IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Duplass Talks ‘The Lazarus Effect’

Tuesday, 24 February 2015 00:00 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Duplass Talks ‘The Lazarus Effect’

Acclaimed director, writer and producer Mark Duplass is also a very accomplished 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, Zero Dark Thirty, The One I Love, and Tammy, not to mention his popular FX show The League and the new HBO series Togetherness. But the successful filmmaker can now been seen acting on the big screen once again playing the lead in the new horror film The Lazarus Effect, which also stars Olivia Wilde and opens in theaters on February 27th. 

In the new movie, a group of medical students discover a way to bring dead animals back to life. But when Zoe (Olivia Wilde) accidentally dies, her husband Frank (Duplass) forces the group to help bring his wife back from the dead. While the experiment is successful, things become dangerous when they realize that Zoe’s personality has been altered. In addition to Duplass and Wilde, the film also stars Donald Glover (The To Do List), Sarah Bolger (In America), and Even Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past). The Lazarus Effect was produced by Jason Blum (Whiplash), and directed by documentary filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi).

I recently had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with ROGUE regular Mark Duplass to talk about his work on The Lazarus Effect. The actor and filmmaker discussed his new movie, its similarities to other films, how he got involved with the project, appearing in a horror movie, his friendship with producer Jason Blum, working with director David Gelb, faith vs. science, making the dialogue organic, playing the lead, and why he is nervous to become a movie star. 

Here is what Mark Duplass had to say about The Lazarus Effect:

IAR: To begin with, how did you get involved with The Lazarus Effect?

Mark Duplass: (Producer) Jason Blum is a friend and we made this little horror movie called Creep together, which will come out later this year. I directed a movie called Baghead in 2008 and that flirts with the horror genre. I really like it and I like experimenting with genres. You can even see it in The One I Love, getting out the sci-fi genre a little bit. Jason and I talked about me being the lead in one of his movies. I said, let’s find the right one because I see some value in doing a wide release horror movie. I definitely don’t want to make something that’s totally straight ahead. I’d like to find something interesting too. This was interesting to me because I think the script in a lot of ways is straight ahead and fits the honor genre. But then with this type of cast, which is more of like a naturalistic cast combined with David (Gelb) being a documentary food director was like, this could be an interesting alchemy.  

Did you think that those were all interesting choices that would work well together, or did you feel like it would just be a fun experiment?

Duplass: You never know. It’s certainly risky to have a guy like David helm a movie like this. It’s certainly risky to hire a bunch of performers who are going say, “I’m not saying that line. That’s a stupid line.” But that’s interesting to me. It’s like lets see what we can come up with. By no means was I going into this thinking this is going to be a fucking home run. It was like let’s take a chance at this. It’s low budget, it’s a few weeks of shooting, and if it works it could be really cool. If it doesn’t work then it’s no big deal. I approach a lot of stuff like that. 

Did the producers think that it was less risky hiring David Gelb to direct his first narrative film since you would be playing the lead and are obviously a seasoned director in your own right?

Duplass: I can’t really speak to that. But once I met with David I felt pretty confident. He knew what he was doing. He’s also a commercial director and he edits a lot. He’s one of our premiere trailer editors. While I knew he did documentaries well, I also knew that he could handle the efficient and slick storytelling that is required for this. So I was less worried about that. I can’t speak to how Jason was feeling about it, but I definitely know what our partnership is like, and Jason and I see the industry in a very similar way. While I make more sensitive dramedies and he makes horror movies, our approach philosophically is incredibly similar. We have a kinship. I think that the reason he wanted me in one of his movies was less about him liking me as an actor, and more about the fact that I understand his model and am in sync with him. So he thought I’d be a good asset to the whole team. 

The Lazarus Effect reminded me of several different classic films including Flatliners, Alien, Pet Cemetery, and even more recently Lucy. Could you talk about the idea of blending those different concepts together to make a new and completely different movie?

