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The Transformation Of Aubrey Plaza From Childhood To Parks And Recreation

Aubrey Plaza wasn't a household name before "Parks and Recreation" premiered on NBC in 2009. She'd played plenty of supporting roles on TV and in films and had the lead in the 2012 comedy "Safety Not Guaranteed." But even her biggest fans today might be surprised to learn the part of April Ludgate was written specifically for her—just a weird girl who wandered in one day to meet with show creator Michael Shur.

OK, that's not exactly how it all went down. The meeting was planned, after all. But, as described during an interview on "Off Camera with Sam Jones," somehow, Plaza—a freshly fired waitress—landed her breakout role by oversharing her opinions and being herself. Was it her apathetic attitude that won Shur over? Her deadpan stares? Her sarcastic sense of humor? Unlikely.

"I was always a strange child," she told W magazine. Ah, there it is. Plaza's path to "Parks and Rec" started all the way back in childhood, where she started honing her skills as an eye-rolling city employee. Or something like that.

Plaza had hyper-focused goals

All children love to laugh, but for Plaza, comedy was an early obsession. When she discovered "Saturday Night Live" as a kid, she immediately started formulating a plan to join the cast (via The Guardian). First, though, she had to get through high school, an all-girls Catholic school she attended in Wilmington, Delaware.

Plaza's vibe as a teenager was "popular but not necessarily cool," she told Cosmopolitan. Which makes a certain kind of sense when you consider how she spent her time: playing volleyball and softball, acting as student council president, and wearing costumes to the mall just for kicks. Like a lot of the characters she'd later play, she was quirky and unusual—and it was no act.

"I guess I think it's better to go out there and do something interesting than to just do what everybody expects," she told GQ. "And that's the kind of thing that gets picked up."

In a bid to follow in the footsteps of her "SNL" idols, Plaza took improv classes in Philadelphia—the city closest to her hometown—while she was a teenager. And after high school, she set off for the Big Apple, where "Saturday Night Live" is filmed.

Plaza could have reached her dream but didn't

According to The Guardian, in New York City, Plaza attended film school at New York University and continued her improv training at the Upright Citizens Brigade, a company founded by the funniest people in the business, including "SNL" stars Amy Poehler (2001-2008) and Horatio Sanz (1998-2006). With UCB, Plaza had the chance to jump on stage with John Mulaney (who became a head writer at "SNL"), and Aziz Ansari (a future "Parks and Rec" co-star). Surrounded by so much talent—and clearly bringing it herself—Plaza seemed destined to reach her very specific goal of getting on "SNL." First, she interned for the show. Then, she finally got her shot to join the cast.

"There was a showcase at UCB for Seth Meyers and I think Lorne (Michaels) was there. But it was like such a big deal and it was so scary," she told IndieWire. "It was kind of like the preliminary showcase before they'd say OK we're going to bring you onto the ... studio and have you do the standard 'SNL' thing that people have seen ... I never made it to that level."

Plaza failed to reach her lifelong dream. But there was a lot more to it than that.

Plaza's career took off

Before Plaza even heard back about how she'd done at the showcase—and whether her performance there might lead to an individual audition for 'SNL'—she got a critical call (via IndieWire). It concerned another audition she'd gone on. Judd Apatow wanted to cast her in the 2009 film "Funny People."

So Aubrey moved to L.A. for the movie, per Cosmopolitan. She found a place to live (initially the Days Inn on Hollywood Boulevard) and planned to stay in town for five months. Once the shoot was over, she'd head back East and return to the comedy scene (via The Guardian). Maybe she would have taken another shot at "SNL."

But as we all know now, that never happened. When Plaza joined "Parks and Rec," her career took off in a new direction. And she has no regrets. Besides, playing April meant she got to do what she'd wanted all along: perform comedy with the best in the biz.

"(Amy Poehler) was my hero when I was a child, so the fact that I got cast on 'Parks and Rec' where I got to play opposite her was a dream come true," Plaza said on "The HFPA In Conversation" podcast, according to Showbiz Cheat Sheet. "She taught me everything that I knew, and I carry that with me in everything that I do."