Mark Duplass, Hollywood writer-director-producer-actor, calls from a 917 number. He's a "post-New Yorker," he explains, "hanging on to 917 to retain my indie cred." Hard to imagine that Duplass, hero to a generation of indie filmmakers, would need help hanging on. But then again: "I'm a dad. I'm part of studio movies now. The skinny jeans don't fit so well." (He's also part of TV now, as an ensemble member on FX's The League.)
Duplass began as, and in some ways still is, the independent's independent. He and his closest collaborator, his brother Jay, got their break when their first feature, The Puffy Chair, was a Sundance hit. They made their first studio film, Cyrus, in 2010, and have alternated working in the big leagues and independents ever since.
"Jay and I made sure we maintained the intimacy and the family vibe of filmmaking," Duplass says of Cyrus. "Even though there were 80 crew members outside the house, it was just me, Jay and a cameraman with the actors inside, doing our thing." That intimacy has endeared the brothers to actors, who line up to work with them. (Their latest, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, stars Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon.)
He ascribes his feel for scripts to the osmotic power of HBO. "My biggest strength is linked to an inherent understanding of story, and that's because I sat in front of HBO for 10 years straight, from ages five to 15, watching movies like Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie's Choice and Gandhi and whatever came on. It got me very into adult relationship-type stuff at a very young age."
It's "adult relationship-type stuff," often with a cracked comic spin, that's the Duplass forte. It sums up the three films he took to Sundance in January: Your Sister's Sister and Safety Not Guaranteed, which he produced and stars in; and Black Rock, a "Deliverance-style girls' thriller" that he wrote for his wife, actress and director Katie Aselton. But that's not to say he and Jay wouldn't consider other types. "I'd never say never at this point," Duplass says. "We love all kinds of movies. I'm interested in a Spider-Man movie where he gets his feelings hurt."