Jay and Mark Duplass talk about going from rags to riches!
Jay and Mark Duplass bring their distinctive style and vision to the funny and fascinating new film ‘CYRUS’ starring Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener.
The story revolves around the relationships between a divorced man (Reilly) the woman he falls for (Tomei) and her son. Cyrus played by Jonah Hill has an unusually close bond with his mother. ?So when the couple get serious and decide to live together Cyrus is furious and is ruthlessly determined to split them up.
already known in the indie film world for their groundbreaking work, ‘cyrus’ proves that jay and mark duplass are a force to be reckoned with in cinema, the story is both hilarious and heartbreaking with superb acting.
John C. Reilly stars as John, a man who has never gotten over the end of his marriage. He is stuck in a rut and his only friend is his ex-wife (played by Catherine Keener). When he meets Molly, a beautiful single woman, he can hardly believe his luck. The relationship goes well – until John finds out that Molly lives with her grown son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). And Cyrus does not want to share his mother with another man. He likes the way things are in their house and feels threatened by John, – so much so that he sets out to get rid of the man he sees as a rival.
CYRUS feels different from the start. The characters are so convincing that this fictional story seems like real life. Filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass. have their own approach. For example, much of the movie was improvised and was shot in chronological order.
The brothers’ first feature was THE PUFFY CHAIR, which received strong reviews and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards in 2005. Their second film was BAGHEAD in 2008. The Duplass Brothers’ next film is JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, produced by Jason Reitman.
The Duplass Brothers sat down in Los Angeles for the following interview to discuss CYRUS and explain their idiosyncratic methods and philosophy.
Q: What intrigued you about this story?
Mark Duplass: “We always loved the idea of working inside genres and known story archetypes. When we made THE PUFFY CHAIR, it was our take on the road movie. When we made BAGHEAD it was our take on the horror movie. CYRUS is our take on the love triangle movie and it’s just an odd take on it because obviously one leg of the triangle is the woman’s son. But if you look at the movie you will see that this is about two people competing for one person’s affections. There is something interesting about doing a very simple story like this in a very intricate and new way with a lot of different tones and styles. It is a combination of doing something simple and complex at the same time.”
Q: What was it like working on a film with a much larger budget and bigger crew than you have had before?
Jay Duplass: “We were absolutely paranoid and really careful about making sure we didn’t sell out and making sure we were able to create the intimate type of set that we feel is critical for the types of movies we want to make. When we made THE PUFFY CHAIR, we started getting offers of forty and fifty million dollar movies to rewrite and direct but they weren’t the types of movies that Mark and I felt were the right movies for us to be making. It took us five years from the creation of THE PUFFY CHAIR before we felt the situation was right. Fox Searchlight is pretty much the best home for the independent filmmaking spirit. They believed in us and wanted to support us in what we were doing. We just took precautions to make sure the people on set were not going to infringe on the intimacy of what we were doing, so we used closed sets and we hired everyone by hand and made sure we had people who appreciated what we were doing and wanted to help us work in this unconventional way – as opposed to people who might have been grumpy and bump up against us.”
Q: How did you cast Jonah Hill as Cyrus? He said he stalked you and really wanted to work with you.
Mark Duplass: “He is being super sweet by saying that. We had been wanting to work with him for years and he was nice enough to bring a lot of attention to our first movie THE PUFFY CHAIR by talking about it in THE NEW YORK TIMES. We had a lunch meeting set up with him because we were really interested in him for this role. We drove up in our battered Prius and parked it illegally and waited for him for about three minutes. And then he drove up in his battered Prius and we were like: ‘brother where art thou?’ It was like coming home. We had lunch together. We had seen each other for about five minutes socially prior to the lunch but never really sat down and talked before. It was great because he sees the world in the way that Jay and I see it. We’re all jovial and fun to be around in a lot of ways but we are also extremely sensitive and nervous and a little dark. Jonah was interested in expressing that side of himself and we were more than happy to give him that chance.”
Q: What do you like about Jonah as an actor?
