IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Duplass Talks 'Tammy' and His Upcoming HBO Series 'Togetherness'

Sunday, 29 June 2014 18:45 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Duplass Talks 'Tammy' and His Upcoming HBO Series 'Togetherness'

Mark Duplass is not just a talented director, writer and producer, but he is also a very popular and versatile actor. 

Duplass is best known for writing and directing critically acclaimed films with his brother Jay like Baghead, Cyrus, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and The Do-Deca-Pentathion. However, he has now accumulated an impressive resume of acting work in such movies as Your Sister’s Sister, Safety Not Guaranteed, Darling Companion, People Like Us, and Zero Dark Thirty, not to mention his popular TV series The League. But the filmmaker can now been seen acting on the big screen once again in the film Tammy, which stars Academy Award-nominee Melissa McCarthy (Identity Thief) and opens in theaters on July 2nd. 

In the new movie, after losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, Tammy (McCarthy) hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother (Academy Award-winner Susan Sarandon). Along the way Tammy meets Bobby (Duplass), a single man taking care of his alcoholic father (Gary Cole). In addition to McCarthy, SarandonDuplass, and Cole, the film features Allison Janney (The Way Way Back), Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), Ben Falcone (Bridesmaids), Sandra Oh (Sideways), and Academy Award-winners Nat Faxon (The Descendants), and Kathy Bates (Misery). Tammy marks actor Ben Falcone’s directorial debut, and he also co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Melissa McCarthy

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Mark Duplass about his work on Tammy, as well as his upcoming HBO Series Togetherness. The actor and filmmaker discussed his new movie, how he got the job, his character’s motivations, working with Melissa McCarthy, meeting Gary Cole, reuniting with Susan Sarandon, watching first time director Ben Falcone, how he separates his director side from his acting side, his upcoming HBO series Togetherness, making a TV show with his brother, and why he likes collaborating with HBO.

Here is what Mark Duplass had to say about Tammy and Togetherness:

IAR: To begin with, how did you get involved with Tammy? Did you already know Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy and did they ask you to join the project?

Mark Duplass: I was doing Jimmy Kimmel Live! one night and she was the first guest. I was the second guest and I really wanted to meet her. I didn’t know that she knew who the hell I was. She ended up barging into my dressing room and gushing about how she was a fan of Cyrus, Jeff Lives at Home and the other stuff I’ve made. She was like, “Look, I’m making this movie. It’s me doing what I do, but I’m trying to put some relationships and heart into it too. Do you want to play a love interest of mine in this?” I was like first of all, do we get to make out because that’s important? No I’m kidding. So she invited me into it and it was really surprising and awesome. 

Melissa McCarthy is a comedic force, so what is she like to work with on set? 

Duplass: Yeah, well you’ve seen the movie. A lot of what I’m doing with her is more of the sweetness at the heart of the movie and less digging for jokes. We actually improvised a ton, but the improvisation was mostly geared toward finding out what’s the connection between Bobby and Tammy? That was cool to kind of create that stuff together. Melissa, Ben and I share a love of what I guess we would call the loveable losers, that profile of someone who’s big on heart, but maybe not so big on smarts. Most of my time and attention on set was less about how do we find a joke, but more about how do we find the heart. 

When Bobby meets Tammy, she is at a very low point in her life. What did you decide was the motivation behind Bobby’s attraction to Tammy?

Duplass: The best way I can describe it is … have you ever seen a documentary called American Movie? Think about Mark Borchardt. The guy’s got like three illegitimate kids, he’s not a great friend to anyone, but he’s got this big dream and he believes that his life can be great. When you have that lack of cynicism, when you have that lack of sarcasm, you are just dreaming big, and you’ve got a big thumping heart, that to me, that’s like Rocky. That’s what I love. That is what we ultimately decided would be the connection for Bobby and Tammy. I think that’s not only what Bobby can see in her, but what I think hopefully audiences will see in her as well. It’s a funny movie and it is Melissa doing what she does well. Hopefully there’s some sweetness in there too. 

Gary Cole is one of the most versatile actors working in films or on television, and he plays your father in Tammy. What was it like working with him?

Duplass: He was one of the ones I was most intimidated to meet because that guy can kind of do everything. You’ve seen him in his former acting life as a dramatic actor, and a very solid one, and then he comes out in Office Space and starts killing it in comedies. So I was presently surprised to find out he’s a very down to Earth guy that I could just hang out and shoot the shit with. He’s great. He’s like a family guy and a good dad. I love that dude. 

