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