Capone has an impromptu chat with CYRUS writers-directors Mark and Jay Duplass!!!
Published at: June 15, 2010, 10:49 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
So there's this movie coming out in New York and L.A. this weekend (and the rest of the U.S. on June 25) called CYRUS, and it could very easily be my favorite film of the year so far. When you hear who is in the film (John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei) and what the basic plot is, you'll probably formulate an idea of what you think the film is and how it plays out. And I'd guess about 95 percent of you would be 100 percent wrong. The secret about CYRUS is that it defies all expectations about modern comedies, romantic comedies, comedies about men who need to grow up and out of the ruts they've established for themselves.
Sure the trailers all show Reilly drunk and signing along to The Human League's "Don't You Want Me?", but that's not what this movie is. It's about watching people who are in desperate need of connection finding the right combination of people in their lives to make that happen. There are big laughs here and there, but believe it or not, CYRUS holds up best as a comedic drama filled with awkward moments, genuine emotion, and a plot that defies expectations.
Co-writers and -directors Jay and Mark Duplass come from the school of filmmaking that doesn't require a script but does require such intense commitment and trust from their actors that something better than a script emerges. If you saw last year's HUMPDAY (which starred Mark), then you have an idea of what I mean. Mark's wife, Katie Aselton (who has a small role in CYRUS) premiered her great film THE FREEBIE at Sundance this year, and it too is a scriptless affair. Some of you may dread the practice of improvising, but none of the films I've seen made in this fashion feature flailing actors searching for a line or a joke. Instead, these films are living, breathing things created with a bare-bones plot outline and enough creative freedom to scare many actors away. They also feel more like life than every other film being made right now in America. Some people call this movement Mumblecore, but since I can understand everything the people in these movies are saying, I will not.
The Duplass Brothers first feature, THE PUFFY CHAIR, starring Mark and Katie, is a spin on road trip movies and was praised for its free-form style by most critics. Their follow-up, BAGHEAD, was a great spin on horror films. Mark is also an accomplished actor in his own right, with roles in such films as HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, TRUE ADOLESCENTS, GREENBERG, and the very funny FX comedy "The League." And now the brothers have made CYRUS, their first films with big-name actors, and everything about it will please you.
This interview was conducted at the SXSW Film Festival, and it wasn't even supposed to happen. I had asked to interview the Austin-based Duplass Brothers during the fest, but was told that they would be doing a press tour closer to CYRUS's release date, with Chicago being one of their destinations. Since I knew I'd get more time with them in Chicago, I said I'd wait. But while I was waiting to interview Jonah Hill and John Reilly, the brothers' schedule opened up, and I was asked if I wanted to step in for 15-20 minutes "just in case" they didn't make it to Chicago. Lucky I said yes, because their schedule did change, and they never made it to the Windy City. Appropriately enough, I had no questions prepared, so this is me improvising with the guys. So please enjoy my talk with Mark and Jay Duplass…
Jay Duplass: Hi. How are you?
Capone: Good. How are you?
Mark Duplass: How are you, man? How are things?
Capone: Good. This is going to be me winging it, because I was not on the schedule, but they said just in case just in case you didn't make it to Chicago, here’s a little window of time. I’ve been a huge admirer of your works for many years.
MD: Thank you!
JD: Thank you so much. You guys have been so good to us, man.
Capone: Well this movie just rocks, and Mark I’m also a huge fan of you as an actor. I was down here last year, and you had a couple of films playing at festival, and I did a huge push on HUMPDAY in Chicago. We got [director] Lynn [Shelton] to come to a screening. It was great.
Capone: Although a lot of critics are familiar with your work, but this is a studio producction with actors most of America will know. I had some expectations going into this that were all defied, from the visual style to the way the story played out, it was really full of surprises.
MD: Yes! Great.
Capone: Let’s start with the visual style, it’s kind of jarring sometimes and deliberately so I'm guessing, because we are dealing with people whose minds aren’t all quite solid. Is that something that you kind of come up with as you are shooting it, or is that something you plan for, or is that in the editing?
