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Mark Duplass Does Not Want to Be a Superhero (Unless He’s Asked)

Mark Duplass
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Right before interviewing Mark Duplass, I was asked not to discuss the plot of his new film, which, yes, makes an interview about a movie decidedly more difficult. That movie, ‘The One I Love,’ in which he co-stars with Elisabeth Moss as a married couple and that’s about all that can be said without revealing the twist (except that there is a twist), premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews. (I decided to agree to this request because, really what are the stakes here? It wasn’t like I was being asked to ignore some sort of criminal allegation or an anticipated upcoming project.) Anyway, with pretty much every question I had planned now rendered moot, I, instead, decided to just wing it and see what happened.

Duplass is an interesting fellow. It’s not really accurate to describe him as “famous” — even he admits that he can walk around unbothered pretty much everywhere, and that’s exactly the way he likes it. It was only in ‘Tammy‘ — a movie that he has a lot of opinions on why it didn’t work — did he start to feel the pangs of fame. And he didn’t like that feeling one bit and wants no part of your ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ or Marvel or ‘Star Wars‘ type movies. Well … that is unless, of course, someone actually asked him to do one of those types of movies.

I once co-wrote a piece that you and Chris Messina are the busiest people in Hollywood. I mention this because I’ve seen you bring this piece up in other interviews.

Yeah, I think it was more serendipity that year — a lot had lined up for us that year. We’ll both be slowing a little bit, this year I’m on ‘The League’ and I shot my HBO show, ‘Togetherness,’ so there’s a lot of TV time this year.

I’ve been warned not to discuss the plot of ‘The One I Love.’

Like strictly warned? Like ruler on the wrists?

There is a twist, but it happens so early in the movie.

There’s plenty of stuff to talk about. I guess the way I feel, I thought the movie would play at Sundance and we would try to hold the plot twist until then — and then everybody would write about it and it would be done. But something interesting happened, some of the reviews came out and were like, “I’m not going to say anything. I didn’t know anything about it and I had a good experience that way.” And, look, who the fuck knows what makes anybody want to see a movie anymore?

Robots.

Robots maybe. But not always robots!

Talking raccoons.

Talking raccoons? No, I don’t think that did it. I think it was a two-syllable word that starts with “M” that really helps people get them into the movie theater.

We can say that word, I didn’t get a warning against talking about that.

Marvel! But in regards to a movie like ‘The One I Love,’ I know that the best experience watching this movie is when you don’t know what that is and I’ll try to protect that.

To play devil’s advocate, at Sundance people are seeing movies no matter what. It’s not like I’m thinking, Should I see ‘The One I Love’ or go bowling? In this situation, perhaps knowing the plot would entice someone not to bowl that night?

There are two routes: To tell everyone what the twist of the movie is so they can understand that there’s something special and unique about it, so maybe more people will come see the movie because of that. Or you withhold that information and potentially risk not getting more people into the movie, but the ones that do come will have a better experience. Easy choice for me: withhold the information and I will take fewer viewers who have a more pleasurable experience.

You made some interesting comments on ‘Tammy’ and the tug-of-war between what that movie was supposed to be.

I’ll just say that I had so much fucking fun making that movie. So, I wasn’t really going crazy about toeing the line with tone in my performance and really stressing out about that. I was there to have fun with some of the sweetest people I know — and they are so sweet and amazing. I honestly sympathize — and I’m not just saying this — I sympathize with everyone involved, because I waged a similar battle with ‘Cyrus.’ Which was an indie movie at a studio that saw inside of that — we had Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly, this could be a bang up comedy here! And I was trying to make this little sensitive movie. And ‘Tammy,’ I don’t know why people keep calling it a flop, it’s made over $100 million and it was made for $13 million. Like, that movie is a huge financial success. Critically, people didn’t like it.

People didn’t know what to make of it, especially since it came out on July 4 weekend.

