Aubrey Plaza stars in and produces "Emily the Criminal." File Photo Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Aubrey Plaza said her new movie, Emily the Criminal, in theaters Friday, shows how an unjust job market can lead people to crime.
"You're seeing how broken the system is and how messed up it is," Plaza told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "She just decides to say, '[Expletive] it. I'm not going to play those games anymore.'"
Emily (Plaza) delivers food to try to pay off her student debts. When she tries to obtain better jobs, the interviewers question an assault conviction on her record or offer her an unpaid internship -- until Emily talks back.
"For her to lash out and say what she actually thinks, there's something really cathartic about that and fun to play," Plaza said. "You get to say the thing that you would never say in real life."
Plaza, 38, has been working steadily as an actor since appearing in the 2009 film Funny People and series Parks and Recreation. She said she related to Emily's struggle, having had unpaid internships and working as a cocktail waitress and hostess to pay the bills.
"I worked in the restaurant industry in New York when I was first starting out, so I felt like I tapped into that a lot," Plaza said. "I remember those feelings of waking up at 5 in the morning, getting on the subway, you're freezing, you're tired, you're opening a restaurant for people."
Emily is referred to an under-the-table job that turns out to be a crime ring. Youcef (Theo Rossi) teaches Emily and others how to use stolen credit cards to buy expensive electronics that they can then sell.
Plaza, who also produced the film by writer/director John Patton Ford, said she personally justified the crime. She said she imagined that Emily was only stealing from companies that treated their employees as badly as she's been treated.
"I didn't like the idea that they were stealing from other people that were hard off," Plaza said. "I definitely thought the scam is that you're stealing from the big corporations that are already doing terrible things."
Rossi, 47, said Youcef is sympathetic, too. Having played an outlaw biker in Sons of Anarchy and a mobster in Luke Cage, Rossi said that many people commit crimes even though they are good people because they have run out of legal options.
"You don't have to be a bad person to do crime," Rossi said. "I don't think he had bad intentions. He's just trying to get by."
Youcef also shows Emily a way she can use her skills to improve her situation. With legal jobs holding her back, Emily embraces the countercultural option.
"This makes her reveal another side of her that she wasn't in touch with," Rossi said. "It pushed her into this other life that she just happens to be really good at."
The deeper Emily gets into Youcef's crime ring, the more dangerous it becomes for her. As she attempts bigger scams, she comes face-to-face with dangerous criminals.
Emily is no physical match for violent thugs, but she uses her wits to escape. Plaza said it was important to show these predicaments did not scare Emily away from a life of crime.
"She figures out clever ways to get out of these situations, but I think they're still believable," Plaza said. "I think it is important because it shows her drive and it shows who she really is inside."
As a producer, Plaza has produced her films, Ingrid Goes West, The Little Hours and Black Bear, under her Evil Hag Productions banner. Plaza said she read Ford's script as a submission and decided she wanted to not only produce it, but also play Emily.
"I do think I'm drawn to movies that have something to say, but that are also entertaining films," Plaza said. "It's an entertaining thriller and it's fun to watch but it just happens to also hit on something that's going on right now, which is a bonus."
Rossi agreed that the depiction of universal financial issues provided a backdrop for a thrilling crime caper.
"With the gig economy, with student loans, it's still relevant," Rossi said. "That's just a small part of the film. I think the big part is the journey of Emily."
The production of Emily the Criminal embraced Emily's spirit while filming in Los Angeles. Like many guerilla productions, Emily got their shots by any means necessary.
"We couldn't afford to lock down the city to film our stuff," Plaza said. "We were inspired by the subject matter, so we did what Emily would do if she was shooting a movie. We made up the rules ourselves."
Plaza will return to television in Season 2 of The White Lotus on HBO. Details of creator Mike White's second season are scarce.
"The scripts for Season 2 are so different from the first season because it's in an entirely different location," Plaza said. "So it felt like a different show to me, and I just treated it like it was a movie, anyway. "