Mark Duplass May Have Found The First Great Sister Directing Team

Photo: Everett Collection/REX USA.
If you're not familiar with Mark Duplass, just know that he's the busiest man in showbiz. Along with his brother Jay, Duplass was a pioneer in the low-budget, independent film movement now known as mumblecore. The two continue to make and produce movies as a team, but they've also ventured into television both in front of and behind the camera. Mark stars on The League, while Jay plays Josh Pfefferman on Transparent, and they both have recurring roles as midwives on The Mindy Project. The two helm Togetherness on HBO. The Duplass brothers are also major champions of independent film, traveling to Sundance and other indie festivals every year to proselytize about the importance of low-budget storytelling. What we're really trying to say here is that Mark Duplass is a ridiculously busy guy.  Despite his myriad commitments, Duplass somehow found time to squeeze in a starring role in a horror film opening today called The Lazarus Effect, with Olivia Wilde and Donald Glover. He had the most Mark Duplass reasons ever for doing so, of course, which he shared during a recent phone interview. While we had him, though, we also got to pick his brain about a few more things that have been bugging us about the gender inequality in the directing world. Read on to hear his ingenious solution to the lack of sister directing teams in Hollywood. It's all sorts of problem-solving.  Why a horror movie?
"Well, a little bit of that is 'why not?' A little bit of it is that I love [producer] Jason Blum. We're close friends, and while we make very different kinds of movies, we're very spiritually aligned in our approach to production and making low-budget things. I really love the filmmaker David Gelb, who directed this fantastic documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and I felt like if I'm going to do a horror movie, I should do one directed by the guy who made a really slow, meditative food documentary." Do you think that changed his approach to directing a scary movie?
"Definitely. He's also a really savvy commercial director and trailer editor, so it's not like he doesn't know what he's doing on that front. But, he had a sensitivity to my desire and Olivia's desire — and the rest of the cast's desire — to put in some ideally more naturalistic performances. We're realistic. We're not going to turn it into a Woody Allen movie, but we wanted to humanize the characters a little bit and make them feel less like classic research group nerds or, even worse, people who look like supermodels leading a research group. The character of Frank — he should look like me. He shouldn't be a hottie biscotti and run really fast when he's being chased by the bad person."
Photo: Courtesy of Relativity Media.
The Lazarus Effect is kind of a retelling of Frankenstein with a female monster. Do you think that changes anything?
"There's definitely a Frankenstein element, and we definitely have a female monster here. What I think is truly unique about this story is that it's directed by a guy that doesn't know horror films. The guy leading this thing has, to be frank, an ignorance of the horror form that makes it unique. And, all of us performers had never been in horror movies. Evan [Peters] was in American Horror Story, but it's not like we're students of the genre. There's something in that — non-horror people making a horror movie — that makes it interesting." What do you think are the scariest elements: Things that pop up out of nowhere or the fact that we keep journeying into Olivia's character's hellscape?
"For people who are true horror genre fans who want to have the shit scared out of them, they'll get that. But, there's also another element to the movie, which is this sort of slow doom that hangs over everything...You've got people confined in a small space, and there's a lurking monster. It's not a question of who's going to die, it's a question of how and when. That classic sort of Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians structure is really fun to me."
Photo: Courtesy of Relativity Media.
What was the vibe like on set?
"Here's the thing that happens on horror movies: When you're off-camera, all you want to do is make fart jokes and loosen everything up because you've been dealing with such serious subject matter. It was very surreal to have Olivia in her garb and makeup telling ridiculous stories about our groups of friends and whatnot. It's only a set like The League — where the subject matter is SO not serious — that when you're actually off-camera you end up talking about serious things. This movie wasn't really sparking debates about the afterlife so much as it was just us telling stupid stories to each other." When did you even have time to shoot this movie?
"I'm not gonna lie; it was shoehorned into late summer 2013. I was excited to do it, so we made it work." We're always discussing how there are a ton of brother directing teams, but there aren't really any sister ones. Why not?
"In that I have no sisters, and I'm not a woman, it's hard for me to specifically speak to that. I guess what I would say is that, you know, there are a lot more male filmmakers in general than female filmmakers. That's kind of a shame, but I do think things are changing, especially in the independent film world. I see more and more female filmmakers at Sundance every year, which is good. I have two daughters, so hopefully the Duplass sisters will rise in the next 20 years." Your wife [Katie Aselton] directs; how did she get into it?
"She came up with us, making The Puffy Chair, and she helped me produce little movies we made back then. She has that filmmaker bug. We came at it from the same approach: Nobody's going to hire us unless we make something, so let's just make it. We really became independent out of desperation and no other options." Would you ever make a horror film?
"I directed a movie called Baghead a view years ago that's kind of a quasi-horror film. I think I'm more interested in people and relationships. Ultimately, I would be less interested in the monster and who he's going to bite, and more about how he's feeling and why he wants to bite someone. That kind of makes me a bad horror film director." It could be an introspective horror film. The monster self-examines.
"Yeah, exactly. When the monster becomes self-aware and loses his therapist, what is he going to do?"
The Lazarus Effect is in theaters now.

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