Over the decade since Mark Duplass and his brother Jay directed "The Puffy Chair," their first feature, they have become arguably the most powerful and influential duo in independent film.
They've recently expanded their behind-the-scenes brand to television -- directing, co-creating and co-writing HBO's popular "Togetherness," starring Mark, who is also about to shoot the seventh and final season of "The League," while Jay co-stars on "Transparent."
There's also a four-movie deal with Netflix and Mark's starring role in the scientifically-minded horror flick "The Lazarus Effect," which chronicles the consequences of an experiment in reviving the dead and co-stars Olivia Wilde and Donald Glover.
amNewYork spoke with Duplass, 38.
What's fun about doing a full-blown horror movie?
The real fun part for me is that the script was really solid; it really honored the horror-thriller genre. Yet it was being directed by an award-winning food documentary director, which is not your average fit. That caught my eye and [producer] Jason Blum and I started talking about trying to make this sort of research team who's experimenting about waking the dead; it seemed somewhat genuine, less about a group of hotties dressed in lab coats but normal nerdy people and you're talking a very normal kind of way, not in that sort of "CSI" speak; that was really exciting. Doing a movie that was a true horror film in a more naturalistic way was something that kind of brought me in.
What stood out to you about David Gelb's approach? It's not necessarily a natural transition to go from "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" to this?
David is a very experienced trailer cutter, he's a commercial director, he's a documentary director, but he didn't have a ton of experience directing actors and he was very open about wanting to hiring actors who were comedic and were used to improvising and taking care of curating their own characters. That was exciting to me. His approach was very visually prepared but in terms of the performances there was a lot of sort of autonomy and figuring it out on set and you know that's a nice mix, to be anchored visually but to be sort of free flowing on the other fronts.
Is it possible to improv and build camaraderie in a genre film like this?
There are different kinds of scenes in a film and certain ones that are [ideal for] creating that camaraderie. Obviously toward the beginning of the film when we are hanging out in the lab, you know you can very much treat that stuff like a traditional comedy, where it's about creating chemistry, creating banter, trying to create some laughs, making it feel very normal and believable so the audience can connect with it. And that is kind of where we utilized a lot of our skill sets coming from comedy and improv and whatnot. Then once you start digging in to a lot of the more action and horror stuff you very much have to adhere to the form. That said, it was fun for us to kind of examine, "Alright, this is where that, normally really [expletive] horror line is about to come up, how can we do it in a way that makes it feel a little bit more organic."
What's fulfilling to you about acting in stuff when you aren't writing or directing?
There's a lot that I get out of it and I don't want to be too reductive about it, but the simplest answer to that is that nothing is more rewarding to me than writing, directing, and producing with my brother but that is also the most difficult and exhausting thing that I do. And that's like parenting children. Acting in a movie is like being that fun drunk uncle that shows up with Oreos, parties for a few hours and then leaves while the parents have to put the kids to bed.
This is the sort of movie you want to see on the big screen, but you've made plenty of movies that have been day-and-date releases. What are your thoughts on the big-screen theatrical experience as it relates to your work?
It's a film by film basis. To me, a movie like [the upcoming] "Creep," for instance, is a two-person, quiet, very unsettling Roman Polanski-esque horror film with comedy in it. That movie, to be honest with you, plays best at home along in front of your 42-inch TV, and that's where we are going to focus that movie. "The Lazarus Effect" is 100% a communal big scare, big horror movie that is meant to be seen in the traditional way. The Netflix deal that I'm doing is servicing movies that I feel like probably belong more inside the home.
What do you make of the response to "Togetherness"?
"Togetherness" has been probably the most overwhelming reaction I've had from any piece of art that I've made. And I think the nature of that is how widespread HBO's reach is, and how great of a job they did promoting it. It's really the first piece of art I've had that went up on billboard and TV spots everywhere and so ... that is really, if I'm being perfectly honest, the main reason people are catching it so quickly, where most of my other things are more word-of-mouth and take about a year to kick in. So it's been kind of a shock to walk around and see how quickly it struck a chord with people.
"The League" is coming to an end. What has it meant to you?
I literally can't believe that we're about to shoot the seventh season of "League." It felt like I started it about 20 minutes ago, which is terrifying to realize how quickly we're all barreling toward our deaths here. That's my first reaction to that. Secondly, to be perfectly honest, my entire empire of independent filmmaking and producing; "The League" is almost directly responsible for that. Part of that has been making my face popular on TV and part of that is giving me the paychecks I need to go pay for these little movies I make. [John] Cassavetes was always my hero. He went and acted in Hollywood movies and used that money to make his movies and that's what "The League" has been for me, so I am forever grateful.