Aubrey Plaza on Learning From a Legend in 'Best Sellers': "I Have the Michael Caine Method Grilled Into Me"

Aubrey Plaza
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Aubrey Plaza

The busy actress — currently shooting a Guy Ritchie spy thriller in Turkey — discusses receiving acting tips from the screen icon, destroying Jason Statham (emotionally) and causing a scene with Jeff Goldblum in London.

Despite its virtual setting and lack of red carpet, the 2021 Berlinale still has attracted a sprinkling of Hollywood A-listers to it. Among the splashier titles getting their online world premieres is Best Sellers, starring rising film favorite Aubrey Plaza and Oscar-winning cinema icon Michael Caine. The debut feature from director Lina Roessler (being shopped at the European Film Market by Foresight Unlimited), the comedic road movie sees the two square off as a young New York publisher (Plaza) and grumpy British author (Caine) on a last-ditch book tour around America with his final novel.

Best Sellers is one of three films starring Plaza to land in quick succession, following rom-com Happiest Season alongside Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, and the recent mind-bending thriller Black Bear. Next up for the increasingly busy actress — who recently announced she had co-written the book The Legend of the Christmas Witch — is something completely different: Guy Ritchie's untitled international spy thriller (formerly known as Five Eyes), appearing with Jason Statham. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from Antalya in Southern Turkey, where she's been shooting since late January, Plaza discusses the acting masterclass she received from Caine (and now can't stop using), battling Joe Biden to keep her crown as the most famous person from Delaware, and a curious incident with a giant "sexy" Jeff Goldblum in London several summers ago.

How’s Turkey?

Oh my God, it is so Turkish! From what I can tell, it's great. It's beautiful. Because of COVID we're not really allowed to explore as much as we would in normal times, but it's been great. It's been a great place to shoot. The locations are absolutely gorgeous.

As someone who has barely left the house in a year, I’m exceptionally jealous.

Yeah, all the Brits are very happy to be here.

It’s a Guy Ritchie film, so is your character a no-nonsense badass who beats the crap out of people in car doors?

Yeah, something like that. I'm likening her to a female James Bond, if you will. This is what I'm manifesting for my character. It's a really fun tone. The movie's like a Bond kind of spy thriller that has a sense of humor about it.

And have you destroyed Jason Statham yet?

Oh, I'm just destroying his heart by slowly making him fall in love with me. I don't think I could destroy him physically. Maybe not for another year or two of training. But emotionally, I'm breaking him down.

Isn’t Hugh Grant in the film as well?

He is — he’s just arrived. It’s so fun to act with him. He's playing the villain, but he can't help but be so charming and funny. But he's also deeply scary at times. He scares me.

Best Sellers is premiering in Berlin. You’re playing a young publisher to Michael Caine’s grumpy old author, right?

Yes! I’m a young book publisher that's trying to save my dying publishing house. I'm putting all my eggs in one basket, which is Michael Caine, who plays a legendary author — a novelist whom I've dragged out obscurity, and I'm banking on him to save my business. For me, the movie is really kind of more like a love story between the two of us … two unlikely, closed-off characters that find out that they need each other at this moment of time.

I’m imagining lots of rapid-fire dialogue between the two of you …

Oh yes. I mean, that was really a dream come true — to work with him and to be able to kind of go on a little trip with him. There's lots of fun scenes, with me dragging him around in the car and driving him through the countryside. We're on a book tour together, and he's a drunk, grumpy old man who doesn't want anything to do with it.

Caine is obviously an absolute legend. How was it working with him?

He is everything that you want him to be and more. He's really one of the most delightful people I've ever worked with in my life. I was just totally like a sponge, absorbing everything that I could. He's so sweet and so fun, just constantly making jokes and telling amazing stories. His stories, obviously, are so incredible, and he's just such a generous, kind soul.

Any particular stories that stand out?

