I catch Aubrey Plaza over the phone on a sunny fall morning, and although she’s talking to me on what’s supposed to be her day off, I can hear a smile in her voice. Maybe it’s because things are going swimmingly for the actor-producer-author-and-then-some, as she’s in New York to work on the pilot for her upcoming show, Olga Dies Dreaming, which is set to premiere on Hulu in January. The show is based on Xochitl Gonzalez’s novel, and considering that Plaza’s most recent film, Best Sellers, is about an aging author and she’s releasing her children’s tale, The Legend of the Christmas Witch, on November 16, it seems that Plaza has been hitting the books.

Best Sellers was filmed in Montreal in the late fall and early winter of 2019, so Plaza got to experience some of the city’s enchanting early snowfalls, and it turned out to be the perfect atmosphere in which to start writing her holiday story. It was funny timing given that she was filming a movie about the death of reading, but she was unfazed and remains confident about her future young readership. She refuses to cater to social-media-eroded attention spans or dumb things down. “I like the idea of not talking down to young people; if there’s something they don’t understand, they can look it up and learn,” she says.

Her folklore-inspired Christmas fable, co-authored with long-time friend and creative partner Dan Murphy, melds vastly different types of tales together into a festive hodgepodge beautifully illustrated by Victoria-based Julia Iredale in her signature dark and moody style. Plaza’s love of The Nightmare Before Christmas and similarly creepy holiday stories is evident in this tale, which reads like a cross between something the Brothers Grimm might have penned and The Polar Express.

Book Cover Art: Julia Iredale (©Aubrey Plaza and Daniel Murphy)

The Legend of the Christmas Witch’s magic-wielding protagonist, Kristtörn, has a somewhat explosive temper, and she’s based on a character of Plaza’s that she brought to life during the holidays to amuse her friends’ kids. She would hide in their bushes to give them a bit of a festive fright. “I would throw presents at the children and try to scare them at the same time, and it became this very strange game that I played,” she says. “I decided that there’s something that kids love about being scared but also getting presents.” It might sound like a peculiar lesson in punishment and reward, but it helped her tap into something that’s a little off the beaten track when it comes to holiday cheer.

I think, for children especially, it’s important to show characters that can be moody or grumpy or have their own quirky dark take on the world without having that mean that they’re weird or not normal.

Veering away from the male-dominated Santa Claus Christmas lore, this story follows Kristtörn, Saint Nick’s long-lost twin sister, who is searching for him the world over, fuelling myths about her rumoured evilness along the way. For Plaza, it was important to introduce young people to someone who is flawed and to show that those flaws are okay. “I think, for children especially, it’s important to show characters that can be moody or grumpy or have their own quirky dark take on the world without having that mean that they’re weird or not normal,” she says.

A layered female character—who is soft at heart but whom you don’t want to cross—is nothing new for Plaza. She famously got her break on Amy Poehler’s hit show Parks and Recreation as the sarcastic April Ludgate, whose signature stare could best be described as conveying an “eat shit and die” attitude that is the perfect antidote to any misogynistic request for a woman to smile more. “I always gravitate toward unapologetic female characters who are who they are and aren’t trying to be anything else,” she says.

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Nature is another character of sorts in this book, as both something the witch strongly connects to and a source of power in the face of danger. Plaza deftly weaves in the ecological threats we’re currently facing and shies away from the consumer-centric aspect of the holiday. “I like the idea that [Kristtörn] goes back to old traditions that were more nature-focused and about taking care of the earth so that the next harvest would be fruitful,” she says.

Plaza managed to create a holiday realm that feels both familiar in its lore and unique in its perspective. Although she was never a diehard horror or sci-fi fan, films that were out of this world, like Ghostbusters and The Goonies, are what made her fall for the big screen. “I like movies that use real imagination,” she says. “That’s why they’re fun—you get to make up things that aren’t real, and real life is a drag.”

She has a role in Guy Ritchie’s upcoming spy flick, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, which is sure to deliver a dose of high action—and make-believe—but when it comes to what’s next on Plaza’s ever-changing plate, she’s on the secretive side. She’ll be putting on her director’s cap for a project she wrote, but she’s hush-hush about it to avoid jinxing anything. However, she does say that it will be the type of fun-for-all flick often delivered by a certain king of Gothic fantasy. “We need a female Tim Burton,” she says. And I think plenty of us are ready for one too.

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