In the movie, the roles between Bobby and his father seemed to be in reverse, where Bobby is really the authority figure and caretaker to his own dad. Was that the type of relationship that you and Cole wanted to display?

Duplass: Absolutely. I think everyone who’s got an older parent experiences a certain reversal when you realize, oh shit, it’s my turn to start taking care of them. I think Bobby’s a little put out by the fact that he has to do a lot of dirty cleanup with his dad. I think that’s also part of the attraction to Tammy. Bobby is good at projects. He’s good at taking care of people, but the good thing about Tammy is that she’s maybe someone who could actually turn it around. 

You worked with Susan Sarandon as a director on Jeff, Who Lives at Home, but what was it like for you working with her on Tammy as a fellow actor?

Duplass: It was great. My entire working relationship with Susan was just directing her in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. So we got to be on camera together, which was super-fun and a lot less stressful for me. Because it’s stressful as shit directing Susan Sarandon when you know she’s won an Oscar. It’s more laidback trying to be her peer than to be her leader. Anybody who’s met her knows that there is an indomitable spirit on that woman. She lives like someone a third of her age and it’s really infectious to be around. 

As a director yourself, what was it like working with Ben Falcone on his first movie as a filmmaker? Did you notice any similarities or differences between his style as a director and yours?

Duplass: Ben avoided one of the mistakes I made when I was directing my first movie, which is trying to act overly confident and have an answer for everything even though you don’t because you don’t want everyone to know that you’re a fraud. I did a lot of that on my first movie. He was very good about collaborating. He was very good about saying that sometimes he didn’t know what was best. He would say, “What do you guys think?” In my opinion, that’s a director who’s confident. He didn’t seem like a first timer. He had his feet under him, and he was good. 

Peter Bogdanovich once told me that it’s hard for him to separate acting from director. Do you find it difficult as well, or is it easy for you to separate the two professions when you are performing in someone else’s project?

Duplass: No, I’m pretty good at separating it because I want to separate it. Directing a movie is like having children, there’s nothing more rewarding, but nothing more stressful. Acting in a movie is like being that fun uncle who comes in and drops the Oreos on the kids, parties for two hours and then goes home. That’s what I’m looking for in my acting world. The last thing I want to do is take any more responsibility. I like to just enjoy myself. 

When I was watching Tammy and I saw you on screen, I couldn’t help thinking about your own movies as a filmmaker and that this project could have easily been a Duplass brothers film, it just would’ve been a lot darker. Did that ever cross your mind when you were making this movie? 

Duplass: No, it’s funny because Melissa and Ben talked to me about how they liked Cyrus in particular. How they liked the tone of my movies and how they’re funny, but how they also try to have this darkness and this heart to them. I think that was part of why they brought me into this movie. I think you can absolutely make some parallels from a movie like Tammy to Cyrus, where you’ve got this really questionable lead character in your movie and you’re asking your audiences to have fun with them. However, Cyrus was meant to go out on four screens and Tammy is meant to go out on 3,000 screens. So there’s a difference, but they do share some DNA. 

Finally, you and your brother are directing a new series for HBO. How is that going?

Duplass: Great. Yeah, my brother and I are making the first season of our first TV show for HBO called Togetherness. It’s really our baby. Instead of making a movie this year, this is what we made. We wrote and directed eight episodes and we’re editing them right now. We’ll be airing pretty soon. 

What’s it been like making a TV series with your brother as apposed to another film?

Duplass: It’s incredible. I got a huge education about long form narrative structure. That was great, and HBO was helpful with that. But I’ve also realized the types of human interactions I’m interested in, which is studying the epically small dynamics between human beings, those tiny, little, funny, sad, hilarious, and dramatic things. So having five hours to do that instead of ninety minutes is better for me because I get to take longer and really take my time. I’m really digging the form so far.

HBO has an incredible reputation of collaborating creatively with filmmakers and producers. What’s the experience of working with HBO been like for you?

Duplass: They’re fantastic. They’re motto is, “You know how to make your art better than we do so we’re just going to leave you alone.” Honestly, what advice they have offered us has been helpful in terms of things that we didn’t quite understand yet about the television form because we’re new to it. It’s been pretty pitch perfect. They basically pitched in when they felt like they had things to add about the nature of television form, which Jay and I were ignorant of coming into it. So it was great!      

Tammy opens in theaters on July 2nd. 

Togetherness is scheduled to air on HBO in 2014. 

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