The actor and producer addressed years of swirling rumors about “being weird” and spoke about her commitment to her films at every stage of the process during a London Film Festival ScreenTalk session hosted by Leigh Singer, ahead of the release of Plaza’s new film “Emily The Criminal”.
Reflecting on her working relationship with the “Raging Bull” actor (the two actors played lovers in Dan Mazer’s gross-out comedy), Plaza clarified that any way De Niro could have been offended by her behavior would have been due to her staying committed to her character.
“I didn’t really have a relationship with him off camera because he’s him,” Plaza said when asked about how well she and De Niro knew each other. “I didn’t have time to get to know him, he shows up in a puff of smoke and there’s no chatting at the water cooler.”
The actor explained how focused she remains when playing character — in that film, as the provocative Lenore — and that any experience De Niro had with her was when she was Lenore. “By the time he’d show up, I’m in character. My character had one goal: To have sex with him. I was acting totally insane as the character because we were about to shoot. I don’t think he understood that wasn’t me. You’d think he would because he’s an actor and an amazing one.”
Plaza said one of her agents “heard Bob’s a little freaked out,” and that later in the shoot De Niro hosted a lunch for the cast and crew and didn’t know who Plaza was as she was no longer in character. “I showed up and he’s like, ‘Who are you sweetheart?’ and after that he was normal. At first I think I came on really strong. I did some questionable things I wouldn’t do anymore.”
The actor went on to discuss her perceived behavior on set and in the media, saying that talk shows “short circuit my brain,” and promising the audience that “having an uncomfortable time is not on purpose.” Plaza, whose background in improv comedy led to her breakout role as April on the beloved sitcom “Parks And Recreation,” said the talk show format is “the opposite of improv” and explained her struggle.
“The worst thing you can do at improv is plan a joke,” she explained. “So talk shows short circuit my brain. Planning a story or a joke feels so wrong to me.” Stressing that her attitude is genuine, she added: “Every time I tell myself just be normal this time. Do it and get out. I see Tom Hanks doing it and I’m like, ‘He’s smiling, he’s doing great.’ I’d rather have an uncomfortable time because it feels more real, but it’s not on purpose. I wouldn’t want to make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s my defence mechanism put on display. I try to do it right every time and fuck it up every time.”
Discussing her love of cinema, Plaza explained that her move into producing came from the desire for “my ideas to matter” when it comes to the influence she had over her characters as an actor. While her first producing credit was on 2017’s “The Little Hours,” she calls social media satire “Ingrid Goes West,” released the same year, her “king of comedy” and breakthrough as a producer.
“I want my opinion to matter contractually — and the fun of it is having control over the parts I get to play. I have really great ideas. It’s nice to get to change the final product and have an effect on it, and I’m just not the kind of person who waits around for the perfect thing to fall into my lap.”
After receiving its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, “Emily The Criminal” was released in the U.S. on Aug. 12 via Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions. The film is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival’s “Thrill” Strand, before being released nationwide in cinemas later this year. Among her next projects are a role in ensemble satire series “The White Lotus” as well as a part in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis,” which is yet to begin filming.