“Aubrey Plaza is really WEIRD and...AWKWARD. I love it!” That’s the title of a 13-minute YouTube video about the actress, one of many about her and which sums up public sentiment toward the star.
Plaza’s role in the TV miniseries The White Lotus has consolidated her reputation. In the hit HBO show she plays Harper, a lawyer who agrees to go on a luxury Sicily vacation with her husband – who has recently become a millionaire – and his wealthy friends. It’s everything that we’ve come to expect from a Plaza character: Harper is caustic, sarcastic, and while not exactly the life of the party, she stands out for her deadpan delivery.
In addition to her wardrobe, which has inspired articles and photo galleries, Harper has given Plaza the opportunity to do what she does best: roll her eyes, stoically put up with the insufferable and take stock of how different she is from those around her.
It’s a similar role to the one she played on the TV sitcom Parks and Recreation. In that series, Plaza played April Ludgate, a Pawnee city council intern famous for her memorable retorts. When asked where she got her haircut, Ludgate replies, “in prison.”
Plaza’s father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Ireland. In an interview, she once said: “I was the only Puerto Rican girl doing Irish dancing.” Her mother, who had her when she was just 19, went on to study and became a lawyer, while her father worked as a tax consultant. She grew up in a conservative, Republican area, and described her home as “very Catholic.”
Plaza began acting as a child, doing amateur theater. She attended the all-girls Catholic Ursuline Academy, and later enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, to study drama and audiovisual production.
Right out of college, she worked as a guide at the NBC studios, where she became known for making up facts for the visitors. After a casting call, she landed a role in the TV show Make Me Laugh, and at about the same time she was approached about working on Parks and Recreation.
The casting director at the time described her as “the weirdest girl I’ve ever met.” But Plaza says she is more shy than weird. “Maybe it confuses people that I just don’t take things that seriously,” she told The Guardian. “You see actors all the time who take themselves so seriously and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re talking about a movie.’ I try not to lose that spirit because it’s got me where I am today. Seriously, we’re all gonna die one day.”
Plaza suffered a stroke in 2004, when she was 20 years old. In a 2017 interview with the radio program Fresh Air, she explained that she was talking to some friends about how she had taken one of her little sisters to a Hilary Duff concert, when she lost the ability to speak. Plaza was taken to hospital, but was not treated immediately because of her age. The doctors did not think she was having a stroke: they suspected drug use. It was days before she was able to speak again.
“I guess it sounds cheesy to say, but I think I always am aware of how precious life is, and I try to remember that every day,” she said in the radio interview. “I try to see the bigger picture and try not to take things so seriously and try not to get hung up on the small things. I can’t help but think that it has affected me in ways that I won’t even know until later. But I do have a overall feeling of life is short. And I might as well just do as much as I can.”
Like many other actresses, Plaza has also started producing movies – it’s a way for her to ensure she gets interesting roles. She has been behind a number of recent films, such as Ingrid Goes West, a dark comedy in which she plays a girl obsessed with an Instagram influencer; the thriller Black Bear, where she plays a filmmaker who lives in an isolated house by a lake; and The Little Hours, a wacky comedy, where she plays a nun in the Middle Ages.
The Little Hours was a joint project with her husband, director and screenwriter Jeff Baena, who she has been with since 2011. No one knew the two were married until Plaza called Baena “my dear husband” in a recent Instagram post. Her only other public relationship was with actor Michael Cera, who co-starred with her in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).
In a 2016 interview with The Advocate magazine, Plaza said she is well aware that she is a lesbian icon and that she has also fallen in love with women. “I know I have an androgynous thing going on, and there’s something masculine about my energy. Girls are into me – that’s no secret. Hey, I’m into them too. I fall in love with girls and guys. I can’t help it,” she said. But given Plaza has been able to trick a lie detector (she calls lying her “favorite hobby”), it’s hard to know when she is telling the truth.