JD: It’s just inherent in the way that we have learned to make films that we think are good. It’s more just like it’s a function of we are trying to foster an interaction on set that feels real and is happening in real time, and then we bring the cameras to it secondarily as a documentation would. So a lot of that stuff--really all of it--genuinely is trying to get in there and find that shot and that nuance in the face…
MD: And it’s functional.
JD: We are right up in here and it gets messy at times, but it’s giving… When I’m shooting, I’m basically trying to function as you guys, which is “What do I want to see?” If there’s something going on in the face and I need to be in closer, I go in a little bit, and you get that little extra nuance in it, and it also allows our actors to be as subtle as they can possibly be, because they don’t really have to act it, they just have to think it and we can see it, because I think the human eye can see everything as long as you are providing the view for it.
Capone: There are certain scenes that are so uncomfortable that I had to look away. And most of those scenes involve Jonah [Hill]. I told him when I talked to him; I said, “You made me realize that I do not like guys with close-cropped hair and plaid shirts!” [Everyone Laughs] It's a horrible combination that just means there’s a sociopath under there somewhere. Did you work on that look with him?
MD: We did. We talked a lot about what kind of close he could wear and we wanted to do something that was super subtle and didn’t call too much attention to itself, but we thought that Cyrus sees himself as a professional, and you should deliver yourself clean and cleaned up to society and those kinds of things.
JD: We also wanted him to look different from how Jonah has looked in all other movies. We wanted to show a different side of him that we had seen in him and we were like “God damn, this kid is so smart and he’s got intensity too.” He’s got a lot going on and that’s what we wanted in this character, some kid who… We did not want an overly simplistic rendition of this kid, Jonah’s like… He’s surprisingly intelligent and just like emotionally developed and well thought out.
Capone: For such a seemingly simple story line, my impulse after seeing it was to talk about some of the deeper meanings. One of the things that really hit me into thinking about it is that these are three obviously very fragile people, and they could all benefit from knowing each other in a way that just maybe two of them wouldn’t, but together they kind of complete each other, for lack of a better phrase. It’s sad to watch it fall apart initially, and that’s one of the things that really surprised me about where this thing went, because in different hands this would have been a very different, broader movie.
Capone: Were you sort of searching for that?
MD: It’s not so much an intellectual top down process where we say “This is what we want,” but our instincts are very much aligned with yours in terms of what we want to see and what we like, so when that stuff starts coming out in the improvisation and we start seeing that delicate sensitivity and that fragility and just how strange and special these people are you know. They are odd people. This is like 1978 in South Austin you know, and we love those people and John [C. Reilly], Jonah, and Marisa [Tomei] love those people too, so it was key for us that we are not making fun of them like a big, broad comedy would, but it’s like we can laugh with them and at them a bit. But at the core of this it’s like these are some kind of fucked up lonely people trying to connect, and that was unavoidably exciting to us. As soon as that stuff started coming out, it was like, oh we’re going there!
Capone: In the scene where Jonah is "confessing" at John’s apartment, everyone in the audience is going to think he’s just doing more of what he’s been doing. And when you realize that that’s not what’s happening, it's going to throw people in the best possible way.
JD: That’s awesome.
Capone: Let’s talk about Marisa's character a bit, because the way she treats her son and the way she treats John, there’s not a lot of difference.
MD: Dude, you are getting our movie!
JD: You are our ideal audience!
MD: We did talk about that and we were like “We are not going to do this in any top-heavy way,” but we always just thought it was like “You know what?” We wanted her to be the type of woman who has an incredible son who is very gifted and definitely has some shortcomings, socially and…
JD: Psychologically… Spiritual… Morally…
MD: Exactly. Everything. We always thought that it would be amazing that she would want to give a guy who is kind of similar to her son a shot, you know what I mean? That she would be open to that.
JD: She wants to live in a world where guys like Cyrus can get the girl like Molly.
