'Pen15' Star Maya Erskine Discusses "Significant" Role as Romantic Lead in 'Plus One'

Maya Erskine, Jack Quaid and Ben Stiller-Getty-H 2019
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The romantic comedy from producer Ben Stiller and filmmakers Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 28.

Men and women of a certain age — late 20s, early 30s, to be exact — know firsthand the bliss and stress that wedding season can bring (in equal measure). With their feature film directorial and writing debut, filmmakers Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer decided to tackle just that, mining their own experiences of being the groomsmen and never the groom.

“We wrote this during a time when all of our friends seemingly got engaged at the same time,” Chan explained at the film’s Sunday evening world premiere as part of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. “There was this typhoon of engagement announcements and wedding invitations, and we were like, ‘What the hell is going on? Are we being left behind? Do we need to get married, too?’ That sort of was the kickoff point.”

The film follows Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid), longtime friends who decide to be one another’s dedicated “plus ones” for a marathon of 10 weddings. And while the expectation going in might be for the film to follow the “will-they-won’t-they” road map, Erskine said that she especially relished the opportunity to subvert the expected romantic comedy clichés.

“I had always wanted to be in a romantic comedy, but what’s great about this film is it’s not formulaic. It doesn’t feel like your sort of basic romantic comedy that you know what’s coming,” she said. “There was such a grounded reality to this film and a depth to the characters that made it really exciting and appealing for me to be involved with.”

Plus, she added, it allowed for her to work with her friends. Chan and Rhymer both wrote on her Pen15, both projects share producers, and the Hulu series’ co-star and co-creator Anna Konkle even has a brief cameo in Plus One.

“We all went to NYU together; the crew were all friends. It just created such a team effort,” Erskine said of the film, which was shot before Pen15 debuted earlier this year. “Everyone was on the same page to make the best film that they could make. Everyone believed in it and believed in each other. It was just really positive the whole time.”

Added Quaid, the son of actors Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid who graduated from New York University a few years behind Erskine, of the film’s NYC roots: “The fact that we got to bring it to New York is just so cool.” Also joining Quaid, Erskine, Chan and Rhymer at the Sunday afternoon premiere were co-stars Rosalind Chao, and Beck Bennett of Saturday Night Live, along with executive producer Ben Stiller.

It’s not lost on Erskine, either, that Plus One is the all-too-rare feature film to put an Asian American front and center. She expressed to The Hollywood Reporter that she’s never been given such an opportunity before, and the reality of her being a romantic lead has “gotten more significant” after watching the film back.

“To be the lead of a film as an Asian American — in my mind, I thought, ‘You know what? I’m probably always going to be the friend that fits in this box of either snarky, dry, deadpan, or just really smart and shy.’ And that is not a full person,” she said. “This role wasn’t written for an Asian American, it was just a role of a character that I got to play. So it didn’t feel manufactured to try and fit some idea of an Asian American woman. It just was this girl that I could relate to and show all facets of a human being.”

Chao, who plays Erskine’s on-screen mother, echoed the sentiment: there’s power in the fact that Alice’s Asian identity isn’t overly emphasized as a plot point. “She’s charming, sexy, and hilarious,” Chao said. “She breaks every stereotype, so I really felt from that standpoint, it was important for me to be in it.”

Plus One, which was purchased for distribution by RLJE Films prior to its Tribeca Film Festival debut, will hit theaters June 14 — just in time for wedding season.