Louisiana filmmaker brothers Jay and Mark Duplass have become leaders in the independent scene, starting with their acclaimed debut The Puffy Chair in 2005. Since then, the two brothers have made dialogue-driven comedies like Cyrus starring Jonah Hill and Jason Segel, and the recent Jeff Who Lives At Home, starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms. In their newest movie, two brothers (Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis) bring up old bad blood when they reintroduce a sports contest (that includes holding breath underwater, ping-pong, etc.) that was originally "shrouded in controversy," and has divided the two for decades.
In a phone interview with the two brothers, we discussed their twin-like chemistry, Mark's current acting domination of summer movies, and the shared experiences they have of getting their first kisses at the movies.
The Do-Deca Pentathlon is now playing in select cities. It is currently playing at Chicago's Music Box Theater.
When you guys get together with your families for various occasions, do they ever turn into impromptu film analysis or Q&A's about your material?
Mark Duplass: No, they don't. But what does happen is there's a ping-pong table at my parent's house in New Orleans. They are fucking incredible at doubles ping-pong. They are so in sync with each other that they can beat me and Jay, and we are superior athletes. The matches are not competitive, there's a lot of love, but they are really dramatic and fun. They are transcendent to competition.
Would you guys say you are like twins, or do you think there would be significant difference to your chemistry and even your films if you were born on the same day?
Jay Duplass: I would say we're like fraternal twins, in that we are very different personally. Mark's Type A, I'm super sensitive. But we're also like fraternal twins creatively in that we form two sides of the same unit, the same individual. We are constantly aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and are sort of working them together. I think that's why we work with so many sibling teams, two people with very different strengths. We have been curated with the same movies in the same household with a very specific sense of humor. Jay, you don't act in films, but Mark does. Would you two ever act as brothers in your two films, and was this a possibility with this specific film?
Jay: We never thought about it with Do-Deca. We were very specifically looking for two guys who were out of shape and showing some age, because we thought that was the funniest scenario. I haven't really thought being in front of the camera at all. Mark is super adamant about me being the main camera operator on our films, and feels it is a critical element to capturing what we capture. I think that's part of the yin and yang - Mark's on monitor, watching, and I'm objectively in there capturing images in the way we want audiences to see them.
Mark, you've never had your own interest in camera operating?
Mark: I don't really have a very good visual eye, and I'm particularly bad with framing. You don't want to see it. And I'm not being modest. It's absolutely true. I focus on the performances, make sure the story is in line, and it's really good work for us.
There's a great line in this movie in which the young son Hunter says to his uncle about his dad, "Why is he so lame now?" It made me wonder, does a person get older and just accept being lame, or try to find new ways to avoid it?
Mark: I think that's the question of the subplot of this movie. The main plot is, "Let's watch these out of shape guys beat the shit out of each other over small sporting events," and that's really fun. The subplot is, "Is it healthier to be Bruce Banner, and stay calm and relaxed? Or, should I let the Hulk out? I'm kind of happier when I'm the Hulk." So how do you reconcile your desire to Hulk out, and still be a good dad, and a good husband? That's something we know a little bit about, and are interested in exploring. Have the original brothers who inspired the premise for this film seen the final product?
Jay: We talked to them throughout the process, and they have seen it. They love it. They love that it's being immortalized. We actually got them together and recently re-ignited the Do-Deca competition, because theirs too was cut short and shrouded in controversy. We are gonna release it as a DVD extra.
Mark, with your absolute domination of movie marquees in the last few weeks ('Your Sister's Sister,' 'Safety Not Guaranteed,' 'People Like Us'), would you consider yourself an actor first or an actor last?
Mark: I consider myself an actor middle. I think I am a writer and director at my core, but acting is an awesome piece of the puzzle. Jay and I come from a place of "By any means necessary, make a movie." The rules are less clearly defined for us compared to other people. We write, we produce, we direct, we act, we just kind of jam movies. For me, I feel it's less they are separate careers. It's all one thing.
Jay, Mark's acting doesn't really count in some type of brotherly competition for film domination?
Jay: There's no way I can compete with Mark in terms of the energy he has and application he has towards all things film. Mark is fully obsessed with film. I have some slightly divergent interest that are equally as obsessive, but are applied through gardening, long-distance running, and documentary film-watching, and some documentary filmmaking.
Speaking of documentaries, congratulations Jay on your Kevin Gant documentary and its fundraising through Kickstarter. Is there any connection between this documentary and Jason Segel's search for a character Kevin in 'Jeff Who Lives At Home'?
Jay: I don't think so, only maybe in a very sub-conscious Jeff Who Lives At Home sort of way. The character Kevin in Jeff was the funniest scrambled anagram that we could get from the word "knife," but Mark and I have both been obsessed with this musician for twenty years. Maybe that was swimming in the back of our heads somewhere. Jay, you are directing that Kevin documentary, but Mark is producing it. Is that something that might happen in the future, if you pursue more documentary projects?
Mark: It's hard to say what is coming in the future, but it's very healthy for us to have our on things to do at times. Absence makes the heart grow fonder [laughs]. Making movies together, staying completely tied at the hip, and then when I go off to act in a movie and Jay makes a doc, that's a good thing.
Jay, do you have a favorite Mark performance, or one that is particularly true to the Mark Duplass spirit?
Jay: That's a good question. I think to be totally honest it is really weird watching your brother act. Mark and I are so close. You're having a very emotional experience beyond the emotionality of the film itself. You are very wrapped up in what this person that you know and love is experiencing, but I don't know. It sounds like a generic answer, but every time I see Mark do something, it is exciting and super emotional for me. It's not a specific one, but I do think he is a good actor. I love all my brother's alter-egos the same. Quick Questions with Jay and Mark Duplass Favorite fruit?
Mark: Is love a fruit? Jay: I'm a junkie for blackberries. It is my favorite fruit in the whole wide world. If I find them, I will be jamming them in my face in the grocery store parking lot. Mark: And then sitting on the toilet six hours after. Favorite summer movie?
Mark: Jaws; can't be topped. Jay: Dumb and Dumber. It's really a winter movie, but you watch it during the summer, and it makes you pine for the winter. Age of first kiss?
Mark: I was eleven. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in the movie theater. Jay: I was fifteen. And I drove to a movie theater. And I kissed Elizabeth Neder on the mouth. Every significant moment in our lives has happened in a movie theater or in front of a camera.