Interview with the Duplass Brothers


One of the biggest lessons that the Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark, learned about making movies is that you don't need fancy props. Just a telephone answering machine, as in their short "This Is John," (2003), or a Lazyboy recliner, as in their first feature "The Puffy Chair" (2006), or a brown paper bag, as in their second feature, "Baghead" (2008),


should do it. All you need is some funny, sharp, honest writing and a no frills, docu-like, handheld style that's true to your actors. Shockingly some people in Hollywood agreed, and threw in some extras like catering and a killer cast including Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, and John C. Reilly to make "Cyrus," which is kind of like "Annie Hall" with a touch of "Spanking the Monkey." Will they revolutionize Hollywood? Will Hollywood corrupt them? They discussed these and other issues when they passed through Boston to promote the film the morning after the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers in game six of the NBA finals.

PK: Are you Lakers fans?

Ambiguous Duplass: No, we are anti-Lakers.

PK: Alright, so, whoever beats the Lakers is-

Ambiguous Duplass: Yeah, it's really not about the Celtics, it's about Kobe losing, that's what it is for me

PK: Yeah, what is it about that guy that endears him to everybody?

AD: It's powerful, it's what it is. People just don't like the guy.

PK: Can you do me a favor and identify yourselves for when we transcribe this?

Mark Duplass: Sure, I'm Mark Duplass.

Jay Duplass: And I'm Jay Duplass.

PK: This is kind of like "This Is John"...  

MD: Do the answering machine greeting, yeah.

PK: That was like a turning point in your career, right?

MD: It really was the turning point. It almost sounds like one of those press stories that's kind of made up. But it was literally that day that changed everything for us, and it really broke down the semantics of film making as it pertained to me and Jay in the most simple obvious way possible. Which was, when all we had to focus on was  a story and acting because that's all we had that day. It was just Jay on a camera and me acting, we were able to get something decent. We were just writing things that we personally knew and we were in a unique position to show the comedy and the drama that people wanted to see. We've basically been able to maintain that ethic to this day.

JD: I didn't even think about it until you just said it, but that one experience and that one movie has all the critical elements that the press talks about when they talk about us. It's all in there. The actor comes first. The camera comes to the actor as opposed to the actor being forced to come to the camera. The situation is comedic but the actor plays it straight and dramatically and we derive the comedy from that as opposed to the actor trying to bring comedy to it.

MD: We allow it to unfold and allow the scene to literally fall apart or come off the tracks. And we shoot digitally and we shoot long take. It was originally a 20 minute take that we edited down to seven minutes.

JD: The only thing that's shifted now with "Cyrus" in the studio is there are some now recognizable faces in our movie and we're using higher resolution camera.

MD: It's still digital though.

PK: What sort of movies were you making before that?

MD: Coen brother's knock-off films? Uh, all kinds of knock-off films. I mean, we did go to film school in the early 90s at the University of Texas. Everybody wanted to be the Coen brothers. At that point, it was just prior to "Pulp Fiction," and then it shifted to  Quentin Tarantino.

PK: Did you say, "Hey, we're brothers..."

MD: Yeah, exactly, "we can do this."

JD and MD (In near unison): "It's just that easy."

MD: A little DNA and a camera. Turns out the Coen brothers are best at being the Coen brothers. So it's a specific skill set that they have.

PK: Your movies now aren't totally unlike them. One difference I can think of is that they're almost sadistic in the way that they treat their characters and you seem to have more of an emotional connection with yours.

MD: That's really sweet of you to say that, and I'm glad you feel that way because we are illuminating some pretty questionable people in our movies; their motives, their methods of operation and at the end of the day we work very, very hard so that you can enjoy their craziness, laugh at them go all the way. But in the end, we love our characters so much. And we really want audiences to sense that. And we want you to see the humanity in a guy like Cyrus [played by Jonah Hill] who is this fucked up kid who's just so fucked up that he can't even start to talk about it.

But like, his motives are pure. He's just a kid who doesn't want to lose his mom. It's his only relationship that he has in his life and, for us, to understand that base of him that means we can let him go crazy and do whatever he wants. It's rooted in humanity, it's rooted in something real.

PK: The Coen brothers would just probably kill him in some horrible way.

MD: They might, I don't know. It depends on the movie. I've seen some good love in some of their movies. "Raising Arizona" has got some pretty beautiful stuff in there. We love those guys.

PK: Would you say that this movie is another turning point ?

JD: It's definitely a turning point for us personally, because we took our caveman process and our sort of telepathic speak with each other and we had to learn how to share it with 70 crew members and a giant studio. Well, not a giant studio, I mean, Fox Searchlight is about as indie-friendly as it gets studio wise. But that was the biggest transition that we had to make. Whether or not it resonates with a whole new section of people, we're really hopeful for. We've always felt that our movies are, at the heart, traditional stories just being told from a very specific point of view. We've always wanted our movies to reach greater audiences. But we realized that with really low-resolution video and no stars, it's really hard to get random people in the center of America into the movie theater. We're very hopeful that this makes a transition for us.

PK: This is a traditional story like "Oedipus."

JD: It is, there's the Oedipal angle. For us, in particular, it's a love triangle movie. You've got three people there, and two of them are warring for the affections of one of those people. It just so happens that one side is coming from more of a romantic side and her son, the other side, is coming from more of an emotional, spiritual, mother-son connection. In our minds, what's really interesting about the Molly [Cyrus's mother, played by Marisa Tomei] and Cyrus relationship is that, for all intents and practical purposes they are in an old, stale marriage. They are emotionally attached to each other, they are spiritually attached, they're socially attached, they know each others rhythms and mores, they just don't have sex or romance in their relationship.

PK: Not anymore, anyway.

JD: Yeah, you know, the flames have faded. And so when that romantic section shows up it makes for the perfect storm for the kind of movies we want to make. It creates a lot of funny, awkward and dramatic conflict.

Next: public urination as a way to meet women.

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