Filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass are a couple of busy brothers. After conquering the micro-budget, indie film world ("The Puffy Chair," "Jeff Who Lives at Home"), making a small budget studio movie ("Cyrus"), and appearing on niche hit television shows (Mark in FX's "The League," Jay in Amazon's "Transparent"), the Duplass brothers have made a TV series.
Together with their high school buddy, actor Steve Zissis, Mark and Jay created the new HBO comedy "Togetherness." It debuts Jan. 11 after the season 3 premiere of "Girls." It's a great spot on the schedule for a show with a naturalistic, character driven style that — like "Girls" — is not afraid to show nudity, both male and female.
When Mark recently came by The Frame, host John Horn asked him about getting naked in front of the camera, why the show is set in Eagle Rock, and the depressing realities of working in show business.
What's your relationship with Steve Zissis? How did all three of you come together to create the show?
Jay, Steve and myself all went to the same high school in New Orleans. Steve was a golden god. He was the guy who hit puberty at 11, he was the president of the student council at 15 ...
This is all in the show, and he's not joking?
This is real. He is the most autobiographical character we've ever written, and he knows this. We honestly built the show for Steve, because we wanted the world to see how talented he was. Literally, we all thought Steve was going to be the President, or [the next] Tom Hanks, or both. And that didn't happen for him. It kills us, and it killed him, and so we just said, "All right, we'll just make the show that shows it happening."
Steve plays a struggling actor in the show, and he is, I guess you're saying, a struggling actor in real life.
He is, in fact, a chubby, balding, struggling actor in real life, which we hope will change a little bit once we serve him up to the fans of HBO, because we've loved him to death for years and think he's amazing. We really wanted to get him out there.
In the show, you play a sound engineer, Steve plays an actor, and there's also a producer in the show. How important was it that this be set in the world of show business? Was that something you were trying to work toward or away from?
I think we honestly tried to work away from that. We wanted the show to be in Los Angeles, mostly because we really like the idea of these people who are living on the fringes of L.A., who live on the east side, which we haven't seen represented as much.
The show is basically set in Eagle Rock, correct?
It's set in Eagle Rock, exactly. People who have one foot in and one foot out of the industry, which is very much how Jay and I live. But we didn't want this to be an industry show. It's not a show about actors, it's not a show about directors or sound designers. At its core, it's really a relationship show, and a show about what it means to be approaching 40 and figuring out that your life isn't all you hoped it would be, and how you reconcile that.
In particular, these aren't characters who have that "Lost Generation" malaise or that Woody Allen-sniffling-complaining [personality]; they are actively banging their heads against their destinies, trying to make happiness happen. That's why I sort of love them.
What sort of things do you want to say or reflect upon about the realities of working in the business? These people are clearly talented, they want to do well, and yet they're not making that kind of breakthrough. Is that specific to this business, or is it more general than that?
I know two businesses well: the music industry and the film industry. I can only speak to those, but what I can say is that they are industries where being talented, being good in a room, and being friendly and making people want to work with you don't guarantee that you're going to get work. And that's really frightening and depressing, that you could be amazing at your job, easy to be around, good in a room, and go broke. That's a difficult thing to navigate.
I was talking to an actress friend not long ago, and she was talking about nudity in the industry. She said that there's a joke among actors: "It's not nudity, it's HBO."
This is a joke, and it's also funny because it's true.
What does that mean to this show?
Well, everybody gets raked [over] the coals [laughs]. This is really what happens. I would say, without giving away too much in the show, that we developed a term on the set, called "wife sexy" and "husband sexy." We were not going to glorify anything here, but at the same time we're not looking to be incendiary with our nudity and shocking in any shape or form. We just wanted to show these people as they are, and if we're having a sex scene, we didn't want to shy away from it and pull up the covers or have someone wearing a bra.
We're aiming for a certain amount of naturalism, so I'll say that you will see things on this show and they might not be as good-looking as you hoped they might be, but they'll definitely be reflective of what most people see in the bedroom.
And it's not just limited to the women, we should say.
Absolutely not. I didn't do a week's worth of kale smoothies before I had my nude scene, and there's a reason behind that.
Do you wish you had?
You know, in [post-production], when I saw it, I had some second thoughts, but I'll stand behind my decision from an ideological perspective [laughs].
"Togetherness" premieres Sunday, Jan. 11, on HBO