The Hot Seat: Mark Duplass
The indie filmmaker and star of The League has a soft spot for stoners.
Mon Oct 3 2011
Illustration: Dan Park
After making a splash at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with The Puffy Chair, a no-frills dramedy produced for a mere $15,000, brothers Mark and Jay Duplass directed stars including Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly in last year's Cyrus, and Jason Segel and Susan Sarandon in the upcoming Jeff Who Lives at Home. Mark puts in his time in front of the camera, too, starring in FX's The League, a profanity-laden comedy about a group of friends vying for fantasy-football glory.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
It's 8am in L.A. What's going on?
[I'm] watching Dora the Explorer with my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I have, in fact, been up for an hour and a half. This is the life of the parent of a young child.
The conversations in The League are improvised and very natural. How similar are you to Pete, your character?
In terms of what a shit-eating grin he has, I'm probably less confident and cocky than Pete is. He's single and trying to find his way, and clearly I was just watching Dora the Explorer. He's unflappable, and I'm definitely much more flappable. You can throw a shit pie in his face and it goes right off his back.
Your films often portray lovable losers. Do you consider yourself to be one?
Absolutely. I think there's something about the way [Jay and I] talk about our stuff that it comes across like, Hey, we just smoke some pot and go out there, and shoot some stuff and improvise and it's great. But we struggled for so many years to make something that's even watchable. And I can't tell you how many of those dark, horrible, existential moments we had in our early to mid-twenties, where we were just like, Uh, this is really bad. We've rejected our private-school upbringing and lost all the prospects of becoming successful businessmen to become artists...and we suck at that. [Laughs] Getting broken down a bit led us to [exploring] a laughing-at-yourself kind of comedy. Once we started doing that, we found our traction.
You've been quite successful in the indie-film world. After working on The League, would you ever want to create your own series?
You know, Jay and I talk about that all the time, and [my wife and costar] Katie [Aselton] and I talk about it. It's Always Sunny has this sort of independent-film spirit to it, where they are the creators and FX really helps them . And Louie has really taken it a step further, where [Louis C.K.] just goes out and makes that show and brings it to the network, which I think is really cool. The rhythm of that creative structure is really well suited for how Jay and Katie and I have done things in the past.
Jason Segel's character in Jeff Who Lives at Home is obsessed with Signs. Are you a fan?
I'm not so much a fan of [Signs], but I [love the idea] of someone who adores that movie. To me, there such purity in Jeff, who believes to his core that the universe [has created] a grand, beautiful plan for him, and he hasn't made any life decisions because he doesn't want to fuck that up. So he has no girlfriend, no job, no apartment. On one level, you could look at him as a lazy stoner; on another, you could look at him as having the most integrity [of anyone] you've ever met.
Do you and Jay have any sibling rivalry?
Not when we're making art, but if you get us on a Ping-Pong table you'll see some shit.
You live in Los Angeles now. But your band Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! was based in NYC, right?
Yeah, I lived in Greenpoint [during] that prime moment before it exploded into what it is now. We were sort of this ironic power-pop band that sings songs in rounds. It was really fun, and we made our $63 a night to share, but at the same time I was making movies with Jay and there came a moment in 2003 or 2004, right when we shot The Puffy Chair, that was kind of a crossroads. Like, Okay, maybe one artistic career at a time might be a good idea as I head into adulthood.
Do you return to the city often?
Yeah, I was in New York in August. I had just gotten the new Bon Iver record and put it on my headphones and took a long, long walk. I took the F train to the Lower East Side and walked all the way up through East Village. I was like, I kinda miss this.
The League's third season premieres Thu 6 on FX. Jeff Who Lives at Home opens in March.