Mark Duplass, half of the writer-director sibling duo the Duplass brothers, became an indie film darling with his awkward, mumblecore comedies “The Puffy Chair” and last year’s festival favorite “Cyrus.” Actor Jason Segel, on the other hand, hails from the Judd Apatow school of conscientious raunch comedy — most notably starring in “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
Duplass and Segel have combined comedic forces for the upcoming film “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” They spoke to The Daily Aztec about hating smug actors, the Herculean task of making an entertaining film and gaining 25 pounds in a single day.
The Daily Aztec: In a previous interview, co-star Ed Helms mentioned a lot of improvisation on set. How do you know when you nail a scene from an actor’s perspective and also from a writer / director’s perspective?
Jason Segel: I don’t think you ever really know. I hate when I can tell an actor knows he’s nailed a scene. It’s my least favorite thing to catch a little glimpse of when I’m watching a movie, to see someone be a little bit proud of themselves and you really can see it if you watch carefully. And so I try not to think about that too much. What do you think, Mark?
Mark Duplass: I said I have a basic rule of thumb, which is if you’re ever asking yourself the question, “Do we have it?” you definitely don’t have it. So as soon as you stop drilling that question, you usually feel like you’ve got a sense of it. But when you’re using improvisation, you do have to keep a little bit of a tally in your head about what you’ve gotten so far and what you think you need. But at the end of the day, a lot of it’s just about trusting your gut.
JS: Does that apply to life, too? Because I stare at the mirror a lot, saying do I have it?
MD: Do I have it? Do I have it? You definitely don’t have it, man.
DA: Mark, can you tell me what it’s been like working with your brother (co-director Jay Duplass)? Was this film any different for you two?
MD: This is the largest budget we had ever worked with before, so you always feel a certain sense of responsibility to make the movie good out of the more money people are putting into it. But in terms of me and Jay and our working relationship, our general feeling is that making a movie is really hard and making an entertaining film is almost impossible. So you know we just feel like there’s strength in numbers by having two of us; whatever conflicts might arise between us are quickly dwarfed by the Herculean task of trying to make a feature film that doesn’t suck. So we quickly get over the squabbles and try to fight the good fight.
DA: Jason, how did you identify with the character of Jeff?
JS: I had a really unpleasant out-of-work period from like 22 to 25 where I was just waiting around as well. As opposed to Jeff, where he was waiting for a sign, I was like waiting to be cast, which I guess now there is a parallel to that because you’re considering someone casting you as a sign that you’re worthy and all that. And I was smoking a fair amount of pot during that period as well. I think I related back to this time where you’re kind of bopping around and you have a sense that your destiny is to do something. Mine was to be an actor, but I was kind of waiting for the world to present that opportunity to me. And so I was able to relate back to that period.
DA: Because the movie takes place during one day, what sort of challenges did you guys face when it came to filming?
JS: Mine is that we shot as much chronologically as we could and I like gained 25 pounds during the shooting of this movie, so to me, in addition to all of the complicated themes, it’s also the very subtle story of a man who gains 25 pounds over one day.
MD: It’s really the – you know it’s the “Benjamin Button” of weight gain, so it was – I wish I could say there were tons of challenges. You know the one obvious one being that you know when you shoot a movie over 30 days that takes over one in the story, the skies and the backgrounds tend to change a lot and you have to deal with those logistical nightmares. But to me, the value in staying in that inherent frenetic pacing of that day and also from a practical level, the guys are in the same wardrobe the whole time and we could shuffle around scenes and change things around. It’s actually a blessing to me to kind of keep the story pretty finite in that way.