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WOMEN+POWER 2023: Aubrey Plaza

In the second season of HBO’s “The White Lotus,” Aubrey Plaza plays Harper Spiller, a lawyer with a penchant for sarcasm who is vacationing in Italy with her husband and his friends. She’d rather read Valeria Luiselli’s “Lost Children Archive” than talk about “Ted Lasso.” And she’d rather not associate with people who don’t follow the news.

Plaza is paired with Will Sharpe, who plays her husband, Ethan — newly wealthy after selling his tech company — as well as Theo James, as Ethan’s old college friend Cameron, and Meghann Fahy as his cheerful wife Daphne, who kicks off the season’s mystery when she discovers a limp body floating at sea.

Plaza brings an all-too-relatable cynicism to the judgmental, pragmatic Harper, which will come as no surprise to those familiar with the cutting deadpan that defined Plaza’s breakout role as intern-turned-assistant April Ludgate in “Parks and Recreation.”

It was recently announced that Plaza would join the cast of “Agatha: Coven of Chaos,” Marvel’s upcoming “WandaVision” spinoff series featuring Kathryn Hahn as the titular witch.

Fresh from a day of shooting the new Francis Ford Coppola film “Megalopolis” in Atlanta, the 38-year-old actress discussed the thrilling discomfort in Mike White’s writing, expertly playing a Debbie Downer and gearing up for the Marvel universe.

How did “White Lotus” find its way to you?

My entryway, I think, was very different than some other people’s because Mike and I had a relationship before. We’ve been friends for a long time. We were going to do a movie together — something that we had been developing together for a couple years — and we were supposed to shoot it right when the pandemic hit. And then the movie fell apart because of the pandemic, and he kind of switched gears to “The White Lotus.” So, when Season 2 came around, he called me very, very early on and just said, “Don’t take a job in the winter because I’m going to write you in the show.”

Are there plans to resurrect that film script at some point?

I’m not sure if the movie gods have it in them. I don’t know, we’ll see. I’ve talked about it before. It’s a movie that’s kind of based on an idea that I pitched to Mike years ago about me traveling to Sweden to reconnect with my Swedish exchange student high-school boyfriend, who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. Mike loved the idea of that, but then we started traveling in Scandinavia together working on this idea. And then the idea kind of evolved and it became almost kind of a movie about Mike and I traveling in Sweden together.

I think we need this movie. But let’s talk about “The White Lotus.” I feel like I am Harper, she is me. And I love how people on Twitter are like, “Is this how I sound to other people?” What was your first impression of Harper and her penchant for cynicism when you first read the script?

I found her very sympathetic. I really relate to her in a lot of ways. Because you know early on that she’s not really from this world of the ultra, ultra rich, even though she’s a little bit uptight and closed off, in the beginning anyway, you kind of feel for her. She’s our way into that world, in some ways, and all the other characters are slightly less aware. And she’s just very aware. And she’s a lawyer. So I think there’s an element of her kind of constantly criticizing and analyzing every situation that’s almost more of a personality quirk. It’s just instinctively, that’s what she does. My fear in the beginning was, I don’t want her to come off as just a Debbie Downer. ... I never thought of her like that. I think of it as, you’re catching someone in a moment where they’re not that happy. And her marriage isn’t going that great. But they just happen to be in the most beautiful place in the world. And that happens. That’s life. I find her more sad than bitchy.

Could you relate to that? How do you view the dynamic between Harper and Ethan?

I think a lot of married couples can relate to the peaks and valleys of a marriage. You’re kind of catching them in a dip. They’re in a rut. I totally relate to that. I’ve been married for — I mean, I haven’t been married that long, actually, but we’ve been together in a relationship for a really long time. I’ve had a lot of long-term relationships. So I understand feeling like you’re trying to find your way, especially when you’re confronted with another couple who seems to have it all. It’s hard not to compare yourself to them. Every couple does that; you start to just judge yourself and your relationship, like, “Am I as happy as them?”


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