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Chucky as a smart robot? 'Terrifying' but not hard to imagine, says 'Child's Play' actress Aubrey Plaza

“We’re all connected to our devices," Plaza said. "And it’s not far off from something that could happen.”
Image: Aubrey Plaza
Aubrey Plaza stars in "Child's Play," a remake of the 1988 horror classic that opens Friday.Orion Pictures

The idea of a doll that becomes a serial killer is ridiculous. But Puerto Rican-Irish actress Aubrey Plaza, who stars in the remake of the 1988 horror classic "Child’s Play," says that viewers attending this opening weekend will laugh and scream because the movie taps into deep fears and aspirations that play out in everyday life.

“We’re all connected to our devices. Children who are really young are obsessed with their iPads and iPhones. And no one is really studying the impact of what this is doing to our brains,” Plaza told NBC News. “I think that reimagining Chucky as a smart doll is a very terrifying idea in the world that we live in right now. And it’s not far off from something that could happen.”

Plaza plays Karen, a young single mom who gives her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a refurbished Buddi doll that will later be named Chucky. The high-tech doll can easily synch up with tablets, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices. But while this interactive smart toy feeds off the ideals of the digital age — we all want to be connected, we all want to be understood — Chucky betrays those values as he becomes self-aware.

Best known for her comedic role as April Ludgate on the hit TV show "Parks and Recreation," Plaza says that her mom inspired her to play the dramatic role of Karen.

“When I first read the movie script and saw that my character was a young mom, I realized that the age difference between Karen and Andy was the same as my mom and me in real life,” said Plaza, who wore her mom’s 1980s hoodie on set to keep that connection alive. “My mom and my dad had me when they were 20. So I connected with Karen, and I thought playing a struggling single mom would be very interesting, especially since I understood a little what that was like.”

The original "Child’s Play" was a surprise hit — earning $44.2 million worldwide — which then launched a franchise that spun off six movie sequels in three decades, and a recently announced TV show for 2020.

The 2019 remake is now the eighth movie in the slasher series, but it did not count on the franchise creator Don Mancini or the original Chucky voice actor Brad Dourif. MGM-United Artists still owns the rights to the 1988 original, and teamed up with Norwegian filmmaker Lars Klevberg — best known for "Polaroid," a horror movie about a group of friends who are murdered after getting photographed — and "Star Wars" actor Mark Hamill as the voice for the new killer doll.

Fans of the 1988 movie may have trouble adapting to a new homicidal Chucky driven by artificial intelligence, especially since the original doll was possessed by the soul of an evil serial killer.

But Plaza says that reimagining the old Chucky as a smart robot does not take away from its ability to stand out as a unique villain. In the movie, the new doll — which is mass-produced in a Vietnamese sweatshop — becomes a one-of-a-kind killer doll after a disgruntled employee disables the safety settings that prevent Chucky from thinking for itself.

“The movie shows how Chucky copies other people — learns how to kill by watching others,” she said.

The actress told NBC News that smartphones, tablets, and computers could sometimes get in the way of meaningful person-to-person contact. But horror movies like the 2019 reboot can push fans outside of those technology bubbles, and reawaken that primitive instinct that drives people to come together to have fun and survive.

“This is a good movie for people to see in a group," Plaza said. "It’s one of those movies where you can scream at the screen and have a good time."