Aubrey Plaza Actually Learned How To Commit Credit Card Fraud For Emily The Criminal

Aubrey Plaza has always been great, but everyone seems to be catching on these days. If her dramatic roles in "Black Bear" and "Emily the Criminal" weren't enough to convince you of her dramatic abilities, she's also turning up in everything from season 2 of "The White Lotus" to Marvel's upcoming "Agatha: Coven of Chaos." Oh, and she's currently working on Francis Ford Coppola's "Megalopolis." In other words, she's come a long way from her role as the April Ludgate in "Parks and Recreation."

But of all those projects, it's arguably "Emily the Criminal" that went furthest in establishing Plaza as a versatile actor capable of more than sardonic humor. Though it only made just over $2 million at the box office, it was one of the most talked about entries at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and has since grown in popularity due to word of mouth. The tale of a young woman saddled with unreasonable student debt and turning to criminality to get ahead not only gave Plaza plenty of dramatic leeway but resonated as a dissection of the gig economy and stark portrayal of modern day economic realities. It all works so well because Plaza and her director, John Patton Ford, manage to make it all feel so very real and familiar.

In keeping with that palpable sense of reality, Plaza herself went to great lengths to make her character and her actions feel believable. When Emily turns to credit card fraud in order to make extra money, that, too, had to feel real, and Plaza made sure she went in prepared.

Aubrey the criminal

In the movie, Emily initially gets involved in a "dummy shopper" scheme that involves having to pay for products with fake credit cards in order to effectively steal things like TVs and cars. Eventually, she gets deeper into the scam run by Youcef (Theo Rossi), graduating to making her own fake credit cards and running her own fraud operation under Youcef's watchful eye.

Speaking with W Magazine, Aubrey Plaza explained how she did, in fact, learn how to commit credit card fraud in order to play the role convincingly: "There are YouTube tutorials that show you how to make fake credit cards, fake IDs, all kinds of fake things. The machines are easy to get — you can buy them on eBay!" Asked more about her foray into learning about credit card fraud by Deadline, Plaza admitted that what she discovered was "very useful to know" and that it was "actually really surprising to [her] how easy it is to do and to learn."

Whatever kind of research and experience Plaza had, it paid off. Scenes of Emily cranking out fake credit cards are just as believable as the rest of the film. Which is probably why the actor told W Mag that she thinks she would make a good criminal: 

"I have a lot of that in my blood. I'm not going to go into any more detail, but I'm very street-smart. And savvy. I'd watch out for me."

Emily isn't the villain

Considering "Emily the Criminal" was shot in just 20 days in Los Angeles, it's a good thing the actor was so prepared. The film's attention to detail and dedication to realism helped make it one of the best thrillers of 2022, and Aubrey Plaza's antihero was really central to that whole approach.

Director John Patton Ford was just as impressed with his star as audiences were, and praised her "profound ability to catch you off guard at all times with all things" in an interview with /Film. It seems he, too, played a big part in making the credit card fraud specifically feel real. As he explained it: "I did a lot of research and spoke to people who shall remain nameless. So I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it at this point." The director elaborated on how the people he spent time with were, like Emily, not necessarily committing crime for "pleasure or enjoyment," stating, "They all had really specific things that they wanted to achieve. And this was just a means to an end."

It's that aspect, of feeling compelled by your circumstances to turn to crime, that made "Emily the Criminal" resonate in the way that it did. Far from being a fun thriller about credit card fraud, it's a film that goes to great lengths to explore why people like Emily get to the point where this kind of lifestyle becomes appealing, thereby emphasizing the irony of its own title. Emily is the criminal, but not necessarily the villain.