In Ingrid Goes West, which premiered at Sundance last week and sold in the $3 million range to new distributor Neon, Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid obsessively models herself after Elizabeth Olsen’s Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane, then moves across the country to befriend her. It’s a hell of a logline, and the movie delivers on its rich potential for discomfort, telling the tale of a woman so immersed in social media that she’s abandoned any concept of herself. While the film avoids taking any sort of moral position on its very contemporary subject matter, walking the tightrope between comedy and thriller, it provides plenty of opportunity for viewers to question their own relationships with social media. Vulture asked Plaza and Olsen their thoughts when we sat down with them in Park City, Utah.
I feel like this is a very generational movie.
Elizabeth Olsen: Yeah, but also there are adults who are connected to this. And when I say adults, I mean, like, grandmas and stuff. I think it’s anyone who participates [in social media]. So many people want to put up videos of their grandchild succeeding at something to just basically brag about their stupid grandchild.
Aubrey Plaza: These grandmas are out of control.
EO: And say, “My kid is better than your kid.” It’s the same kind of comparison thing.
Facebook is the frontier of the grandparents.
AP: I feel like a lot of grandparents are on that one.
EO: But whatever, it’s social media, it’s the same idea.
Your relationship in the movie is really interesting, because Aubrey, you’re so aggressively taking on aspects of Elizabeth’s personality. What was your relationship like before you started shooting?
EO: We met briefly, once. That had nothing to do with this movie.
AP: And then I came to your house.
EO: Yeah, and then I had you guys over, and you gave me pizza and tequila.
AP: I gave you some tequila.
EO: And I gave you some guac.
AP: We sized each other up.
EO: And I was intimidated by you.
AP: I was intimidated by you.
EO: I don’t believe that.
AP: She made a beautiful — she, like, was Taylor Sloane.
EO: Well, I like hosting, but I don’t take photos of it.
AP: She didn’t take photos.
EO: I don’t even know how to make it look good. It looks good in person, but when I take a photo of it, it looks horrible.
AP: It looked good, it looked good. We were sitting in your beautiful garden, and I was like, [mimes anxiously smoking a cigarette].
Aubrey, when you were trying to play off Elizabeth, tell me about how you took things from her and tried to integrate her character into your character?
AP: I would just kind of stalk her on set. I would watch everything that she would do.
EO: And I tried to make you so uncomfortable.
AP: And she would make me really uncomfortable. I took a picture of her the first day, and then that was my screensaver on my phone. I would look at it a lot. I don’t know, I just really went for it.
You could see her picking up her mannerisms as it went on, a little bit.
AP: That’s good. I felt like I didn’t pull that off as much as I wanted to. But I also don’t think it was totally about copying her so much.
EO: I think it also has something to do with taking cues off of someone. If someone thinks something’s funny, you decide to laugh after the fact because they think it’s funny. Which isn’t adopting a trait, but it’s more about trying to adopt the same perspective.
AP: Create, like, a false chemistry.
One of the things I’ve been hearing people talk about is Ingrid’s mental state. Do you think she’s quote-unquote crazy, or is she just a version of something that everybody’s doing now?
AP: I don’t like really using the word “crazy,” because I don’t even know what that means, but I do think that Matt [Spicer, the director] and I talked a lot about Ingrid being the personification of that dark urge that we all have to cyberstalk someone or to become someone’s friend for the wrong reasons. It’s a human thing that people do to try and connect, so it’s kind of like taking that and then having that be a character and blowing it out.
EO: I believe that mental illness has a huge spectrum, and it shows itself in lots of different shapes and colors, and I think she’s somewhere on that spectrum.
As somebody who lives in L.A., the movie feels so uncannily accurate in terms of the world it creates. What did you guys bring to that authenticity?
EO: It was on the page, the characters were on the page, and I think it just happens that when you read something that you connect with, you already see it, and you already have an impulse of how you would play it based on whatever it is that you’ve experienced in your life. You read it and it’s there and it’s well-written, and so you’re like, I know how I would do this. For whatever reason, that’s your impulse.
AP: Yeah, I mean, I’m familiar with that feeling. I’m familiar with going online and spending hours on there that ultimately make me feel bad about myself. So I think there were definitely times on set when I would just allow myself to go there, to exist in that space that we all are familiar with, but some of us don’t really go into full force.
The movie doesn’t indict social media or excuse it. How do you guys feel about that deep, deep engagement with social media — especially as actors who live in the public eye?
EO: I think I’d enjoy it if I weren’t an actor. There are a lot of funny things that are shared on it, and a lot of my friends, especially during the election year, would show me really funny things that were being passed around the internet that like, went viral — I don’t know what qualifies something as viral.
AP: Grumpy Cat.
Social media: good or bad?
EO: Honestly, it is what you make of it, so it’s going to be different for each person. What I like about the film is what you’re saying: It shows different extremities. And ultimately, what I think is cool is that her character gets what she wants by returning to the most honest, authentic, raw self for the first time, and then she gets what she wants.
AP: There’s no direct message that the movie’s trying to tell. It’s trying to explore all of those themes of connection and isolation and it uses something that’s very relevant, which is Instagram. I think that it’s really relatable, and I think there’s also a very human story that we’re telling. Instagram is a big part of the movie, but it’s not The Instagram Movie — it’s a movie about human beings and how they interact with each other.