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For Aubrey Plaza, it’s easier to play a psychopath than be herself

The "Ingrid Goes West" star opens up about vulnerability and crushing self-doubt.

There’s Aubrey Plaza at The Crosby Street Hotel, folded neatly into an armchair. Her legs are crossed nimbly underneath each other as she types away furiously on her phone. “Sorry,” she says, mostly without looking up. “My sister is texting me.” Her whole family is in New York City for the premiere of “Ingrid Goes West,” out Friday, August 11. It's a sort of a modern day "Single White Female," equal parts social media satire and dark comedy. But we’ll get to that later.

Oh, and before you ask, yes. Plaza is just as deadpan and sarcastic as you'd think, but there is a great deal of vulnerability and self-doubt bubbling just underneath the surface, too. For example, when I admit interviewing always makes me a bit nervous, she tells me, still deadpan, “It’s okay. We’re all going to die anyway.” It's quite calming, actually. 

She’s no stranger to nerves, of course. She admits that although one-on-ones like ours are totally fine, big interviews with cameras, audience, the whole shebang, are often too much for her.

“I did ['The Tonight Show' with Jimmy Fallon] and I had a meltdown,” she says. “I psyched myself out and then afterwards I felt so down. I just wanted to be myself and be comfortable and relaxed, but I was just a total spaz because I couldn’t be comfortable in my own skin. I ended up spazzing out and saying weird things.”

She’s pensive for a bit. “It's a never ending cycle of self-destruction. I think I’m getting better at it, but it’s harder for me to be myself than it is to go be a psychopath on the astral plane on 'Legion.'

She is, of course, talking about her breakout role on the FX original — a mind-bending take on some of the less mainstream characters in the Marvel universe — that more than proves Plaza is capable of taking on a great diversity of roles. She’s more than just the April Ludgate of “Parks & Recreation” fame.

“You only have so much control over what you get offered and what is available for you to do,” she says. "I’m so heavily associated with [my ‘Parks & Recreation’ character], which I’m fine with. I loved playing that character. But it definitely takes time to change people’s minds.”

“Ingrid Goes West” is Plaza’s latest reminder to us all that she's a capable, malleable actress. In fact, she found the character of Ingrid — a lonely, grieving social media obsessive who takes some, um, extreme actions — so irresistible that she knew it was the part for her.

“I hadn’t read a movie that was really a true character study,” she says. “For me it just felt like, ‘Oh my god, if I could play this part, I’d have so much screentime to explore and to really take the character on a real journey.’ This [was] a real opportunity for me to show my range and to really dive into something complicated.”

Still, for all the work she’s done prying herself out of the April Ludgate box, Plaza is delightfully still herself — kind and warm and sarcastic. And awkward. As I leave the room, she extends her hand for me to shake, but it’s upside down, inside out. “Sorry. I’m awkward.” When I go to pet her arm instead — a weird habit, don't mind me — she looks up, still folded in the armchair, and smiles. “Oh, that feels nice. That’s actually really nice.”

Follow Rachael Vaughan Clemmons on Twitter — @rachaelclemz