Capone: Wow, you are setting the bar high for a lot of people. I don’t mean to say that she’s mothering John, it’s just that it’s a very subtle shift from being this affectionate loving mother to being this sort of sexual creature with John.
MD: In our minds when we started creating this story, it was “What do you do as a male suitor, when the woman that you are interested in is getting everything she needs in life from someone else except sex? How do you find your place?”
JD: And also how funny is that, to do that to a guy and make the guy be like “But I want more emotionally!”
MD: “I need more than just sex!”
JD:And who better to pull that off than John?
Capone: He’s great. I love the idea of improvisation not just being used for comedy purposes, as most people are familiar with, but to get to some sort of dramatic, emotional truth. And watching Jonah, who I don’t think has ever done anything like that before, he’s so good at it, he really pulls it off. Is that what you are always doing? Do you usually allow that much freedom?
JD: We want to give it, if they are willing to take it basically.
MD: And we are always guiding as things go, but we find that particularly towards the end of the shoot, since we are shooting in order…
Capone: Oh, I didn’t know that.
MD: Yeah, we are shooting in script order, so the story has been told, they know exactly what their characters have gone through, they are in the emotional state, their instincts have been honed, so they are dead on. We can let them loose in the scene and eighty percent of the that stuff that they are doing is going to be great and then we just tailor it from there.
JD: I mean and for us it’s just like we feel like those moments are so important and they are so hard to get in traditional shooting scenarios, because in a traditional shooting scenario, what you are saying is “This is what you need to do emotionally, good luck.” What we try to say is “You know what’s happened and you’ve experienced it, now I want you guys to really talk about it and what it means to you at the core of your being, and we are willing to accept whatever that turns into.” We will definitely try different strategies if we want to get to a deeper level of emotionality, but there’s such a difference between people who are trying get to a place and people who…
MD: Fall into it.
JD: Or have lived it and it’s just unavoidable. That’s what we are looking for, that inevitability of that emotion coming.
Capone: Were you at all nervous about working for a studio and working with known actors?
Capone: Were you really? Were you afraid you were losing your control of whatever makes you unique?
MD: Afraid we would accidentally sellout,
JD: Afraid of making a bad movie!
Capone: You should be afraid of that no matter what,
MD: Just afraid that slowly over time you lose your vision, because you got pressured and you didn’t even realize it and you made a stinker without even knowing it. Or afraid that we would lose the anonymity and intimacy that we get from our movies by casting recognizable people, that was a concern. Afraid that a studio, as friendly as Fox Searchlight was and as indie friendly as they are, that they might halfway through the movie be like “No, we need to clean this shit up, get a tripod!” So we were scared you know, yeah.
JD: Or “Get the camera operator a tranquilizer or something” “Calm that dude down!”
MD: Totally. We had a lot of fears ad we worked very very hard to make sure that we set the tone right before day one of shooting and let everybody know what we are going to be doing and you could be loose in certain places, but there are some places we had to be really tenacious.
Capone: I'll admit, when I first heard about the film and who was in it, I remember thinking “Oh boy, what’s going on here?”
JD: “Bye-bye Duplass Brothers!” [laughs]
Capone: Mot that it’s unfathomable, but with PUFFY CHAIR and BAGHEAD, which people really dug, it’s not out of the question that some known people would be interested in working with you. But you have made Hollywood come to you instead of you going to Hollywood.
MD: So far!
JD: [Laughs] So far, yeah.
MD: Now we will see if CYRUS makes any movie. Let’s do another one.
Capone: I’ve already put in my request, when you guys come through I’m going to pull an audience together to see the film with you two.
[A Fox Searchlight representative walks in “He does these great screenings and he fills them with great people or the Q&A.”]
MD: Oh thank you.
JD: Thank you for your support!
Capone: Thank you guys. Mark, I just saw you do a great job in GREENBERG a couple of weeks ago, and I watch "The League" religiously. Is that coming back?
MD: Yeah. We are shooting this summer with 13 episodes.
Capone: That’s awesome. Anyway, hopefully we will see you in Chicago this summer.
JD: Thank you.
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