Mark Duplass is on a tear. As an actor, he’s got three movies coming out, including the Sundance-approved indies Safety Not Guaranteed, about an eccentric looking for a time travel companion, and Your Sister’s Sister, about a love triangle. He’ll also return this fall as a regular on FX’s dude comedy, The League. As a filmmaker, the New Orleans native along with his brother and frequent co-director and co-writer Jay, is enjoying the success of their poignant comedy Jeff Who Lives at Home (currently in theaters), his second film for a major studio (the first was 2010’s Cyrus). Jeff stars Jason Segel as a daydreaming man-child who hooks up with his blowhard brother Pat (Ed Helms) on their way to self-discovery. Duplass took time out of his crammed schedule to stop by the BULLETT offices to chat about his recent success and improbable career.
What don’t you have going on?
Um, I don’t have sleep going on right now. It’s just a little crazy right now. You know, work has all these cycles and you try to plan them but it just so happens that a lot of the things that we did in the last year or two have all converged in this one perfect moment, as Jeff would say.
Ed and Jason told me that shooting Jeff Who Lives at Home felt like guerilla filmmaking. Would you agree?
Certainly, for them it was. It’s all relative. My biggest movie was their micro-budget film. We met in the middle. They were very eager to do this movie. When we made Cyrus with Jonah Hill, something happened. Everybody was like, Oh shit! Look what Jonah can do! I think the boys were excited to come into our world a little bit.
Did having a studio like Paramount behind you change the way you wrote this movie?
No, we actually wrote it five years ago. The best metaphor I can think of is like when you’re 22 and you meet the girl of your dreams, you’re like, I’m too young and immature to meet you now, I wish I had met you at thirty so we could get married then. We had this script in our hands but it was an expensive movie to make. It’s very intricately plotted, and we couldn’t figure out how to reconcile that with our loose, improvisational style. Once we made Cyrus, we got a little more confident in the studio system and kind of looked at each other, and were like, Let’s try to make it.
Jeff Who Lives at Home is a very hopeful movie. Where did that hope come from?
I wanted this film to take place over the course of one day, to have it be this twenty-four hour journey for these fucked up people. And I wanted it to be one of those days that feels like lightning has struck you and everyone around you. I’ve probably had four of those in my entire life. I wanted to make a movie about that day, when things start gelling and happening.
Can you name one of those days?
Like the first time we premiered The Puffy Chair at Sundance was one of those days. It was our first big movie and all the right people came to the theater.
That was back when you were a Sundance newbie. You must have the routine down pat by now.
I do know the Sundance routine, yeah. It’s become a big part of my everyday life, in a lot of ways. I design movies sometimes because I think they’re going to be good for Sundance. I was there with three movies this year, and it’s a place to meet all the new and interesting filmmakers I want to work with in the future. I always love what Roger Corman did in the late sixties, when he took in all these young, amazing filmmakers and created a community. I would see those Corman documentaries, and they’re all just sitting around eating Chinese food and coming up with movie ideas. That just seemed glorious to me.
And what about negotiating multi-million dollar movie deals? Do you feel like a Hollywood player?
It’s not very Hollywood, because it’s all happening in shitty condos and everyone’s tired and it’s four in the morning. It’s multi-million dollar deals being made with hoodies and slices of pizza.
Why act on a show like The League when your movie career is blowing up?
That’s a great environment because that’s one of the only projects that I’m literally just an actor. We’re shooting seven scenes a day, I’m in three to four of them, which means I’m getting at least three to four hours of good trailer time to write and produce and do all the other things I’m doing. And it’s only three months a year. It’s not like a network show, where you’re like locked up. I’ve watched Jason and Ed have to very carefully cherry pick the one or two movies they can do a year, because of their schedules.
Do you love the characters you write?
100%. And I don’t think you have to to make a good movie. I’m not convinced that Christopher Guess loves his characters. But for me, I’m not making a spoof of Jeff and I’m not making a straight comedy. We have this interesting thing happen with our films where when they play in big houses, they play like, like Dumb and Dumber, because everyone is getting permission to laugh at the uncomfortable comedy, but then when people watch them at home they play much more like straight dramas.
Do you ever worry that you don’t have another good movie in you?
Always. I worry, are we gonna be repetitive? You can’t think too much that way because then you start curating your movies for your critics.
Do you read reviews?
I read the first paragraph of the big reviews just so I can get a gauge of who liked this movie, who didn’t, and how is it playing. People who don’t read reviews at all, I don’t know how you can then have an understanding of why a movie did or didn’t do well
Do you feel like you’re a part of the Hollywood establishment, or are you still on the outside looking in?
No, I don’t. I feel like I have one foot in and one foot out. I feel like I am wearing a hoodie and then a blazer over the hoodie. That’s kind of my zone right now. It’s an odd time in Hollywood because the middle class has completely broken up and people used to make movies for thirty to eighty million dollars, and that’s over. Now there are huge movies and then there are small movies. I’m finding myself in this weird position where a lot of my heroes who I’ve been looking up to are calling us up and saying, How do you do what you do? Because my business is over.
Critically and commercially, your films have yet to fail.
I’ll say this: everything I have ever made since This Is John has been a profitable film. Have I gone out and made a hundred million dollars for a studio yet? No. I don’t know that I ever will, but I got tons of little victories. And that’s good for right now.