aubrey plaza on her horror film debut in 'child's play'
For once, the actor isn't the most evil character.
On the flight to Vancouver to shoot the new Child’s Play movie, Aubrey Plaza gave Gabriel Bateman a gift. “It happened to be his birthday, which I didn’t know,” Plaza says of the 13-year-old actor, who plays her son in the film. “I was sitting in front of him, and he was asleep. I had this young adult book that I’d just finished, that I loved so much, so I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to pass this along to him, because he might like it!’”
The book was Edward Bloor’s Tangerine, and it shares more than a few similarities with Child’s Play — violence, bullying, teenage isolation. One of the book’s central themes is facing your fears, which was also relevant given the fact that Plaza and Bateman were about to do just that in recreating one of the most iconic scary movies ever.
“I started off our journey with a little mom gift, and I thought that was fitting, because in only a couple weeks I was going to give him another gift that would then try to kill us all!” she deadpans.
Plaza first won our hearts with her stone-cold sarcasm and perfect eye-rolls as April Ludgate on the comedy series Parks and Recreation. She’s brought her unique brand of humor to every role she’s played since, which include a wily con artist in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, a horny nun in The Little Hours, and a social media stalker in Ingrid Goes West.
Child’s Play is the first horror she’s starred in, which surprised Plaza herself as she doesn’t consider herself a fan of the genre. She even questioned the need to remake the iconic film — until she read the script, which modernized the movie’s horror, humor and characters. “I thought that the reimagining of the Chucky character and the updated version of the story was actually really clever. I thought it was a really smart way to make Chucky relevant again, and I thought it was really fun.”
Plaza is referring to the technology the creepy doll has been updated with, which enables him to access other smart devices and utilize them in his murder sprees. In the original 1988 Child’s Play, Chucky was just a regular doll who gained a human heart after being possessed by voodoo. But in the 2019 version, he’s a robot with artificial intelligence whose security programming is corrupted by a mistreated factory worker. This means Chucky can now hack into surveillance cameras, speak to you through the TV, control thermostats, and even take over self-driving cars. In the hands of Norwegian director Lars Klevberg (whose previous film, Polaroid, is about a haunted camera), Child’s Play is reimagined for the modern age with eerie plausibility.
This terrifying technological aspect is one thing that drew Plaza to the film, who says she’s always been “wary of technology.” “I’m very skeptical of these devices and how reliant we have become on them. I’m always the one that’s anti – I don’t update my phone, I don’t buy the new gadgets and all that. I’m like, no, I don’t wanna be connected, I wanna be off the grid!” The film didn’t exactly make her throw her phone in the ocean, but don’t be surprised if you want to do that after watching it. Plaza does, however, suggest that Child’s Play reinforced her skepticism of technology. “It was a bit cathartic for me to be in something that had that messaging,” she says.
Not only is this the first time we see Plaza in a horror movie, but it’s also the first time she plays a mom. She brings wit and worldliness to the character of Karen Barclay, who can sometimes seem more like Andy’s peer than his parent. “I’m a little bit rough around the edges,” Plaza says of her character. “I’m working at a Walmart-type store, and I’m struggling, trying to do the best I can. I’m also dating these terrible guys. Clearly I’m distracted!” she laughs.
Karen gets by the same way many of us do — with humor. She takes friendly jabs at those around her, including her neighbor, Detective Mike, who’s played by Brian Tyree Henry (you may know him as Paper Boi from the brilliant TV series Atlanta). Henry has been described as “a walking Child’s Play encyclopedia” by the film’s producer Seth Grahame-Smith, and Plaza says he shared his knowledge with her on set. “Ohhh yeah! He’s a major horror movie fan!” she exclaims. “And a huge Chucky fan, which I didn’t know, going into it. I thought that was really funny. He knew everything, and I knew nothing.” The two share scant screen time, but when they’re together, it’s gold. Their first encounter is delightfully awkward, with Henry introducing himself like a wannabe James Bond: “I’m Mike, Detective Mike.” Their combined comedic talents elevate the film from the average horror.
While Plaza was new to portraying a parent, she brought a nuanced performance as Karen in part because the role rang true to her life. “It felt familiar to me, because my mom was so young when she had me, and the age difference between the characters was actually the same age difference between my mom and I. So it was very cool, because I was like, ‘I know what this is like.’ When my mom had me she was working all the time, trying to provide and stuff, so there was an element of that that I tried to tap into. And you grow up together, you know? There’s a childlike quality there, which I tried to bring out.”
Plaza made Karen not like a regular mom, but a cool mom. And she was so convincing in this portrayal that it’s easy to envisage her being a mom in real life. “I had two younger sisters, and they’re much younger than me, so I kinda grew up with babies,” she says. “I feel like people would be surprised to know that I do have maternal instincts, even though my Twitter handle is Evil Hag. I’m excited to be a mom someday. Not right now, but I will definitely do that in my life, and I think it won’t come as unnaturally as people might think.”
Embracing her inner child helped Plaza form a strong bond with Bateman, and the pair engaged in an epic prank war on set, which was documented on the actors’ Instagrams. “I did learn the hard way that children have no boundaries, and if you egg them on, they will go crazy,” she laughs. “I become kind of like a child around kids, and sometimes I take it too far. So sometimes lessons need to be learned in that way. But yeah, I definitely think if I have a kid I’ll be terrorizing them. Pranking them as much as I can.”
No doubt the pranks they pulled on set helped to offset the chilling horror scenes that they had to partake in once the cameras were rolling. One of the scariest things about the new Chucky is that we see him turn evil throughout the course of the film. We watch him become influenced by horror movies Andy and his friends watch, and sees their enjoyment of it as an endorsement. It’s a chilling reminder of the permeable nature of violence throughout pop culture.
Chucky uses modern technology to manipulate people — recording and then playing back things that people say about each other behind their backs. Or worse, he’ll broadcast his violence after the fact. After watching the new Child’s Play you’ll probably want to hurl your cellphone and other gadgets into the sea. It will certainly make you second-guess buying that smart home entertainment system.
Plaza recommends seeing it on the big screen. “Get your grandma, get your neighbor! It’s a really fun movie to watch in a theatre.” People will hear your screams, sure, but you’ll also have a hand to squeeze when Chucky’s eyes start glowing red and he asks in his sinister singsong voice, “Are we having fun now?”
Child’s Play is in theaters today