Mark Duplass, indie filmmaker and sitcom all-star (The League, The Mindy Project), knows what it’s like to make movies with someone you love. He writes and directs movies with his older brother, Jay (Cyrus), and he also collaborates with his League co-star and wife, Katie Aselton (Black Rock). So he was familiar with the challenge that faced Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, who combined to write, direct, produce, and star in Tammy, the road comedy co-starring Susan Sarandon that opens July 2.
The 37-year-old actor, who plays McCarthy’s romantic interest, Bobby, in the film, gave EW his three tips for making a movie and marriage work, and then discussed his upcoming HBO series in a lengthy Q&A.
1. Lots and lots of PDA.
“You have to make out and have sex in public, and show people who’s boss. That’s crucial—and [Ben and Melissa] did quite a bit of that, to be honest with you.”
2. When it comes to casting the Girl or Guy, go ugly.
“The second thing—this is maybe even more important than the first—is casting someone who is less attractive to you than [your actual spouse] to be the love interest. Ben was not threatened at all [by me]. There was a reason Brad Pitt was not cast as Bobby.”
3. Save the rage for home.
“Keep the fights off-set. Melissa and Ben got along so well, and they were so emotionally evolved in the way they worked together that we just assumed that as soon as they got home they were tearing each other’s faces off.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you and Melissa connect for this movie?
MARK DUPLASS: It turned out that we were both going to be on Jimmy Kimmel one night, and I was sitting in my dressing room wondering how I was going to stalk her and plan to meet her. And then she literally burst into my dressing room like a Melissa McCarthy character and was saying how much she loved all the movies that my brother and I had directed. I was like, “Holy sh-t, I didn’t know you even knew who I was.” And right there, she was like, “I’m making this movie Tammy, and it needs to be big and funny, but its also needs to have some of that sweetness and heart that you and your brother do. Would you at all consider maybe being in this movie as my romantic interest?” To which I said, “F— yeah.”
You’ve described most of the characters you play as “hero-adjacent protagonist.” Is Bobby like that or something different?
No, this was different for me, and in many ways, I’m playing the straight man in this movie. Bobby and Tammy are kind of less the comedy of the movie and more of the heart of the movie. One of my favorite movies is American Movie, the documentary by Mark Borchardt, and he’s such an interesting dude to me because he’s a really flawed protagonist. That’s the kind of person I normally play, like in Safety Not Guaranteed. In the case of this movie, Tammy shares that thing that Mark in American Movie has, which is she’s sort of not that smart and doesn’t have that many great life skill-sets—but she has not an ounce of cynicism in her body. There’s something sweet and lovable about her and I guess that’s a tribute to Melissa, how she plays the part. My job in this film as Bobby is to be the lens to which the audience sees her, so we had a really good time dialing in to what would be their relationship.
How is Melissa different than other comedians you’ve worked with?
It didn’t feel like some of the other comedic sets that I’ve found myself on. The leads of those movies can be a little nervous. First of all, they feel like they have to be funny all the time, because that’s what people expect from them. So when they’re off set, they’re always desperately cracking jokes and making people uncomfortable. And Melissa is just very comfortable in her skin. It was almost like being at a Melissa and Ben dinner party, where they invited 50 of their close friends and you all were just hanging out. She’s very easygoing and very comfortable to be around.
In the film, Gary Cole plays your father. He’s played a wide-range of memorable movie dads, from Mike Brady to Ricky Bobby’s father. Where does his performance fall within that spectrum?
It’s funny, because the father and son roles are kind of reversed in this movie. I find myself trying to reel him in from being a beer-and-sex maniac, basically. So I’m doing a lot of the parenting in the movie. When he meets Susan Sarandon’s Pearl, they kind of light off and do their own thing, leaving me and Melissa’s character to sort of figure out what’s going to happen with us.
Last time we chatted, you were just beginning your HBO show, Togetherness, and you talked about how creatively excited you were to tackle that new format. Now that the first season of eight episodes is finished filming, did it live up to your expectations?
We’re editing the episodes now and I’m probably more in love with it than I have ever been. It’s one of my favorite things that I’ve done. Exploring the long, comedic/dramatic format of television and having four hours to live with these characters over the course of a season, as opposed to an hour and half in a movie, allowed me to do just more of what I love to do, which is explore that sort of uncomfortable, funny, sad, really intricate interpersonal relationship dynamics.
What’s the show’s general premise?
The show is really a four-hander. It stars me and Melanie Lynskey and Steve Zissis, who’s one of my longtime collaborators, and the lovely Amanda Peet. I play a guy who’s married and has two kids and is really struggling to figure out what it is that makes him happy. There are some issues with the marriage. There are some issues with his work life. Melanie plays my wife, and we’re hitting that stale point in the marriage and trying to figure out which way we’re going to go with it. Basically, it’s just an excuse for me to explore all the things that I know intimately about in my own life and in Jay’s own life as well, so there’s a lot of us in there.
At some point, do they live under the same roof as another couple?
What ends up happening is Steve Zissis plays my longtime best friend, and he’s not doing so well, so he ends up crashing on our couch for awhile. At the same time, Amanda Peet, who plays Melanie’s sister, is also down on her luck so she ends up with us. So you’ve kind of got four people in this house and a lot of it is about that broader sense of community. The thing that I’ve discovered in my life is sometimes when you’re with three people, the dynamic doesn’t quite work. But you add a fourth and it does work, and it’s about that strange period in these people’s lives where the four of them living together has a very unique alchemy that effects all their lives pretty deeply.
Was this an idea that you first imagined as a movie, or was it conceived for television?
To be honest, HBO had courted us for quite for while about doing a series, and we were nervous about getting involved in a TV show just because we’d heard how much time it takes. But then they kind of came to us and said, “Look, you make eight episodes; it’s almost like making a long movie.” So we decided to write and direct every episode and treat it like a big movie. At the end of the day, that was what sold us on it. HBO was a great partner and rather than the traditional studio where you’re like, “They’re in the way. They’re giving us sh–ty notes,” every time they brought us ideas, it was because they were more experienced at TV than we were, and it was usually making the show better.
When can we expect to see it?
It’s a little still up in the air, but it will be on within the next six months or so.
In Hollywood, studios seem to be looking in your general direction for the next generation of blockbuster directors. For example, your Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow is helming Jurassic World. Have you fielded offers or pursued similar projects on a bigger scale?
Yeah, it’s no secret that the studios are coming into the indie world in cases like Marc Webb and Colin Trevorrow and grabbing these directors who are good with performance and good with story and launching them into a bigger scope. We’ve had discussions over the years, you know, of these projects, like Ant-Man and whatnot. But to be quite frank, I’m a little terrified to direct a movie like that. I’ve been playing in a little corner of the sandbox for the last 10 years where if I don’t directly own the content, I’m in direct control of it because I make it small and modest. And for that, I get to do what I want to do. And the idea of getting wrapped up in the machine is a little scary to me… but never say never.