue over which one we want to watch. Oh, and lately I’ve been playing darts. I watch old movies, and I play darts, with a cigar in my mouth.”

She’s probably kidding about the last part, but you can never tell.

Hair by MARK TOWNSEND at A-Frame Agency using SOL DE JANEIRO.
Makeup by KATHY JEUNG at Forward Artists using CHARLOTTE TILBURY.
Nails by JOLENE BRODEUR at The Wall Group.

AUBREY PLAZA wears GUCCI top and pants; POMELLATO jewelry.


Feature image: GIORGIO ARMANI bodysuit, price upon request, and pants, $3,995. VAN CLEEF & ARPELS bracelet, $17,800, and ring, $19,600.


This story originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of C Magazine.

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