Black Bear actress Aubrey Plaza talks to PEOPLE about making her directorial debut in the Showtime public domain anthology series Cinema Toast, created by her partner Jeff Baena

By Glenn Garner
April 26, 2021 04:30 PM
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Actress Aubrey Plaza (L) and director Jeff Baena attend "The Little Hours" premiere during day 1 of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival at Library Center Theater on January 19, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
Credit: George Pimentel/Getty

Aubrey Plaza steals scenes in everything she's starred in, from the hit show Parks and Recreation to the recent holiday comedy Happiest Season, but she's recently taken on a whole new role behind the camera.

The actress, 36, makes her directorial debut in Showtime's new found footage anthology series Cinema Toast, created by her partner Jeff Baena. "It was great," she tells PEOPLE of collaborating with her beau. "It was very hectic while we were making the show because we were quarantined and Jeff, he created the show. It was his idea."

"Our house became this strange post-production facility and he's downstairs on his Zooms or on his sessions and I'm upstairs editing, we're just going back and forth," Plaza explains. "Yeah, it was very us. We were not baking sourdough bread, but we were sifting through hours of old movies and footage and re-cutting them together and just letting our minds go on a trip. So it was great."

She and Baena, 43, have been in a relationship since 2011, and she's starred in his movies Life After Beth (2014) and The Little Hours (2017), but the lockdown turned out to be the most time they've spent together. "I mean, ask any couple what it's like being in the quarantine. It's crazy," Plaza puts it bluntly. "Especially for us, I think, because I'm so used to not being home."

2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones - Arrivals
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Plaza recently returned home to Los Angeles from Turkey, where she was filming Five Eyes, a Guy Ritchie movie with the likes of Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett, Cary Elwes and Hugh Grant.

"But before that, yes, we were quarantined for months and months like everybody else," she adds. "And we did enjoy it. I think it was, obviously other than all of the catastrophic things happening in the world, just on a personal level, relationship level, was kind of nice to just be forced to be in one place for that long. Could have gone either way, I guess."

Baena tapped his partner to direct an episode entitled "Quiet Illness" for Cinema Toast, which launched on Showtime's streaming platform on April 20. "How fitting is it that my directorial debut was on 4/20?" Plaza muses. "I didn't even plan that. That's how powerful the universe is. Unbelievable."

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Christina Ricci and Hamish Linklater lended their voices to the story of a woman drifting in and out of reality, while at the mercy of her abusive husband. Visually, the story was told with footage of silver screen great Loretta Young.

Made entirely with re-edited public domain films and voiceovers from modern performers, the anthology series offers viewers a trippy viewing experience, befitting its 4/20 premiere. "It felt like I was back in film school again, in a good way," Plaza notes. "It's kind of like the nerdiest pandemic film project that happened, but it was crazy."

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"It was a very unconscious, very artistic process," she continues. "I don't know how to describe it. It's like you just start watching things. And so for me it was the best kind of project because you had to start by just watching old movies and if that's what I have to do as my job, then I'm happy. But yeah, it was a really interesting way to kind of put a story together."

As for what's next on her directorial slate, Plaza says quarantine helped her realize her potential behind the camera. "I think it would be jinxing it to talk about it fully, but I have a movie that I'm trying to put together to direct very soon hopefully, and it's something that I've been working on for years and years," she reveals.

"And I don't know. I think that the pandemic, like for everyone, kind of shifted things around and it kind of made me re-prioritize what I was doing," Plaza adds. "And I think I just decided, 'Okay, it's time.' And then this project was just a great step in that direction."