Second chances. They aren’t an uncommon storytelling device in movies, but where the recent indie Safety Not Guaranteed is concerned, it means going back in time. At least that’s what Kenneth, played by writer/director/producer/actor extraordinaire Mark Duplass, is hoping to do.
An executive producer here with his filmmaker-brother, Jay, Mark expands his role in front of the camera, as he has been doing so well recently in movies including Greenberg, Darling Companion, Your Sister’s Sister and the upcoming People Like Us. As Kenneth, he plays a man with a mission, attempting time travel to have the chance to make a situation that went wrong, right.
And he’s looking for someone to travel with him.
That’s where Aubrey Plaza, one of the stars of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” comes into play. As Darius, an intern at a Seattle magazine, she gets assigned to the story with a self-absorbed, hard-partying reporter, Jeff, played by Jake Johnson from Fox’s “New Girl.” Essentially turning the thing over to she and another intern (Arnau, played by Karan Soni) while he goes off to re-connect with his high school girlfriend, Darius does most of the grunt work, meeting Kenneth and making him think she should be his time traveling partner. But Duplass admits that, at first, he wasn’t sure Plaza should be his acting partner.
“I didn’t know Aubrey personally, but I knew her work in ‘Parks and Rec,’” he explains. “I know that Aubrey can pull off the first half of the movie where it’s a little more of that dead-pan, cynical girl, but I’m so curious what’s going to happen when she has to blossom emotionally. And without knowing her, I was like, ‘I don’t know if she’s going to pull this off.’”
His doubts were cast aside soon enough, though. “We had this really great table reading and we started seeing her ability to peel away those layers and show this whole new side of her as an actor. I think that’s part of the key of this movie, as Darius transforms in the film, you get to watch Plaza do something totally different.”
“I’ve never been the lead of a movie before so I prepared a lot,” Plaza says. “I always wanted to be really aware of what I was feeling at every moment in that movie. I definitely wanted to have that feeling of, in the beginning of the movie, having this wall up and then slowly tipping it over.”
The wall starts to tip and she and Kenneth start to learn more about each other, gaining trust and building a friendship along the way. It leads to a sing where Duplass puts his skills as a musician to work, serenading Plaza. And it wasn’t the first time it’s happened to her. “When I was 13, the first guy [who was] my boyfriend asked me out through a song that he sang on stage in front of people,” Plaza recalls. “Cut to, years later, Johnny Gallagher, Jr. who won a Tony® for ‘Spring Awakening.’”
“Shut the F! J-G-Jr.?” Duplass says, shocked.
Plaza says she still has the audio cassette of the performance. “It’s called, “When We Get Married.’”
Maybe Plaza’s experience on Safety Not Guaranteed will inspire to revisit herself as a 13-year-old being serenaded by a future Tony Award® winner. Then again, maybe time travel doesn’t happen in the movie. No spoilers here. But one that can be said for sure is that the movie’s ending is not what Plaza shot. “When I saw it at Sundance for the first time with an audience, I didn’t know how it was going to end,” Plaza says. “It was a secret that was kept from me for a long time, so it totally blew me away on multiple levels.”
Safety Not Guaranteed - directed by Colin Trevorrow in his feature debut – is blowing away audiences and critics, racking up one of the highest scores on Rotten Tomatoes all year. Now entering its third weekend of release, the movie is performing well in limited release, making just over a half-million dollars so far, looking to bank more as it expands into more cities.
The Seven Sees sat down with Duplass and Johnson to talk movie titles, playing such different characters from what we’re used to seeing from them, and about the real newspaper ad that inspired Safety Not Guaranteed.