Actress Aubrey Plaza plays Beth, a sweet-tempered woman who unwittingly joins the legions of the undead — and reunites with her boyfriend Zach, played by The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s Dean DeHaan — in Life After Beth.
Beth is the last one to figure out she’s a zombie, while Zach twigs far sooner and finds to his dismay that his true love isn’t exactly the same girl he fell for.
The movie, written and directed by her partner, Jeff Baena (I Heart Huckabees), opens Sept. 5 at the Royal in Toronto and is being released on VOD the same day.
The 30-year-old Plaza is perhaps best known for playing deadpan April Ludgate on TV comedy Parks and Recreation, along with her work in indie hit Safety Not Guaranteed and Toronto-shot Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
She was in Toronto earlier in the summer to promote Life After Beth and is back in town for the Toronto International Film Festival premier of the third part of writer-director Hal Hartley’s Grim family saga, Ned Rifle.
At one point, a furious zombie Beth is chained to a stove, rips it from the wall and takes off with it. What was that like?
It was very difficult and dangerous because I did get injured. It was half of a prop oven and then half of a real oven, so one part of it was real and it was very heavy. But it was hollow. There wasn’t like there was a turkey inside. But it was heavy. The first time I lifted up I tore my abdominal wall, or my muscles, or something.
And you couldn’t yell at the director, could you?
I couldn’t, because we live together, so I had to not cause a scene. But it was fine. They ended up making a harness for the oven. It was pretty cool actually, they designed it so it was like a hiking backpack and then it worked.
There are a lot of zombie movies out there. What did you see in this one that made you want to play Beth?
Well I just really loved the script. Jeff wrote it a long time ago. He actually wrote it before most of the zombie comedies came out … 10 years ago, so I think that’s probably why it feels unique and fresh because he was writing it at a time when people probably would have looked at him, going like: zombie comedy? That doesn’t make any sense. And zombie romance. But I thought the movie had a really sweet tone to it and I just really liked how all the characters dealt with each other. It felt really real to me, which is what I always gravitate toward and something I can relate to.
It’s a lot about breaking up, isn’t it?
Yeah, I think so. I think the movie is kind of a metaphor for a disaster breakup, because it’s true. When you break up with someone and it's really traumatic, it does feel like they died. And sometimes when you do (get them back) it’s never quite like how you thought it would be.
How did you get Beth’s vapid prom-queen look?
I don’t know! I just dug deep down into my vapid wannabe prom queen soul. To me, living Beth was a character that was unlike a lot of characters that I normally play. In my head she was like a prom queen or popular girl or something and so I just tried to keep that attitude because I felt like when (she and Zach) were together she probably wore the pants in the relationship and she was bossy or something.
Beth also has this great demonic voice. How did you come up with that?
Thank you. The demon voice, I think I have been practising my demon voice for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never had a chance to really use it before.
Ever used it when you’ve been pulled over by a cop?
No! But that’s actually a great idea. I have thought though that if I was ever mugged or attacked I would just ... have a demon voice and act crazy and try to scare them. But yeah I just have a dark demon energy I guess from my childhood, just brewing under the surface at all times so this movie really allowed me to express that.
Dane DeHaan shows he has a comic flair we haven’t seen from him yet.
I know. I hope people will see that in this movie. He’s so funny in real life, too. He’s so sarcastic. He’s like a little piece of s---.
You’re coming back for TIFF and you shot Scott Pilgrim here. Does that mean you like Toronto?
I love it here. Every time I see a Second Cup, I say, I work there! (Plaza played Second Cup cashier Julie Powers in Scott Pilgrim). I actually walked by one yesterday and I thought, Oh my God, I used to work there! And then I was like, no, that wasn’t real. But because we actually shot in real locations, it felt real, so I feel like I could go behind the counter at a Second Cup and make a bunch of s--- happen.