Q&A: Mark Duplass Is the Hardest Working Man in Hollywood

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This is the spring of Mark Duplass, a 35-year-old writer/director who acts on the side—kind of like the flipside of George Clooney. In the span of a month he’s got five movies coming out in one shape or another: Safety Not Guaranteed, a charming Sundance entry which he produced and starred in opened June 8. He has a supporting role in the studio dramedy People Like Us, opening June 29. The DVD of the funny, moving Jeff, Who Lives at Home—a March release which Mark co-wrote and directed with his big brother Jay—will be available June 19. A micro-budget movie the brothers shot a few years ago, The Do-Deca Pentathlon, opens theatrically and on VOD July 6. And this week he stars in Lynn Shelton’s smart little gem, Your Sister’s Sister. TIME caught up with Duplass by phone at his home in Los Angeleswhere he was hanging out with his six week-old daughterto talk multitasking, improvising and being on Kathryn Bigelow’s set.

TIME: Where to begin? You are absolutely everywhere right now.

MARK DUPLASS: Things do seem to have bottlenecked, but this represents a few years of work coming out all at one time.

Your character in Your Sister’s Sister, Jack, is seeking solitude when he arrives at his best friend Iris’ (Emily Blunt) family cabin on Puget Sound, but instead he finds her sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). They sleep together and then things get complicated and surprising. But I don’t want to give anything more away. 

I know; it’s a challenge. I’ve been describing it as an odd take on the love triangle film. We set out to make this sort of Shakespearean bed-switching comedy of errors film, but to do it in an emotionally rooted way. We didn’t want it to turn into a 90-minute episode of Three’s Company. The characters are all in pretty bad places in their lives and have a lot of darkness in them, so I hope you get emotionally rooted high jinks.

You say “we”—how much of a collaboration was this with Director Lynn Shelton? You’re reteaming with her after starring in her 2009 film Humpday.

It was my story from the front, something that my brother and I came up with a while ago. But because this one dealt with a death of a brother, I knew Jay and I wouldn’t make it. I just called Lynn and pitched her this movie idea. She made some changes and then took it from there. Since Lynn is impossible to say no to, we sent her to ask Emily Blunt to spend 10 days on an island with us, working from an outline and not a traditional script. And she pulled it off.

(MORE: Time’s Q&A with Lynn Shelton)

How did you manage to rewrite, improvise and shoot the whole film in only 10 days?

It is not so hard, really. Tthere are really only like 15 scenes in this movie, and they’re all in the same location. So we’re talking through everything as it happens, sitting down at night and figuring out the next day. It didn’t feel like we were sprinting. It’s easier for me to improvise because I’ve been in the editing room so much; it’s given me a narrative pulse. And then a lot happens in editing, that’s where it comes together. It’s how we did Humpday.

You and your brother direct as well. How does Lynn Shelton’s directorial style differ from yours? 

It’s pretty different to be honest with you. Jay and I work from a script. We have a little bit more of a base going in, and we don’t do much improvising. With Lynn there is this intense respect for naturalism and it’s very organic. But we all like stories that are kind of funny and kind of sad.

You’re also a regular on FX’s TV series about a fantasy football league, The League, and you’ve moved into producing, giving a leg up to new talents like Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly. Are you a multitasking fiend?

It’s really not that bad. Some people know how to multitask in the kitchen and some don’t. It’s like that. When I’m on an acting job and I have two or three hours in my trailer between shooting, I might edit a scene on one of our movies. You know those moments in your career when you are really proud of all that you’re doing? Well that’s where I am. For the last five or six years I really felt in it. Probably ever since The Puffy Chair [his and Jay’s breakthrough indie]. I just never thought I’d be able to do this, to make a living making films. I grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans. I didn’t understand how any of this worked. My brother and I just picked up cameras and microphones and started making movies. We were banging sticks together in a cave. Now we’re like kids in a candy store. Or maybe I’m kind of at the buffet right now, stuffing my face.

(MORE: Mary Pols’ review of Jeff, Who Lives at Home)

Recently you’ve been an actor-for-hire, appearing in films like Lawrence Kasdan’s Darling Companion, Safety Not Guaranteed and the upcoming People Like Us. Do you have a preference between performing and writing/directing?

