HFPA in Conversation: Mark Duplass Is Living Beyond His Dreams

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros January 8, 2020
Actor, director and producer Mark Duplass

armando gallo/hfpa

Multitalented actor, writer, producer, and director Mark Duplass studied English and Film in college.  “I was born in 1976 in the South and I went to Catholic schools there with all boys and it was a very conservative environment. And the message that I received growing up from everyone around me was if you want to become a successful artist by New Orleans terms that means maybe you’re making $70 a week in a recurring music gig on Friday night. That’s about as good as it gets as an artist so you better figure out a way to make money,” he tells HFPA journalist Barbara De Oliveira Pinto.

In his mind, artistic success meant he will be either a failed novelist, failed musician or failed filmmaker. So he needed a plan B. “I thought I better get an English degree so I can get some sort of professorship and make $38 thousand dollars a year to support myself. And that really was as high as I allowed myself to dream as an 18-year-old kid.”

He went to the same university as his brother, actor and filmmaker Jay Duplass. “He is four years older than me and he went to Austin first and I when I was fifteen I used to go visit him on the weekends and I saw what that town could be and really fell in love with it and I really wanted to be with him. And in many ways for all those years I was very much Jay’s disciple, I would go anywhere with him because he was so nice to include me in things as an older brother. He was first and only idol I’ve ever had.”

Later they started getting more serious about their collaboration as artists. “We struggled for ten years to make anything that was decent and watchable. We had so many failed short films, we had a huge feature film we had funded off some work we had done as editors that was so bad we never even showed anybody. And we didn’t find our voice for quite a long time.”

He describes how their first successful movie, The Puffy Chair, came out of our desperation. “It came out of our years of failing and figuring out that we needed to just make things really small, really cheaply, really focused and if we stayed true to what we uniquely had to offer then I think that we’re making something that people want to see. And that, for whatever reason, took us a long time to figure out.”

In the past 15 years, he has learned a lot. Last year he had a leading role in the movie Paddleton, has a supporting role in the Golden Globe-nominated series The Morning Show, and is producing the anthology series Room 104 with his brother. “My first dream was can I make art that will somehow reach people and be decent. And then I’ll just make money some other way. So I’ve obviously skyrocketed past that. And it’s weird, it’s weird to feel like I’m in this position where I’m actually making a living making my art and helping other people around me make their art and it could all go away because things are changing constantly but this is wildly beyond anything I could have imagined for myself.”

Listen to the podcast and hear how was his childhood in a New Orleans suburb; how his parents supported his dreams; what was his breakthrough film; what kind of advice he has for new filmmakers; why he chose filmmaking over music; what is the secret of his long relationship with his wife; how he became a producer; why he likes improvisation and adlibbing; what it is like working with his brother; how he got the role in The Morning Show and how was it working with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon; how he feels the entertainment industry has changed after the #metoo movement; how was it working with Ray Romano in Paddleton; and why he mentors people.