So many. But I will say that I had never seen his masterclasses on acting. A lot of people have seen those videos, but it was just so fun to be in scenes with him, because he goes, "Now look at me, darling. This is what I do. When it's my close-up, here’s a trick." He gave me a lot of tips. He’d be like, "When I'm doing a close-up, this eye I save for the camera and this eye I'll look at you. I don't look at you with both eyes. I look at you with one eye and then the other eye I save for the camera." And I’m going, "Michael, no, I'm going to just look at you like a person." And he's like, "Darling, I've won Academy Awards. I promise you. This is how you do it." And I'm like, "You know what, fuck it, I'm going to do what he says." And now I just can't stop doing it. Whether I want to or not, I have the Michael Caine method grilled into me and I will carry that on as I go.

I’m assuming Best Sellers was shot prior to the pandemic and lockdown?

Yeah, we shot it last fall/winter in Montreal. Thank God.

But it sounds like you’ve had a pretty busy pandemic period, with several films released, a picture book announced and now you’re shooting in Turkey. Have you had any time, like the rest of us, to stay at home, bake terrible bread and go quietly insane?

I did, actually. It was a year before the pandemic, in 2019, that was really busy — I did Black Bear and then Best Sellers and then Happiest Season. I kept thinking that the minute I’m done with Happiest Season, which I believe wrapped a week before the pandemic, I’d make a mental decision to take a break. And then the pandemic hit and it was like, "Well then, that’s settled, I will not be working for a long time." So I was hunkered down in California doing what everybody was doing, baking bread and organizing my closet.

You hosted the Independent Spirit Awards last year and at the time, with the Oscars going host-less, you joked that you were the last host on Earth. Obviously nobody could have known at the time, but with all awards having since gone virtual due to the pandemic, you’re kind of now the last person to have hosted a major physical film awards show.

I'm so lucky! I'm so thankful that I got to do that before this happened, because the live element of the show is really what attracted me most. Obviously, my love for film, first, but then second, just the live performance of it all. There's nothing really like live television. It's also kind of becoming a thing of the past. And I think, God, I'm so lucky that I got to do that before this. I would hate to be doing any kind of virtual hosting. It just looks really strange to me.

A couple of years ago, I was casually minding my own business by the side of a giant Jeff Goldblum statue that had been erected by the Thames in London, when someone who looked a lot liked you showed up and recorded a pretty crazy looking video with some of the staff there. Was it you?

You were not there!

I was!

Oh my God. Yeah, that was me. I was in London shooting a Christmas campaign and I got wind that the statue was there. I’m a huge Jeff Goldblum fan, I have been since I was a kid, and I could not help myself. I was like, "I’m going to that statue, and I’m going to touch it, and nobody’s going to stop me."

And did you record a little video, or did I totally make that up?

Yes, I did. I attempted to do an Andy Kaufman-style setup, and I somehow convinced the poor PA that was working there to get involved. I said, "Listen, I’m gonna run through the red rope, and I’m going to jump on the statue and I want you to act really angry and pull me off and scream at me. This is acting." I was trying to direct a tiny film with them. They weren’t actors. I think they were very confused. But they tried the best they could. And no one’s winning any awards for that, but it did cause a scene and I think the people that were watching from afar were horrified. Because it would look totally insane, like I had completely lost my fucking mind. But these are the things I do to occupy my time.

What have you got coming up?

I’m here shooting for another month. And I’ve got a bunch of other things. I'm producing two animated shows, one for FX and one for Amazon. They’re just pilots, in the early stages. So that's kept me very busy. Acting-wise, I have a couple of things that will be real, hopefully soon, but nothing, nothing to speak of. I do have something brewing with Matt Spicer [Ingrid Goes West]. We’re teaming up again, but it's not something I can talk about yet. I’m also waiting for the Oscars to call me.

A few years ago you were voted the most famous person from Delaware. With fellow Delawarean Joe Biden now the president, are you willing to concede?

Look, Joe Biden has a high public profile now. But I don't think that takes me out of the running. Delaware is a small state and I've got a lot of people rooting for me there. And I would not be surprised if I still took the top prize.

Interview edited for length and clarity.