I wasn’t privy to the inner workings of that movie, but I see Warner Bros. and New Line 100 percent looking at that and being just like, “We have Melissa McCarthy, our biggest movie star, she’s fucking hilarious, this is a totally marketable road trip comedy, we should Fourth of July this fucking movie and let’s blow it up!” And I totally see Melissa and Ben [Falcone] being like, “Melissa is finally a huge movie star, we now have the opportunity to make our sensitive, cool movie at a studio. So, let’s do it.” And I see how that can collide in an odd way.

Why not go the Mark Duplass route and just make it themselves?

The truth is, I don’t know them that well. They are friends of mine insofar as we had a great time and I had a blast on set together, but what their intentions were, I can’t speak to. But, I can very much sympathize with getting caught up in what your movie can be and both parties being basically equally a little bit at odds with what they think the movie should be. And being totally justified in what they want. Nobody is wrong there. Sometimes movies get caught in the middle, it happens all the time.

I don’t feel it’s happened to you very often. You’ve circumvented this somehow.

Well, you’ve got to realize there’s a big difference between me and Melissa McCarthy. I am not a financial commodity and I’ve never been a financial commodity.

But I’ve seen “financial commodities” do the “one for them, one for me” trick.

But I see your point, as an actor there’s certainly the whole “I’m going to do this huge movie and then I’m going to make my indie thing.” The way that I have been able to keep my corner of the sandbox clean, if you will, and be able to do what I want to do is that I do things for a price. I’ve never lost money on a movie. No one is ever risking a lot of money on me. And they’ll never say it directly to my face, but everyone, when they’re making a piece of art with me, is thinking, He’s going to bring prestige to my studio and he’s a lottery ticket. The DNA of what it is will never lose money on DVD and VOD if it stinks, and if it’s great we’ll have an Academy contender. It’s the safest bet in the world.

Would you ever want to be a financial commodity?

I look at Chris Pratt and what he’s going through right now and it’s super exciting to me to see this male movie star who’s got a sense of humor, his timing is great, he’s good looking, but he’s not drop-dead gorgeous — he’s kind of Harrison Ford in that way. And I’m like, this is fucking awesome. We need this guy right now. And I think there was a minute where I thought, I might try to do this. I might take a run at this and be like the Paul Rudd or what Pratt has become.

When was this?

This was last year. And then the little taste I got of losing my anonymity from the two weeks ‘Tammy’ was on billboards scared the shit out of me. And I was like, nothing is worth losing my public privacy and I will specifically will not do it. Being the lead in ‘The One I Love’? Great. Twenty minutes in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’? Great. Being the lead of a ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and losing my ability to walk thorough a city with my children?

If you walked outside right now?

Golden. If I go to a film festival, I’m a celebrity. Fine. That’s fine. That’s my world. It was an interesting revelation: Not only do I not want that, I don’t think I could handle that. I am a private person.

Is that the last time we’ll see you in a bigger studio movie?

No, because ‘Tammy” was big for like three weeks, then it slimmed down again.

What if it hadn’t slimmed down? What if ‘Tammy’ was still number one at the box office and you’re not walking around the city undisturbed any longer?

I’d be super bummed out and freaked out, so I’m going to be more cautious about that, for sure. But I do believe me being in a big movie for 20 minutes is still something OK. I’m talking more specifically about…

‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’

No way. No way.

Really? If Marvel came to you right now and asked you to headline a movie?

That’s a really tough question. I would have a hell of a hard time saying no and it would be a big discussion with my wife and my parents.

“We want you to play Han Solo in a ‘Star Wars’ spinoff.”

I would be like, “Fuck! Why did you offer that to me! I had it all figured out until you just offered that to me! Fuck!”

And then you’ll take it and I’ll call bullshit on you.

I’ll be complaining to you with sunglasses on and you’ll be like, “You told me you didn’t want this.”

“You used to be so down to Earth.”

“So cool.”

“Now you’re on every billboard.”

“Who the fuck are you? What do you want? Your five minutes are up, bro.”

“But I wrote that article how you and Chris Messina were the hardest working guys in Hollywood?”

“Who’s Chris Messina?”

Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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