When writer/director Maggie Carey set about making The To Do List, her charmingly irreverent new sex comedy, she knew that she needed a cast that was up for anything. Fortunately, she reached out to some of television’s best and brightest, and it just so happened that they were more than happy to oblige.

Led by Parks and Recreations’ own deadpan darling, Aubrey Plaza, 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, Nashville’s Connie Britton, The Good Wife’s Scott Porter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s Clark Gregg all help to make Ms. Carey’s debut feature one of the most hilarious and heartfelt surprises of the summer. Recently I was fortunate enough to sit down with the talented cast and their charming director for an appropriately frank conversation about everything from independent filmmaking to first-times.

Maggie, would you say that there’s a formula for writing an effectively raunchy R-rated teen comedy?

“To be honest, I didn’t realize that I was writing such a raunchy movie. I think raunchy is completely fair, but I was writing it to reflect how my girlfriends and I really talked back in high school.”

“My friends and I were incredibly accomplished 16-, 17-, 18- year-olds. We were on student council and in AP calculus; I played every sport imaginable, but when I looked through my journals, all I was talking about were boys. There’s this great juxtaposition of being a very young, accomplished, bold, feminist teenager, but also being incredibly curious about sex and boys. I didn’t ever make an actual list at that age, but I was just writing from that teenage point of view when you so badly want to know about something and the only way to know is to actually go through it.”

“And I don’t know that there’s a formula, but I will say that when I wrote it, I didn’t realize it was as frank as it is until I had the cast start to perform things. So thank you Aubrey for still doing everything.”


Speaking of which… Aubrey, how did you approach some of the wilder things that you had to do in this film?

“When I read the movie for the first time, I thought that it was one of the funniest scripts that I had ever read. I wasn’t thinking about what I would actually have to do in it.  I didn’t wrap my head around that usually until the day when I showed up on set and went, Oh, it’s the scene where I have to eat shit today. Oh, OK…”

Aubrey, gross-out stuff aside, was it difficult to get into character?

Plaza: “The script was loosely based on Maggie’s life and she gave me her diaries as research.”

Carey: “It was a really top secret diary. It was pink and from a drugstore, and it had a really secure lock that was made of cardboard, that one of my sibling’s easily ripped open and read. I gave it to Aubrey so that she could get into the perspective of what it was like to be a teenager in the old-fashioned days of 1993… so long ago!”

Maggie, do you think that kids today can relate to growing up in a pre-Internet, early 90s world?

“It’s funny, I didn’t even realize that this movie was period until my line producer kept telling me that the Ford Festiva from 1993 with the automatic seat-belts no longer existed. That was a really shocking thing to me!”

“When I wrote it, you sort of write what you know, and the closer we got to production and when I started working with Aubrey and the rest of the cast, I realized how differently (my friends and I) would communicate as teenagers, without the internet. I do think though that the idea of all of these things that you have to check off on a list is still relevant, it’s just that kids can now Google it and find out right away whether or not they want to try those things.”


While its themes are timeless, the film is still hilariously 90s-centric, especially with its retro look. Maggie, what was your source material for the fantastic production design?

“I’m really close with my high school girlfriends and I reached out to them and asked if they had any photos or clothes or anything from the time and they sent boxes of stuff. Plus, senior year was really important to me and I was this crazy scrap-booker who would save everything. You had to use handwriting and write on a piece of paper and you’d fold it up and hand it to a classmate, that was the old-fashioned term for a text message, I saved all of those notes, and gave boxes of this stuff to my production designer (Ryan Berg) and he used a lot of them.”

Connie, the mom that you play in this film is so warm and hip and seems to have such a great relationship with her daughters. Did you collaborate with Maggie on her creation? Whose mother was she primarily based upon?

Carey: “I just want to say first that I am so happy that Connie is in my movie. I think that I, and everyone else in this room, has a crush on her. One of my favorite scenes is when she’s diagraming the circumcised penis for her daughter. Originally that scene came in and out of the script, but what I love about Connie is that she really liked it and fought to keep it in. My mom was a nurse and when she did explain the birds and the bees to me, there was a diagram involved, but my mom is not liberal.”

Britton: “Nor was mine. I actually thought that I was playing Maggie’s mom until now.  For me, I had just finished doing Friday Night Lights and I loved the character because she felt a bit like the perfect parody of Tammi Taylor (Britton’s beloved, Emmy-Nominated FNL role). Like, this is what Tammi would say if she was talking about lube. But I don’t think either one of us was lucky enough to have mothers that were that hip.”

MacBrayer: “I don’t even remember getting the sex talk. I just figured it out.”

Aubrey, you play the typical nerd in this film. What were you really like in high school?

“I went to an all-girls catholic high school, and we didn’t have traditional cliques like you see in the movies. It was actually kind of cool to be a nerd, so I was kinda nerdy, I guess… but I was cool too. I wasn’t that cool, but I wasn’t a loser… you know, I was nice, had a great time, and gave it my all…”


As actors, each of you seem to bounce comfortably between film and television.  Do any of you have a preference?

Connie: “I love independent film. I came from independent film, and I will jump to do independent film any day, particularly something that is written and directed by a woman, which is extraordinarily rare. This film was exciting and funny and we are all so fortunate to be a part of it. For me it was a joy, and then I get to go back to my day job.”

Gregg: “Sometimes I have a job where I say very serious stuff about superheroes (Gregg is reprising his role in the phenomenally popular 2012 movie, The Avengers, for ABC’s and Marvel Television’s new fall show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), and so to get to say stuff that’s funny like, there’s doors we don’t do!, is great. I’m so happy to do something that is very funny, but also pushing the envelope a bit. I don’t find what people are calling raunchy in the film, gratuitous. There is a sexual frankness here that is refreshing with a female protagonist who isn’t desperately looking for a man to complete her… she just wants him to complete her list.”

Porter: “I started out in the world of musical theater and comedy in New York. I’m not a serious guy, but for the next seven years, it was real serious roles in wheelchairs and law offices (in addition to The Good Wife, Porter’s also guested on Friday Night Lights and Heart of Dixie). I wanted to get back to something light and was really shocked that I was asked to be a part of this movie. Aubrey and I were doing a movie together (2011’s Ten Years) and she just knocked on my trailer door, dropped the script and said, um read this. You’re gonna do this with me.

Plaza: “I can’t believe I’m still on a TV show. I love being on my TV show. It’s totally different than working in movies. I feel like I know my character on Parks and Recreation so well that it’s really fun to just go with whatever story they throw at you. But I also like doing movies like this because it allows me to do completely different kinds of things, which is the most exciting fun part of my job. And I was looking for a long time to do a movie where I could give a hand-job, blow-job, and get finger-blasted, so I was really lucky that I found this script.”

McBrayer: “I don’t know, I’m real unemployed right now. We get paid for this, right?”

Not sure, Jack. However, for as entertaining as this has been, I sure hope so!