Born in 1984 to Bernadette, an attorney, and David, a financial advisor, Aubrey Plaza grew up in Wilmington, Delaware.
“Half of my family is from Philadelphia and then half of them are from Delaware. So I grew up in a kind of suburban setting,” she says. “Not much was going on in Delaware when I was growing up, so it was a pretty normal childhood, except for the fact that I moved around. We moved around a lot — we moved to a lot of different neighborhoods in Delaware, so I got a taste of all the kinds of places you could live.
“I lived in the city part, and then I would live in the suburbs, and then I would live in the halfway zone. Delaware is also on the coast, so in the summers I would go down south and go to the beach down by like Rehoboth and Ocean City, Maryland, and go to camp with all the farmers down south.”
Her mother named the Emily the Criminal star after Bread’s 1972 ballad. “Aubrey” sounds like it’s from the perspective of a secret admirer who regrets never making his feelings known: “And Aubrey was her name/ A not so very ordinary girl or name/ But who’s to blame?/ For a love that wouldn’t bloom/ For the hearts that never played in tune/ Like a lovely melody that everyone can sing/ Take away the words that rhyme, it doesn’t mean a thing.”
“I love that song. But I also feel like it’s a sad song. It’s kind of a tragic song,” Plaza says. “It’s like that feeling when it’s your birthday — you just want to cry because it’s your birthday. But I love it. It’s definitely emotional, because I’m like, why would my mother name me after this song?”
Her mother told Delaware Today in 2012 — the same year that Plaza starred in her first leading role, in Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed — that she chose the name because “it was mysterious and haunting — what was so special about this girl, one could only imagine and never really know. … It is very fitting for Aubrey. It’s hard to put into words what makes her so special, but I always knew she would be.”
Aubrey Plaza says of her mother: “She was really young when she had me. She was 19 when she was pregnant with me. She’s a woman of the ‘70s. She partied really hard back then, so I think she was grooving out to Bread.”
During her sophomore year at her all-girls private high school, Plaza was the class president, and later became president of the student council.
“It would surprise people to know that I was way more type-A in a leadership role,” she says.
She was also the class clown.
“You could definitely consider me a class clown at least in high school, because I was doing pranks and I was always protesting things that I thought were outrageous, and I went to a really small all-girls private school, so it was a very specific environment. There were only 42 people in my graduating class.”
Plaza also describes herself as a theater nerd, as well as an athlete.
“I went to community theater and did a lot of plays. But I was also kind of a jock. I played sports, too. I had my hand in everything,” she says. “I wasn’t really part of one clique or anything. I was always kind of just bouncing around to all of them.”
Perhaps being a jokester, athlete, theater kid and student politician explains her range: Besides comedy and drama, she’s also done action in the upcoming Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre and horror in the 2019 Child’s Play remake.
“I gravitate towards characters that are complicated and that have a lot of inner life happening despite what’s going on around them,” she says. “A lot of times they’re antiheroes, where they do questionable things but you’re still rooting for them for some reason.”
Read: Emily, the credit-card fraudster in Emily the Criminal; Ingrid the small-time stalker in Ingrid Goes West; Sister Fernanda, the naughty nun in The Little Hours; Darius, the reporter posing as a time-travel enthusiast in Safety Not Guaranteed; the hard-to-read writer-director in Black Bear; Lenny Busker in Legion; and even Tatiana, one half of a wild-child duo hitching a ride to Hawaii in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.
“Those are things that excite me the most, and I think I kind of relate to that, too, ‘cause I think I’m like that a little bit, where I come off kind of aggressive or hard, but on the inside, I’m actually really sensitive. I’m a double Cancer.”
Well, technically, Aubrey Plaza’s moon sign — according to the tropical astrological chart — is a Gemini-Cancer cusp, she tells me, but in any case, her sun sign is definitely in Cancer and her rising sign is Leo. Yes, she does believe in astrology, and during the early days of the pandemic, she became fascinated by tarot cards.
“I was, like, really into that shit,” she says. “I got this amazing tarot deck from this witch that was living across the street from me during quarantine. It’s called the Motherpeace deck. Basically, the deck existed before patriarchal times, before the power dynamic shifted and men came to be in the power position. Because most tarot decks are male imagery — nights, kings, pages — you know, they’re men. So I have this deck that’s all-female imagery and it got me really into it.”
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