Mark Duplass has taken what you might call a bass-ackward approach to becoming a movie star. He and his older brother, Jay, first made names for themselves as heartfelt and wickedly funny indie filmmakers with do-it-yourself, low-budget cult hits such as 2005's The Puffy Chair and 2008's Baghead. But just as they graduated to writing and directing bigger studio projects like last March's Jason Segel--Ed Helms melancomedy Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Mark began demoting (or is it devoting?) himself to acting jobs on other people's movies.
''It's a weird career trajectory,'' the 35-year-old Duplass acknowledges, downing a cup of coffee on a gloomy mid-June morning at the Dry Tour restaurant and wine bar just off the Venice Beach boardwalk. ''Most actors, they're like, 'I can't wait to be f---ing done with this. I just want to direct.' And I do talk to some actors who are like, 'What are you doing? You have the great writing and directing career. You're going in the wrong direction!''' This year, he appears on screen in no fewer than five movies, two of them in theaters now: the comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, starring Duplass as a loner seeking a partner for time travel, and director Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister, in which he plays a man whose unrequited love for his friend (Emily Blunt) is threatened by a one-night stand he has with her half sister (Rosemarie DeWitt). Later this year, he'll costar in The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow's still-secret, still-untitled drama about the takedown of Osama bin Laden.
With such a heavy acting workload, you might think Duplass would dial back on the filmmaking but again, that would be the normal way of doing things. He and Jay are busier than ever. In addition to Jeff, Who Lives at Home, which just debuted on DVD, the self-financed comedy The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, about warring brothers who compete in their own 25-event Olympics, rolls into theaters July 6.
The Duplass brothers, who grew up in a suburb of New Orleans with a lawyer father and homemaker mother, developed their interest in painful/funny storytelling early on from watching inappropriately grown-up movies on TV. ''We weren't watching stormtroopers. We were watching hard-hitting divorce movies,'' Duplass recalls. ''We'd wake up on Sunday at seven, watch some cartoons, flip over to HBO, and there was Kramer vs. Kramer. So we just watched it. And then it would go right into Sophie's Choice and then right into Ordinary People and Midnight Express. We got very interested in those human, interpersonal dynamics from an early age.''