Duplass: I think that it wasn’t a conscious decision on our part to say we should feel like this, this, this, and this. When you read the script the first idea you have is Flatliners because of the raising people from the dead. But beyond that I would say the thing that determined the tone of the film for me, was as the horror film genre has escalated in its grotesqueness and its wildly aggrandized sense of what it needs to be, there was room for a movie to be relevant that was quiet, eerie and mostly takes place in one set. Not to be ridiculous about it, but if you look at it like the jazz genre through the ‘40s and ‘50s it got louder and crazier, and then Miles Davis in 1959 made Kind of Blue and reset the whole thing. So there was an element of us that was like, let’s do the opposite. Let’s do less gore, and just go into something a little more interesting. 

Usually in a horror film when you are dealing with people coming back from the dead, it is because of one of two reasons. Either it has to do with religion and a demon or the devil has brought someone back from the dead, or it’s science that is responsible for raising the dead. But in The Lazarus Effect it’s both, can you talk about adding that unique twist on the genre to this film?

Duplass: We used my character and Olivia’s character to embody two different sides of that equation and put them in a romantic relationship. I thought it was a smart plot device and good writing on their part. I realized that this was a really straight ahead smart horror script. It’s a Blumhouse movie, and they know how to deliver a horror movie. All these things are in line to make this a good, big movie. My job was to try and govern these performances and make it feel as naturalistic as we can. It’s never going to be as naturalistic as a Woody Allen movie just because there are things you have to do and you have to deliver. There are stupid lines that must be said to move the plot forward and my job, as I saw it, was to mitigate that as much as possible and make it feel as normal as possible so you can connect to the world.

As an actor, how do you do that? If you have a “horror film line” to deliver, and it’s plot driven exposition that you have to say it, how do you find a way of making it sound real and organic?

Duplass: What I want to do is not be that actor who is just like, fuck you I’m not saying it because that is just a pain in the ass and not helpful. My job is to say, this is not working and we all know it. Let’s be honest about it and find the best version we can to do this in a more subtle naturalistic way. I’d say ninety percent of the time we’re able to improve that. It’s about finding that balance between a little bit of naturalism and a little bit of humanism, but still delivering a movie that can go out big. That was fun for me.

What was it like for you to play the lead in a genre film like The Lazarus Effect?

Duplass: It was totally fun, totally exciting and new. I had that conversation with Jason Blum a while back. He said, “Let’s put you in one of these roles. Let’s try it.” We talked about doing different kinds of movies, but my schedule was crazy and I’m never available. This one was already slotted in, and then again it was David who was really exciting to me. I wouldn’t say I was overly confident about my ability to do it, but I would say I had a take on it. I thought, if I’m going to do this, then I’m going to try and make it feel less like that scientist who happens to be a gorgeous and buff. I am going to be a little more like an every man. My hair is not going to be perfect and I’m not going to be super ripped. I wanted to see what a true every man would feel like in this film and that was interesting to me. 

Would you consider playing the lead in a genre film again at some point?

Duplass: It is an interesting time because speaking super candidly movies like Guardians of the Galaxy or Jurassic World are casting guys like Chris Pratt now. Technically speaking for the (Paul) Rudds and the (Chris) Pratts of the world, this is our time. Ten years ago I could have never been the lead in one of these movies. But it’s come back around now and I can actually be in these things. Part of the time my schedule is so tight that I don’t have time to go out for three months and do one of those movies, but it definitely comes up now. It’s wild! I get phone calls now and I’m like, am I really going to be in this kind of movie? I don’t know what the answer to that is because honestly I’m protective of my privacy and my family.    

Finally, are you nervous to reach that kind of “super star” success in your career?

Duplass: I am nervous about that. Even to a small degree just being in Tammy was scary because my privacy starts to go away. I can still walk around Los Angeles right now and I’m pretty good with that. A bunch of people will come talk to me with respect for The League, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a lead in Guardians of the Galaxy. That is scary to me.  

The Lazarus Effect opens in theaters on February 27th.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The Lazarus Effect was produced by Relativity Media, iamROGUE's parent company. 

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