Sometimes it felt like Sarasota, Fla., was a nice getaway for Hollywood stars.
Aubrey Plaza, most famous so far for “Parks and Recreation,” visited Ringling College of Art and Design. She didn’t disappoint for giving me plenty to write about.
She rode around in a golf cart, blowing a whistle, and telling people she was the new pope.
She talked to college students about working in the movie and TV biz.
And she talked to me about a piece of “Parks and Recreation” trivia that I had to write about. I graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Part of the show is based on Muncie, in a roundabout way, and the map in the opening credits of Pawnee, Ind., is Muncie upside down. She either wasn’t aware, didn’t care or was being kind.
Reality and fantasy collide all the time in TV, but there’s something about when a hit show takes place in a town you’re familiar with that sets it apart.
That’s the case with NBC’s Parks and Recreation, which takes place in fictional Pawnee, Indiana, which is beside the also fictional Eagleton. But they reference real towns in the Hoosier state, and Pawnee is sort-of based on a real city in East Central Indiana: Muncie.
Thankfully Aubrey Plaza, who plays April Ludgate on the show was in Sarasota on Saturday to satisfy my curiosity.
Long ago during the first season, viewers astutely noticed that the map of Pawnee during the opening of the show is a map of Muncie flipped outside down. And the characters frequently make reference to goings-on in Muncie, too. The only reason I care is because I went to college in Muncie.
So, would it not be out of the ordinary for the show to film in Muncie, given that it did a great Indianapolis show (that city is real). And in another episode, the gang went to Washington, D.C. and met Vice President Joe Biden.
How about it, Aubrey?
“Wait. It’s a real place? Muncie?” Plaza said.
“Yeah,” this reporter said, stunned in his chair.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” Plaza said. “How about Bloomington?”
That’s real, too. Indiana University is located in Bloomington, and Ball State University in Muncie, where David Letterman attended.
Just like the map of Pawnee, my world was turned upside down.
You really can’t fault actors not being familiar with Midwestern geography of mid-sized cities. The writers write, and you act.
Writer Greg Levine actually researches this stuff. He told Wired.com that he checks in on small-town politics in both Muncie and Bloomington to figure out how Pawnee should operate.
One of the funniest exchanges in the show involved making fun of Muncie, too.
Tom Haverford, played by Aziz Ansari, rips Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir) for his vacation spot.
Tom: You went on vacation and you chose Muncie, Indiana?
Jerry: My wife and I have a timeshare.
Tom: In Muncie?
Leslie: Tom, Muncie is a lovely city.
But the Sherm’s Ice Cream in Muncie during the “Two Parties” episode where the guys went to Indy? Doesn’t exist, nor did that appear to be Muncie.
Just to double check to make sure I’m being fair, I asked her in the green room if she was kidding. Nope.
Her boyfriend and screenwriter Jeff Baena knew—even told me to Google Hudsucker Proxy to check if the movie was set in Muncie, too. Yup.
Also, a part of Close Encounters of the Third Kind took place there, and there was a reality show, probably my favorite ever, called Armed & Famous that shot there. It featured the likes of Wee Man, Erik Estrada, La Toya Jackson and others being Muncie cops and fighting crime. I wish it would return, but Aubrey would have to be less famous to be on the show.
Knowing that Muncie is indeed real, Plaza gave a “hopefully” in response to the real question—if Parks and Rec would shoot there.
You know what? I’ll accept that answer. For real.
If there would ever be a pope of comedy, actress Aubrey Plaza might have the best chance at it.
Plaza, 28, was in good spirits Saturday while at the Ringling College of Art and Design, visiting the campus as part of the Digital Filmmaking Studio Lab program, and on her way to the college’s An Evening at the Avant-Garde, Plaza hopped a ride on a Model T golf cart in a funky costume for the scholarship fundraiser, where well, everyone dresses up in a funky costume. (This year’s theme was book characters.)
“Tell everyone that I’m the new pope,” Plaza tells Patch, as she waves her hand in a white glove, blowing a whistle and later announcing, “I bless you all.”
Plaza is best known for her role as the deadpanned April Ludgate in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” and she is set to star in a movie to be released Aug. 16 called “The To Do List,” where she is a high school senior, Brandy Clark, making a check list of sexual experiences before she heads to college.
She said she loved her time visiting Ringling and joked that she should have been in class more at New York University. Instead, she was busy with the NBC Page Program and worked as an intern at Saturday Night Live’s design department, ditching time for class. It appeared to work out well for Plaza.
“Since being here, I kind of realized Oh, I should have gone to class more. Everyone’s doing such amazing work. The facilities are amazing,” Plaza said about Ringling College. “I got to see those editing bay rooms that you guys have and I was like, wow, this is the perfect environment to be creative, and to just make movies. I was really impressed by everything. I just wished I would have used all that stuff when I was in school. It made me think about the choices that I made because everything is about me—about my life.”
“Would I go to this college?” Plaza said later. “Yes.”
Plaza said she would love to bring a screening of The To Do List to Ringling College. The movie is directed by Maggie Carey, who is the wife of Bill Hader on Saturday Night Live. The movie was originally supposed to be released on Valentine’s Day and had a raunchy title that CBS Films forced to change, she said.
“Formerly called The H***job, which I will continue to call it in every press, and every opportunity I have because that’s the original title of the movie. But CBS Films made us change it to The To Do List. I don’t know why,” she said, prompting a laugh from the audience. “But I really want to bring it here because I feel like you guys would like it. It’s a really bizarre, weird kind of movie that artists such as yourselves would enjoy. And I learn how to give a h***job in the movie, so I want you all to see that.”
The reason why she took the role of Brandy Clark is because it’s a departure from the roles Plaza has been placed in, often as a girl who oozes sarcasm with a touch of self-effacing jokes with a dead-panned delivery. She says it’s one of her favorite roles, saying Clark is sincere and ambitious.
“She’s kind of a Type-A go-getter,” she said. “… In high school, I was kind of like Tracy Flick in Election more than anything. I was always the persident of everything. I would always create clubs so I could be president and like, noone else would be in the club.”
The film co-stars Bill Hader, Andy Samberg and Rachel Bilson.
She will also star in Disney’s animated feature Monsters University, coming to theaters June 21. It’s her first major animated feature, and said it was a challenge.
“I have no formal voice training or anything, and it was kind of a challenge. The director I was working with, Dan [Scanlon], he worked on Up. He got me in early enough so I didn’t have to sync my voice with my monster,” she said. “I could just do my lines and improvise, so that if I came up with anything they wanted to use, they could just do it.”