Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen talk Ingrid Goes West and social media obsession
You may not know Elizabeth Olsen’s character in Ingrid Goes West, but your Instagram feed is probably filled with people like her.
Aubrey Plaza plays the titular role in Matt Spicer’s pitch-black comedy (in theaters now), starring as the mentally-unstable Ingrid Thorburn. After her mother’s death, Ingrid finds herself fixating on Olsen’s character Taylor Sloane, an Instagram influencer whose perfectly curated life is all sunny selfies, rose gold accessories, and avocado toast.
The result is a twisty thriller that’s part Single White Female, part Black Mirror, as Ingrid moves across the country to find and personally befriend Taylor. As outlandish as Ingrid’s antics may get, her loneliness is unsettlingly familiar to anyone who’s scrolled through Instagram and thought about how their own life feels mundane by comparison — and that, Spicer says, is intentional.
“I don’t hate social media!” the director says with a laugh. “It’s here to stay. It’s part of our lives, but it definitely is a double-edged sword. The movie was our way of working out our own conflicting feelings about it and wanting to show both versions of it. We wanted to show through Ingrid’s eyes that initial thing of going down a deep rabbit hole into someone’s Instagram, and you think, ‘Oh my god, this is this perfect person.’ But then, you see behind the curtain, and maybe the way they’re portraying themselves in life isn’t the reality of it.”
EW sat down with Spicer, Plaza, and Olsen in a midtown hotel — where Plaza gleefully noted they had avocado toast on the menu — to talk about their own feelings on social media and how they captured that hashtag-blessed life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were some of the details you focused on to try and capture the Instagram lifestyle?
ELIZABETH OLSEN: I have a friend who isn’t a social media influencer. She’s actually an art gallerist, and she’s the sweetest person I know. She lives in like a make-believe place in her head that makes her world like that. And she had the funniest Instagram description of herself, and we took that.
AUBREY PLAZA: Yeah, what did it say again?
OLSEN: “Treasure hunter. Castle builder. Angeleno.” We added the “Angeleno” because she’s not from L.A. But that’s Taylor’s Instagram description. And I asked her if I could steal it from her, and she said we could. And she was like, “I’m so flattered!” [laughs]
MATT SPICER: Yeah, Taylor is kind of this Frankenstein monster of things we’ve stolen from other people. There’s definitely been people that have inspired stuff in the film, but no one in the film is based on any one person. It’s more like we’ve plucked and cherry picked all these details and created this uber-influencer that’s supposed to be Taylor.
PLAZA: Where everything’s “the best!”
Aubrey, when you were diving into Ingrid, what were some of the things you focused on to unlock her as a character?
PLAZA: So many things. I mean, for me, the Instagram part of the movie was not as important as the human story. I thought a lot about mental illness. The movie’s not totally about that, but there were elements of borderline personality disorder that I was really interested in. That combination was really interesting to me, just someone that didn’t have the self control to stop those impulses to go down those dark paths. And delusion was a big thing I was thinking about a lot. Just the idea of creating these relationships that aren’t real in your mind because Instagram and the internet and social media, none of it is actually tangible, so there was an element of delusion that I was really interested in.
And then I think I really went back to my middle school days and just remembered those. [Laughs] Because in a way, I feel like Ingrid is stunted or something. It reminded me of that feeling when you’re 12 or 13, and you’re not really a comfortable person in the world, and you’re trying desperately to make connections and have friends and navigate social circles. For me, that was the main thing, just someone that really wanted a friend.
So much of this film is about that disconnect between your public persona and your private life. When you live and work in the public eye, is that something you can relate to?
OLSEN: I never thought about that aspect as something I would relate to with Taylor, just because I don’t really know how to think of myself in those terms. You can because we don’t know each other personally. But I just understood what she wanted to put out in the world and was maybe hiding under… the rug? What are things you can hide under?
OLSEN: [Laughs] I don’t know! I can’t think of myself like that. It’s really uncomfortable.
SPICER: It’s funny because I feel like knowing you now versus what my perception of you was like before I knew you, you’re kind of a homebody. You like cooking and watching comedy specials on Netflix and hanging out. And I don’t think that’s what people who see pictures of you on the red carpet would necessarily imagine.
OLSEN: Yeah, I don’t even know what I’m putting out! I just think all of it’s so uncomfortable, so I have no idea what I’m putting out. I know you [Plaza] were talking about putting a character out there that’s like a protection blanket, and I’m like, I wish I did that. I don’t know how to do that.
PLAZA: Yeah, I think my experience with public versus private is really complicated. Because like she said, I feel like throughout the years, I’ve created almost a public persona that’s not actually totally who I am. It’s part of who I am, but not really. It was kind of in defense of my private life. For me, it felt more comfortable to almost lean in a direction of some kind of character, in terms of tweeting or live appearances or something. It was a way to shield myself and have some of myself be private. So I think on Instagram and social media, you can kind of do that, where you can create this other thing and be really transparent about it. Or you can do that and not be transparent about it and just really try to sell yourself as something that you’re not, which I think people do also.
I know you’ve talked about how after playing April Ludgate on Parks and Rec, people will come up to you on the street and expect you to have a certain personality.
PLAZA: Yeah. I think because I was on a TV show for so long and I’m so heavily associated with that, that became a thing for me. Which, like I said, I would kind of lean into because it was an easy way to deal with being exposed. It’s like, well, if they know me as that, that’s fine! They can just continue to think of me like that, and that’s just easier for me and more comfortable.
This film really makes the audience question their own relationship with social media. Have you had any weird reactions from people who’ve seen the film?
SPICER: Yeah, there’s been some all over the map reactions. I mean, we wanted people to feel uncomfortable. Aubrey’s character does a lot of crazy stuff. I think the discomfort was we still wanted people to care about her and like her and be rooting for her, but to understand that everything she does in the movie is wrong, and bad, and you shouldn’t do it. [Laughs] The movies that I love, like Nightcrawler or Taxi Driver, there are a lot of these movies with guys, these sort of male antiheroes. We talked about To Die For, which we love. Or Enlightened, that’s like one of my favorite things. But we wanted people to feel uncomfortable. That’s just where my taste lies.
I’m curious because usually when you see movies about obsessive fans or stalkers, they’re not always the main character. They’re kind of the antagonist. What was it that made you want to focus in on Ingrid and tell it from her perspective?
SPICER: I think it was more interesting. We’ve seen the other version, we’ve seen the crazy other girl stalker, the Single White Female version, and I think was what really cracked it for us. I think that was Dave’s and my initial conversation: Oh, it’s Single White Female for our generation. But that didn’t seem right, and it wasn’t until we started thinking, “What if we flipped it, and the whole movie’s from her perspective?” The reality is that we’re all sort of stalkers on Instagram. We’re all voyeurs, and we’re looking at everybody else’s life. So we wanted people to feel uncomfortable with how much they related to Ingrid and to confront the parts of themselves that are like Ingrid. And that’s, I think, where people may feel uncomfortable, like, “I’ve done some of the things that she’s done, what does that say about me?” And I’m guilty of it, too. That’s what’s interesting about it and hopefully what people leave the theater thinking about.
Ingrid Goes West