He does everything he can in an 8-hour work day. Mark Duplass, known character actor / writer / producer / concept creator is the most actively working actor of today. This month alone he has “Your Sister’s Sister,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” and a bit part in “People Like Us.” FX channel has put him back to work on the hit series “The League,” about guys and their attachment to fantasy football. Duplass has arrived at a rented out swank Beverly Hills hotel to do press day specifically for Your Sister’s Sister. He explains that the title has a “charm” to it, with such a riddle to it that it will catch the attention of anyone who ponders the meaning of it.
Duplass is a thirty-something slacker in “Your Sister’s Sister.” He has just been dealt with facing the death of his brother. His dead brother’s ex, played by Emily Blunt, offers him to use a cabin for the weekend for a getaway holiday. Unexpectedly, he runs into Blunt’s sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), an outspoken lesbian not opposed to the idea of heterosexual sex. Their late night drunken conversation has a wild verve to it that can’t be imitated in Hollywood movies. Blunt arrives at the cabin the next day, by surprise, and Duplass wants to cover up any hint that they had sex. It’s a small movie, but just as Duplass touts it, the indie flick has its charms. A charming conversational ramble of a film, I’d say.
The idea of “Your Sister’s Sister” was his, but gave it to writer-director Lynn Shelton. Loosely scripted, the three actors were encouraged to improv. Long takes were used to catch any spontaneity. Duplass says he likes to make indies with a “nice, scrappy quality.” He also insists that rehearsals for conversation-driven movies is not creatively productive. Duplass says, “If you rehearse it, come up with something great and try to use it, you will lose the fresh quality by the time you shoot it. The spontaneity is dead.” This sounds so much like the work of John Cassavetes (“Faces,” “Husbands”). Sure enough, Duplass knows the name. But he had other inspiration that came first.
“As an 8-year old, I grew up watching “Annie Hall,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Ordinary People,” and “Sophie’s Choice,” Mark replied when I asked him about how he got interested in movies. The real kicker though was Richard Linklater and his 1991 debut “Slacker,” a mumblecore but totally amusing movie that spins a web through a gallery of random common characters, introduced then dropped to lead into the next vignette. “I saw Linklater in an interview when I was young. Jeans, tennis shoes, kind of longhair bohemian. I thought if this guy can make a career this way, than I can make a micro-budget movie, too.”
That first movie was “The Puffy Chair,” collaborating with his brother Jay in 2005. They also wrote and directed “Baghead” (2008) and “Cyrus” (2010) together. Principally, he always has something ready to get off the ground. But his business methods are sensible. “I don’t make movies that have a great risk of not making their money back. All of them have made a profit. The first day of shooting for ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’ [released earlier this year] we knew we were going to make money from day one because we had Jason Segal, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon. That’s a built-in attraction right there that guarantees return numbers.”
Duplass contends that IFC is the perfect company for him, because they understand each other. “IFC has a sustaining profit model. Take a look at their documentaries, for instance, they only need to make $500,000 typically. The weekend a new doc finds theaters and hits Video On-Demand, it shouldn’t take long for a project to turn a profit.”
As for his TV show “The League,” Duplass calls it “the greatest mortgage payment of all-time. It’s an ensemble show, so I’m only needed three days a week. While they’re shooting other cast members, I can be in my trailer doing some writing.” His wife Katie is also on the show, and now they have a 7-week old daughter. “That’s alright, I got plenty of time by the end of the day for family. I get my 8-hours of sleep.” When he says so it actually is so. He doesn’t seem the type to fail on a promise yet.