Aubrey Plaza was terror-stricken when she arrived at the abandoned Catskills ski lodge that served as the set of her indie film About Alex – so much so that she became closer to her castmates than originally expected.
“I forced Jane [co-star Jane Levy] to move in with me because I was terrified I would get murdered by some mountain person,” confesses Plaza, one of the lead characters in the film about a group of old college friends who reunite over a long weekend to bond after one of their pals attempts suicide. “I felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and it was totally creepy.”
With little to do during the off-hours, Plaza – who plays Sarah, an attorney who turns to cooking to de-stress when emotions run high during the drama-filled reunion – decided to dedicate her free time to cooking.
“One of the first nights I was there, I decided that I was going to cook for people,” says the Parks and Recreation actress, who made spaghetti dinners for castmates Levy, Max Greenfield, Jason Ritter, Max Minghella, Nate Parker, Adam Saunders, and Maggie Grace. “I was going to be that person in real life to help get into character.”
The experience of bunking up and cooking in a rustic cabin in upstate New York ultimately proved ideal in cultivating the type of longtime friendship depicted in About Alex. “It felt extremely honest, especially in the way that everyone gathers together after so much time,” says Greenfield, who plays snobbish graduate student Josh. “And I know that I was first drawn in because I thought that it would be fun to hang out with this group for a month and really go after this material.”
Plaza agrees, adding that the cast – largely first-time acquaintances – had some extra help when it came to bonding. In keeping with their rustic location, some old-fashioned summer camp-style group exercises were in order. Debut director and screenwriter Jesse Zwick organized an activity where the cast sat in a circle and “with our eyes closed, we talked through our characters and how they related to one another,” says Plaza. “That was really impactful, because it was one of those elementary-school moments where everyone had to have a quiet moment, which doesn’t happen with adults very often.”
In the movie however, the gang discovers that maintaining friendship isn’t easy once the frat parties and late-night dorm gab sessions are over; they find that limited interaction through social media can distort relationships, testing even the most sincere of intentions.
“I felt that within a few pages of reading the script, that it immediately grabbed me in a way that is pretty unusual,” says Greenfield, who plays Schmidt on New Girl. “It really inspired me to go after this material and story, which are so different from what I do week in and week out.”
And although Greenfield didn’t pick up cooking like Plaza, he says he did leave set a bit wiser.
“In real life, I am not very smart or educated,” jokes Greenfield. “So with all the smart references that my character makes that I was forced to look up, I do feel like I can walk away learning something from this guy that was a lifelong college student.”
About Alex premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday.