Aubrey Plaza on the “kinky fun” of playing a credit card fraudster in Emily the Criminal

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The life of Emily, the main character of Emily the Criminal, played by Aubrey Plaza, is not so different from the life lived by thousands of other Americans. Struggling with $70,000 debt from student loans (plus interest), she works a thankless job making deliveries for a catering company to pay the rent for an apartment she shares with roommates who don’t even recognize her.

One thing that sets Emily apart from the average American, however, is her budding talent for credit card fraud. Lured by the initial promise of quick and easy money, Emily soon finds herself in the depths of the Los Angeles underworld under the guidance of Youcef (Sons of Anarchy’s Theo Rossi). And as she crumbles, she reaches new levels of desperation, and the fraudulent credit card bills keep growing.

“Emily does and says everything we want to do and say, but we don’t,” Plaza, who also acts as a producer, told Total Film. “She just makes really extreme decisions that normal people would probably be too scared to make, and she stands up for herself and defends herself. There’s something really cathartic about watching her character do that stuff, and that’s really fun to play because you get to live in a fantasy land and feel its power in those moments.”

Aubrey Plaza in Criminal Emily

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Plaza worked closely with early writer-director John Patton Ford to bring his screenplay to life. “We’re lucky we have really similar visions,” Ford says. “You don’t always know how it’s going to turn out – some people read a script and see something totally different from what you see. The script is something to interpret, and I’ve been lucky in the sense that Aubrey saw the same movie, and made it from the word ‘go’, and then we were just lined up through the whole thing. It was awesome. I think she spoiled me.

Plaza, who shot to fame playing April Ludgate on the sitcom Parks and Recreation, says she fell in love with the script as soon as she read it. “The script is very much like the movie where it has that energy. It’s a really great script,” she says. “The writing is so good and there are so many nuances in all the characters. Everything feels so real. The momentum of the story goes at a pace you can’t stop. It’s never boring. I I read it so quickly. It’s a really tense and exciting script, just like the movie.”

Emily’s story begins at rock bottom – we meet her mid-employment interview when her potential employer puts her on the spot for a past crime, deliberately trying to trick her into revealing the details, and she walks out. waterspout from the room. It was, Ford says, “a perverse pleasure” writing the character. “I think I’ve spent a lot of my life being frustrated and working in jobs I didn’t like and being in debt,” he adds, “and so creating a character that can being a hero to me – my own hero to follow – was uniquely rewarding, fun and kinky.”

Ford initially plotted the story with a male character, but “it just wasn’t very exciting”. “It was a bit familiar, the stakes were lower,” he continues. “I wasn’t like, ‘Okay, let’s just try a woman,’ it wasn’t arbitrary like that. It was more like I had the idea for Emily’s character specifically and thought that would be interesting. From that point on, I never thought of the character in terms of gender. I just thought of it in terms of, ‘Who is this individual? What would this person do? What would that unique person do in those circumstances?” I’m not allowed to go, ‘What’s the female perspective?’ I’ll never really know the answer to that question.”

Aubrey Plaza in Criminal Emily

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In the final frame of the film, there is a cyclical, almost nauseating sense of inevitability. It seems, ultimately, to be a story about the individualism intrinsic to life under capitalism – that no one can survive in this world without putting themselves first. Yet Ford and Plaza have a more optimistic view.

“The ending, to me, is a success story, in a weird way,” says Ford. “That’s the story I was telling, about someone finding out who they really are deep down, what their talents are and what really makes them happy, and then we see her fully commit to it and how it pays off. Take the crime out of it, take the judgment out of society, that’s what I was getting at.”

Plaza adds, “For me, it’s a story of someone taking their power and reclaiming it. There’s an inevitable ending, but I don’t know if it’s dark. I think it’s more like she was finding out who she really was.” is, and she kind of becomes her own boss, despite all the obstacles she’s faced, and so I see it as an achievement as well, even though in the circumstances it might seem dark or sad, really in the environment who we live. But as a character, it’s hopeful.”


Emily the Criminal is available to rent and own starting October 24. For more inspiration, check out our guide to other movie release dates from this year.

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