Mark Duplass Interview: ‘Safety Not Guaranteed,’ Time Travel and Aubrey Plaza
Mark Duplass is best known for writing and directing indie movies with his brother Jay — films like ‘The Puffy Chair’ and this year’s ‘Jeff, Who Lives At Home,’ starring Jason Segel. This time out, Mr. Duplass has stepped in front of the camera to co-star with Aubrey Plaza in the new film ‘Safety Not Guaranteed.’
Duplass plays Kenneth, a man who believes he can time travel, and places a classified ad looking for someone to accompany him on his journey. Plaza plays Darius, a member of a journalist team who forms a special bond with Kenneth while investigating him.
We spoke with Duplass about the upcoming film, if Plaza was able to break from her April Ludgate persona, and his future projects, including a small update on the FX series ‘The League.’
[Mark Duplass mentioning the area code] 512? Are you in Austin?
Awesome, I used to live in Austin.
Yeah, I know! It’s a great city. I love this place.
Where are you? What neighborhood do you live in?
I live in north Austin, around the Metric area. Sort of the seedy, north side of town.
I know it! Are you next to buildings where, like, maybe it’s an abandoned tech firm that’s now doing weird porn, but hopefully not?
Yes! That’s exactly where I live.
I know it. But oddly awesome Thai and Mexican restaurants in strip malls around there.
I’m so excited to talk to you. I loved ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ when I saw it at SXSW this year.
Thanks, man. I appreciate it.
It’s more touching than I thought it would be, considering the plot description, which is all I knew about it going in. How did you get involved with this project?
I first came on as a producer, and for better or for worse, Jay and I are known as the kinds of producers who you go to if you can’t get your movie made for the money you actually wanted, but you wanna get it made anyway. So we’re kind of like the down and dirty, “Let’s just go make this f—er.”
I got it about a year and a half ago with Aubrey [Plaza] and Jake [M. Johnson] attached. It was a different time. The ‘New Girl‘ wasn’t out and ‘Parks and Rec‘ wasn’t the hit that it is now, so we just scrapped together a little bit of money and went and shot it.
It’s based on a real classified ad that a man placed looking for a partner to travel through time. Did you do any personal research to play this sort of guy, or did you approach it more blindly?
It wasn’t so much that I did research, but this character’s very different than I am personally. And he’s also very different from the guys I’ve played before. I have admittedly played a lot of characters that are sort of thinly-veiled versions of myself, and this was definitely not that, in that I don’t believe that I can time travel.
I had to find a way into it, and I guess the way in for me was I just sort of realized that any person who believes that they can time travel cannot have an ounce of cynicism in their body. That was the key, he was all about sincerity for me. And I find that — not to get into social commentary and rant, but — we are a cynical people of 2012, us United States people, and Kenneth is not. I figured to play that wide-eyed, childlike belief, that fist-pumping, “Come with me and we’ll go do some amazing things” — would hopefully be the way to attract a character like Darius.
In the film you spend a lot of time with Aubrey Plaza, whose comedic style I’m quite fond of. What was it like working with her?
I love Plaza. I got the script and I heard she was attached, and I liked her a lot but I was skeptical that she was going to be able to do the emotional stuff ’cause I’d only seen her do deadpan, April Ludgate stuff. We did our first table read and I was immediately excited by what was gonna happen. We had good, natural chemistry, but she did a lot of work on this role and she knew what this meant for her. This was her chance to make or break her career to a certain degree, in terms of her ability to do something other than the eye-rolling, deadpan sarcasm. She starts out like April in the film and becomes something very different. I thought she nailed it.
You’re used to being behind the scenes, writing and directing with your brother. You’ve also been in front of the camera several times as well. What’s the difference for you between the two? When you aren’t involved in the script or directing, is it hard to give up that control, or do you feel more relaxed taking direction? Do you ever have the urge to step in and suggest things?
I was a producer on the film and helped put it together, so I worked a lot in the actor/producer capacity, which is a fun thing for me because I can help set the project up, set the tone of it, and the scope and then just sort of recede into the actor world. I just wanted to make sure that I would have enough time to improvise when I needed to and to get enough takes as an actor to get the scene right, which I think is a big first-time director faux pas, that they spend too much time on the technical and they forget about the performance, but that wasn’t the case here.
I direct a movie every year or two with my brother, I don’t need to direct other people’s films. I’m happy to just come in and be creative as an actor.
Speaking of your brother, is there anything the two of you are currently working on?
Well we have this movie called ‘The Do-Deca Pentathlon’ coming out in July through Fox Searchlight, which is the last micro-budget movie that we made before we made ‘Cyrus’ and ‘Jeff, Who Lives At Home.’ We never got around to finishing it because we were in the studio, but we actually shot it in 2008, and we finally finished editing it. It’s a movie about two out of shape brothers who compete in their own personal 25-event Olympics and try to destroy each other. We’re releasing it in July as a sort of counterpoint to the real Olympics.
I read just this last week that you’ve been cast in Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ based on the SEAL team responsible for bringing down Osama Bin Laden. You have to be excited about that, right?
I am terrifically excited! ‘The Hurt Locker’ was my favorite movie of that year, and I’m excited to do something different as an actor. It’s going to be really crazy and terrifying, but awesome.
When I read that I just thought the pairing of you and Kathryn Bigelow sounded incredible.
Yeah, it’s pretty incredible.
Before we wrap this up, I wanted to ask you about a show I’m a huge fan of — ‘The League.’ When can we expect the next season to start?
We’re gonna start shooting probably the end of July and it usually airs in the late fall. We don’t have an air date yet, but it usually starts around late fall. I know nothing about what we’re going to be doing this year. They’re very secretive this year, which makes me think that it could be something interesting.
‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ premieres this summer.