This is the first year where as an actor and writer I’m getting offered a lot of things. I’m figuring out how to pace myself. I don’t want to make people tired of me. Jay and I do rewrite work now as well as producing. With Safety Not Guaranteed, that was a script I read and thought, ‘I know how to do that and I can bring the indie credibility.’ Then it became clear to me that I was a very good choice as an actor for the part. On the page, Kenneth reads completely insane. I wanted him to be as emotionally rooted as possible, to not make it just a hipster fest. I killed a couple of really good jokes because I didn’t want him to be too comic.

I would think it be awkward for actors you’re playing opposite who know you are a director—do they start to become self-conscious or worry they are being double-teamed?

I don’t bring it up because it can be weird. I was just on the set of Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie and I don’t think anyone there knew who I was [laughs].

What can you tell me about that? That’s the untitled capturing-Osama-bin-Laden project, right? [Reports have it going under the name Zero Dark Thirty.]

Yes, but I think if I told you anything we’d both be struck down immediately [laughs]. With good reason. I think the movie is going to be very, very important.

The Do-Deca Pentathlon deals with two friends who are intensely competitive and engage in a mini-Olympics of their own. In Jeff, Who Live at Home, Jason Segel and Ed Helm play brothers who couldn’t be more different, but there’s kind of a competition there too.  Are you and Jay competitive with each other?

We really are not; it is crazy. The best way to describe it is it like a marriage. This is the way my marriage works; if someone is not loading the dishwasher like they should, you want to have a careful, sensitive conversation about that. You don’t want to blast the other person, because everyone needs to live in harmony. I’d begin this conversation, very quickly, with an apology, like ideally we would live in a world where I don’t care if we load the dishwasher, but unfortunately we don’t and time is limited. So pardon me for being petty for a minute, but can you load the dishwasher? With a conversation we can alleviate 50 percent of the stress. It is a game of inches. Not only are we best friends and brothers, we are business partners and we talk to each other that way. You know, ‘What you are doing is kind of hurting my feelings a little bit.’ It is a little late-’70s.

What does Jay do when you’re off on an acting gig? Does he get jealous of your movie star business?

[Laughs] Jay doesn’t want to act. He is our main camera guy. And when I’m acting, he is in his garden harvesting kale, he is running, he is meditating. He leads a much more balanced and centered life than I do. He and his wife and kids live close by, maybe a mile from me, and my parents live a about a mile and a half from us.

The two of you convinced your parents to move to Los Angeles?

They moved here last year. There are now four grandkids for them here [both Duplass brothers have two children]. We had this great conversation where I said, ‘Look Dad you are 65. We have an opportunity to have 10 great years together, before you get into your late 70s and get out of it and annoying.’ He is a Type A workaholic, who was a lawyer in New Orleans and so now he is our business manager. My mom is a traditional Southern housewife who stayed home with the kids. Now she helps take care of the grandkids, when Katie and I go off to work.

Grandma daycare: you are so lucky.

You have no idea. We would not be doing any of this without them. They gave us our first $15,000 to make The Puffy Chair, now they are here giving us this. We have the best parents in the world. They raised us with one central philosophy, that you can do anything. As Jay and I have started to make more money, just as our parents gave us a lot of financial support, we’ve been taking in a lot of young filmmakers, you know, maybe hire them to write something for us, try to bring them along… We have a couple of guest houses on our property, and sometimes friends come and stay and work on their art. It is a bit of a commune over here.

So other than being home with the baby, what is next?

Jay and I are adapting a great novel called Mule for Todd Phillips. I am not sure he ever will direct it, but I hope he will. It’s about a couple who get into financial trouble and end up muling pot across the country to make a living. It’s a little funny and sad in that way that I love. Then Season 4 of The League starts shooting in August. Beyond that, we are kind of writing a lot of scripts on spec. [The Duplass brothers have their fingers in so many pots that within days of our interview, there was word they were working on a reboot of Same Time, Next Year.] When Jay and I were just starting out, we had a nice stack of scripts. But now that drawer done gone and emptied.

MORE: TIME’s review of Mark and Jay Duplass’ Cyrus

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