Jay Duplass: “We knew Jonah as everyone else did as the affable and hilarious person that he is but we also knew that there was a darker side to him. More specifically, his desire to explore new territory as an actor was great for us. In every level of filmmaking we are always looking to tap into the unknown. That’s why we do improvisation, that’s why we bring the camera to the actors, that’s why literally everything that we are exploring has something to do with the mysterious and what hasn’t yet been shown. We had never seen this side of Jonah on film and we got really excited about it. We were very confident he was going to do something very special and nail it.”
Q: What distinguishes the actors you cast?
Mark Duplass: “John is beautiful and intelligent and strange and lovely. He is a regular dude trying to make his way. We wanted to see that guy as a romantic lead in a movie. When we paired him with Marisa playing Molly, we loved the idea that everyone was going to walk into this movie thinking ‘how the hell is John Reilly going to get Marisa Tomei? How does that play out?’ We find that the character of Molly and the person Marisa Tomei is are people who can see beauty in places where no one else can see them. That is the way Jay and I see the world. The characters of John and Cyrus are strange and they operate in questionable ways in the world, but their motives are so full of love and so pure. Cyrus is just a kid who is scared to lose his mother because it is the only relationship he has. John is a divorcee who is scared he is going to end up alone in the world so he is just looking for love. “
Q: What do you like so much about Marisa Tomei?
Mark Duplass: “She’s a badass. Seriously, that is why we picked her.John and Jonah are obviously really smart and funny. We knew they would be stealing a lot of thunder and needed somebody really strong with a ton of integrity who was going to fight for her character, but also we needed someone who had an amazingly warm and soft side. It is believable when you see the film that Molly would sequester herself with her son with the best intentions, to create a magical artistic existence and that she could subconsciously let it go too far. Marisa was very convincing doing that.”
Q: Catherine Keener has a pivotal role. How did she get involved in the film?
Mark Duplass: “She wanted to work with these actors and she really liked our movie and wanted to be a part of our weird process of making films. I think the story really spoke to her. She liked the relationship between John and her character. It is interesting in terms of the cinema. The history of a husband and his ex wife is often portrayed on screen as a completely combative relationship. It is usually like: ‘he was a total a..hole she was a total bitch’. It is usually very one sided. This is different.”
Jay Duplass: “The concept that his ex wife was his best friend is interesting and it makes it even sadder. It is original. Catherine has a lot of integrity. She only wants to do work that she finds to be illuminating and new on screen, and she took to that concept.”
Q: You worked with the same team as you have in your previous films I believe?
Mark Duplass: “We used the editor and director of photography that we’d used previously. This is how we came up so that was important for us. They are part of our filmmaking family and neither of those people were negotiable in terms of making this movie.”
Q: As co-writers and directors, how do you establish the division of labor?
Jay Duplass: “It is completely mood based. We generally share everything together and we tell the story to each other. We develop it and then we move to note cards. Mark dictates the whole movie into a Dictaphone and that’s a function of working more intuitively and not as much from the intellect. He literally speaks it out in two or three days so it goes very fast. He relies on his body to pace things as opposed to the mind. And then once we get it onto paper, he reads it to me and I’ll do a draft and pass it back to him and we trade drafts from that point onwards. And then on set we direct together. I do shoot the A camera in the film but after every take he and I either look at each other and something happens and we tell the actors something, or we will have a little private conference. If the scene is not working we will stop and walk around the block.”
Mark Duplass: “Usually with Doritos (chips).“
Q: What is it like doing so much improvisation on your films? How much do you have to trust your actors?
Jay Duplass: “They have to have trust in us because they don’t really know where everything is going and it feels like it is out of control sometimes. I guess we do trust our actors but we can always take them in another direction, yet they can’t always take us in another direction.”
Mark Duplass: “Yes I think it is more about trust on their part. They don’t have control over what is going to happen in the movie. We do have control so we have to tell them ‘just believe in us, we’re going to take care of you, we are going to take care of your character’. I know we’re doing a lot of different things here but we know what is best, and they usually follow us.”
