Aubrey Plaza: ‘Emily the Criminal’ shows ‘how broken the system is’

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Aubrey Plaza stars in and produces “Emily the Criminal.” File Photo Jim Ruymen/UPI | License picture

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Aubrey Plaza said her new movie, Criminal Emilyin theaters Friday, shows how an unfair job market can lead people to crime.

“You see how broken the system is and how messed up it is,” Plaza told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. “She just decides to say, ‘[Expletive] this. I won’t play those games anymore.'”

Emily (Plaza) delivers food in an attempt to pay off her student debt. When she tries to get better jobs, investigators question an assault conviction on her record or offer her an unpaid internship – until Emily responds.

“For her to go wild and say what she really thinks, there’s something really cathartic about it and fun to play,” Plaza said. “You can say the thing you would never say in real life.”

Plaza, 38, has worked steadily as an actor since appearing in the 2009 film funny people and series Parks and recreation. She said she was connected to Emily’s struggle, having had unpaid internships and worked as a cocktail waitress and hostess to pay the bills.

“I worked in the restaurant industry in New York when I started, so I felt like I leveraged that a lot,” Plaza said. “I remember those feelings of waking up at 5 a.m., getting on the subway, being cold, being tired, opening a restaurant for people.”

Emily is referred to an underground job which turns out to be a criminal network. Youcef (Theo Rossi) teaches Emily and others how to use stolen credit cards to buy expensive electronics that they can then resell.

Plaza, who also produced writer/director John Patton Ford’s film, said she personally justified the crime. She said she imagined Emily was just stealing from companies that treated their employees as badly as she was treated.

“I didn’t like the idea that they were robbing other people in trouble,” Plaza said. “I really thought the scam was that you were stealing from big companies that are already doing terrible things.”

Rossi, 47, said Youcef was likeable too. After playing an outlaw biker in Sons of Anarchy and a gangster in Luke CageRossi said many people commit crimes even if they are good people because they have no legal options.

“You don’t have to be a bad person to commit a crime,” Rossi said. “I don’t think he had any bad intentions. He’s just trying to get away with it.”

Youcef also shows Emily how she can use her skills to improve her situation. With legal jobs holding her back, Emily takes the countercultural option.

“It makes her reveal another side of herself that she wasn’t in touch with,” Rossi said. “It pushed her into this other life that she happens to be really good at.”

The deeper Emily delves into Youcef’s criminal network, the more dangerous it becomes for her. As she attempts bigger scams, she comes face to face with dangerous criminals.

Emily is physically no match for the violent thugs, but she uses her wits to escape. Plaza said it was important to show that these predicaments weren’t scaring Emily away from a life of crime.

“She finds clever ways out of these situations, but I think they’re still believable,” Plaza said. “I think it’s important because it shows her drive and it shows who she really is on the inside.”

As a producer, Plaza produced her films, Ingrid goes west, The small hours and Black bear, under its Evil Hag Productions banner. Plaza said she read Ford’s script as a submission and decided she wanted to not only produce it, but also play Emily.

“I think I’m drawn to films that have something to say, but are also entertaining films,” Plaza said. “It’s an entertaining thriller and it’s fun to watch, but it also happens to stumble upon something happening right now, which is a bonus.”

Rossi agreed that the depiction of universal financial problems provided a backdrop for a thrilling criminal caper.

“With the gig economy, with student loans, that’s still relevant,” Rossi said. “It’s just a small part of the movie. I think the big part is Emily’s journey.”

The production of Criminal Emily embraced Emily’s spirit while filming in Los Angeles. Like many guerrilla productions, Emily got her shots by any means necessary.

“We couldn’t afford to lock down the city to film our stuff,” Plaza said. “We were inspired by the subject, so we did what Emily would do if she was doing a movie. We made the rules ourselves.”

Plaza will return to television in Season 2 of The White Lotus on HBO. Details of creator Mike White’s second season are scarce.

“Season 2’s scripts are so different from the first season because it’s in a completely different place,” Plaza said. “So it was like a different show for me, and I just treated it like it was a movie, anyway.”

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