Mark and Jay Duplass, better known as the Duplass Brothers in the entertainment business, are quietly becoming some of the more prolific talents in Hollywood. Since their Sundance darling The Puffy Chair in 2005, the brothers have created their own style of small films that always have a Mariana’s Trench of emotional depth, often morphing into a story you never expected to see or feel—comedy with poignancy, to put it in simpler terms. By sharing writing and directing duties on fine, indie-sized studio films like Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives at Home and executive producing the charmingly weird Safety Not Guaranteed, the Duplass duo would seem to be following in the tradition of brotherly filmmaking forbearers, Joel and Ethan Coen.
But then Mark had to go and have his acting career take off, with roles in sap-fests My Darling Companion and People Like Us, landing a spot on the FX series The League and roles in a number of upcoming major studio films, including one directed by Katherine Bigelow where he helps kill Osama bin Laden. If you had to guess which of the two brothers star is currently shining brighter—for people who care about such things—the safe bet is clearly Mark (though there is an outside chance Jay may actually be the next Brando, pre-obesity). I only stir all this up to cheaply pivot to the fact that the plot of their newest film together, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, is about two overly competitive middle-aged brothers who try to solve their differences through a series of competitions, and, in true Duplass Brothers fashion, end up facing a much more complex, deep-seeded emotional issue. I chatted with Mark and Jay the day after Do-Deca premiered at this year’s SxSW and was picked up for distribution through Fox Searchlight for an early July release. After that type of success together, it’s all brotherly love.
How are you guys able to keep both the studios and the indie world happy? It seems as if everyone is enamored with your films these days.
Mark Duplass: It’s a little something we call Black Magic. We’re from New Orleans. We believe in voodoo. Honestly, we don’t know. It’s not about keeping people happy. There’s something about our sensibilities that are mainstream adjacent and also straddles the indie world. Most filmmakers have the opportunity to make one indie film, and then when they have the opportunity to make a studio film they’re just fuckin’ done with the indie world because they don’t like hanging lights and doing odd jobs on set. But we still like that, so we’re able to keep a foot in both worlds.
How did Do-Deca come about? The obvious thought is that it was born out of a competition between you guys as brothers.
Jay Duplass: We grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans, and in our same neighborhood there were two brothers who were born about a year and a half apart. I think everyone knows that set of brothers who were born too close and they are literally competitive about everything. That was them. And it’s real. They actually created something called the Do-Deca-Pentathlon, a 25-event personal Olympics, made up of primarily parlor sports that they competed in mostly as an excuse to beat the shit out of each other and also show how much they love each other because they are not very good at communicating. Mark and I have been sweetly obsessed with it since the late ’80s when it first happened. Finally, we figured out a way to bring it to life as a film when two out of shape middle-aged brothers compete in it later in life.
How many Do-Decas did they actually hold? Was it a yearly thing?
MD: No, they created the singular Do-Deca competition to determine who was the better brother and, no joke, the results were shrouded in controversy because they were beating the shit out of each other too much that their parents finally had to intervene before the competition was finished. So…we’re not that creative, actually, is the answer here. This is more or less a true story.
Do you still talk to the brothers and have they seen the film yet?
JD:We definitely still talk to the guys, though they have not seen the film yet and we have something special planned that will be unleashed onto the world in a couple months when the film is released. We’re excited to show it to them. We can’t say what it is…
Are there Cain and Abel elements to this story? Or am I reading into this too much?
MD: I think the answer to that is: yes?
JD: We definitely don’t think about those sorts of things that intellectually when we were making the film. But when you say that, it makes sense to me and I’m sure it makes sense to Mark. We came up with a very indie, renegade filmmaking way. But we are products of cable TV and HBO of the mid-’80s. We believe in classical stories and we love classic structure. We never in a million years would say Cain and Abel in a creative discussion with each other, but maybe we are harboring those things subconsciously.
Are you guys competitive with each other, as brothers tend to be?
MD:I don’t think so, man. I mean, we’ve been to therapy and the egos have been checked and we’re just trying to work together and go for the big win.
Is budget and resources the biggest difference between the indie and studio films? Or is there more to it?
JD: Yeah, on the indie ones, we’re doing every task at hand, from cooking food to directing to…
MD: Stressing the wardrobe. You kind of get to experience every job on set.
JD: But on the big budget films you don’t actually do anything by hand, you just have a million conversations with people to do it for you or for people to approve what you are doing and understand what you are doing so that they feel comfortable giving you millions of dollars to do it.
What do you prefer more, the hands-on or the studio films?
MD:It’s tough to say. Each film is very, very different. Jay and I both have very grass-is-greener personalities. You know, we’ll be in the middle of shooting a little micro-budget indie film and we’ll suddenly miss the craft service and someone to take care of the props so you’re not losing them while you are shooting. But then on a studio film, it feels like you’re dragging a hundred people around and it takes forever to do anything and you wish you were a crew of eight and you could run across the street, shoot it and move on in 15 minutes.
BB: Do you see yourselves ever making something outside your very well defined style?
JD:Well, anything’s possible. To be honest, every time Mark and I make a movie, we feel like it is something entirely different and new. But when we get done editing and it is reviewed, people see it as part of our oeuvre or whatever you want to call it. We’ve kind of come to realize we are hopelessly and helplessly ourselves. We’re obsessed with things that are simultaneously hilarious and tragic and we’re also obsessed with relationships and family. Our films are basically the private conversations Mark and I had been having for 30 years and it wasn’t until we tapped into those conversations that we made a film that didn’t suck.