Jay Duplass: “But with the type of improvisation we are doing we are not throwing the script to the wind. We are really improving on things within the confines of the scene. These actors are really intelligent and they knew what the crux of each scene was and they knew more importantly what the goal of their character was in that scene. We were doing character based improvisation for the purpose of creating genuine moments on the set. That means you can open things up and say ‘go in that room and have a real interaction’ and we will capture it as documentary filmmakers. That is different because most filmmaking is incredibly controlled. People are walking forward and they are hitting a blue mark. They are turning to the left. They say two words, you cut, you move on to another thing, you capture it in another way. For the type of naturalism that we are trying to convey, our method is the only way we can get it.”
Q: There is a great history of siblings writing and directing together but how can you work and get on well without big arguments?
Mark Duplass: “We get that question a lot. Apparently the world is populated with awful relationships between siblings (laughs). For us it is an obvious match. We share the same sense of humor, the same sensibilities and we have grown up with the same music and movies. We love the same things. So if you want to make a great movie why wouldn’t you have the help of someone you know and love who shares your sensibility?”
Jay Duplass: “Making movies is so hard. Making a really great movie feels almost impossible. If you are at war and you are in the trenches and your sister steps on your foot, you are probably not going to be that worried about that small transgression when there are forty Germans attacking you at that moment. That is what making a movie is like.”
Q: Can you discuss the music in the movie?
Mark Duplass: “Mike (Michael Andrews), who did the music, is a friend of ours and he understands our movies really well. We have been hesitant to use a lot of score in the past because we didn’t want music to take away from the sense of realism. Music sometimes takes you into a dream world. But it seemed like a good fit here because Cyrus is involved in music. Mike really understood how to make the music compliment the tone of the film. Not everyone can do that well but he just gets it.”
Q: How much of this film stems from real life?
Mark Duplass: “A lot of the specific scenes are not from real life. Maybe as we get older we are able to use things from our imagination but still employ them in a style that relates to us or to someone we know. What happens to John at the party (he gets everyone dancing, gets drunk and meets Molly) has never happened to us. We have never seen anyone go through that: turning on a dance song and trying to get a dance party started, but we also do know people who are willing to put themselves on the line for what they believe in. We know people who are not afraid to look like idiots because they are passionate and they are pure. So when we start thinking of those kinds of people, we ask ourselves what they might do in this kind of situation.”
Q: As your career progresses, how you will ensure that you maintain the integrity that is so important to you?
Jay Duplass: “We have been asked that every step along the way. Honestly, it is very easy for Mark and me because we’re terrified of making a bad movie. It took us a very long time to find our voice, the acute perception of human beings and how they treat each other, the awkwardness and intensity and the comedy that comes from that. We have always been obsessed with that and we are always going to stay true to what we uniquely have to offer. We will probably make a bad movie at some point but it will probably be an accident. A lot of things have to come together for a movie to be really good and you’re not necessarily in control of everything.”
Q: Who are your own inspirations and influences?
Mark Duplass: “We were often watching relationship movies as kids like KRAMER VS KRAMER, ORDINARY PEOPLE and ANNIE HALL. We are obsessed with the Coen Brothers and we always have been. When we saw RAISING ARIZONA we loved it. We are totally different from them because they are extremely controlled in their process but we are in awe of them. They haven’t really influenced our style but they’ve inspired us.”
Q: How much difference does a big budget make to your work?
Mark Duplass: “We are hopelessly and helplessly ourselves when it comes to making a movie. You can give us four dollars or you can give us four billion dollars and we are probably going to make a movie mostly in close ups about people’s feelings. That is just what we like doing.”
Q: Returning to CYRUS, ultimately what is the film all about would you say?
Jay Duplass: “It is a new take on the love triangle. It’s a film that blends drama and comedy and a movie that tries to show a side of life that you don’t often see on screen. It shows things that are happening in your bedroom that you imagine are happening in your next door neighbor’s house. It looks at the banal everyday things that happen to regular people. The film shows you are not alone. We know how messed up you are and we celebrate that. We don’t condemn you for it. It is a film with weird awkward moments so you can laugh and cringe at the same time.”
CYRUS ARRIVES IN UK CINEMAS ON 10 SEPTEMBER