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Cyrus - Jay Duplass interview

Jay Duplass

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Jay Duplass talks about stepping into the mainstream with his brother, Mark, for new comedy Cyrus and some of the differences that ensued. He also talks about their famed improvisational style and what they were looking for in casting John C Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill…

Q. What is it like working with your brother, Mark?
Jay Duplass: I feel like everyone wants me to say that we go head to head and we battle but I think the reason why there are a lot of successful sibling teams is because it’s really hard to make a movie. I feel like it’s almost impossible to make a really good movie… it happens rarely. For us, you set this thing in motion and it becomes this gigantic monster and it starts eating up more money and threatening to not let you sleep. It just takes control of your life and if you can have someone by your side who shares your brain, shares your sense of humour, shares the way you see the world it helps you manage this monster basically.

Q. This is your first big Hollywood film, so what was the biggest difference? It mentions in the production notes that you don’t have to carry your own lights anymore?
Jay Duplass: Yeah, we don’t have to make food and carry lights anymore. I’d say just the biggest difference is two: one, you have to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it a lot more to people who aren’t in the creative sphere. So, you have to articulate this thing a lot. And even the way that we would explain with John [C Reilly]… we wouldn’t explain it to John the way that we would to, say, a studio or an investor or something like that. That’s a creative short-hand and he has his own language, but it’s weird to articulate that. The other thing is just dealing with the hordes of people who come with a union crewed movie. We dealt with that by basically pushing everyone off of set into a video village, so that when we rolled takes there were basically the actors and the camera operators in the room.

Q. Can I ask about the improvisation process? How much guidance do you give?
Jay Duplass: Well, we prefer not… first of all, we don’t do any rehearsals and we prefer not to direct the first take if the actors are comfortable not being directed because we feel that we hired them for very specific reasons, because they’re really intelligent and they understand the characters, and we also like to be surprised. The other thing that we’ve also found, too, is that actors are always going to have an idea of what they want to do and it’s great to let them do that, even if you’re going to go a different way. It’s really important to let people come to express what they’ve prepared and what they want to express. We feel like that if we want to change directions it’s even easier to do that after the actors have had a chance to do their thing too.

Q. You do feel sorry for Jonah Hill’s character at times, even though he’s manipulative. Was that an important aspect of Cyrus to convey?
Jay Duplass: Yeah, definitely. I think we don’t really judge any of our characters. Cyrus is definitely the most extreme character we’ve created to date but, at the same time, at the heart of it… and this is something we discussed with Jonah and that all the actors get about how we see our characters in our movies. This is a kid who has one significant relationship in his life and if he loses it, he will totally be at sea. I think that’s something that Jonah totally had at the forefront of his performance. He kept it hidden, but it was there and, for me, I certainly hope that everybody feels that.

Q. Is it important for you and Mark to do your own scripts, or will there be a time when you take other people’s script and make them?
Jay Duplass: I think it’ll probably just be stuff that we write. And honestly, it’s kind of like what John was saying about the process of being an actor. It comes down to a really semantic simplicity, which is if you are going to decide that you’re going to read scripts and screen scripts, that will be a 15-hour per week job, because it’s really hard to find really good material that will also resonate with you as a while… as a director to want to tackle that whole process. So, that process alone would take an enormous amount of time and we actually write pretty quickly.

But not only that, we actually wrote this script for John [C Reilly] and we tend to be really specific about what makes a project exciting to us and, particularly,, who’s in it and the format under which it will be made. We’re just really specific about how we want to make a movie. And that along with the fact that we do trash our scripts throughout the shooting process, so I would never want to deal with… sometimes we do it right there, and sometimes Mark and I will just go home at night and re-write a scene entirely. We’re always encouraging the actors to go with their instincts first. So, subconsciously we’re always thinking that those are battles that we don’t want to fight on set. We’d rather just write our own stories and simplify the process.

Q. How was the casting process for you? You wrote the script with John C Reilly in mind, so did you have other people in mind for other roles as well?
Jay Duplass: It really just started with John and then once John was on board we started… it was a process of worrying, which is kind of a part of our creative process. You get John and then you think: “Uh oh, how are we going to get a kid or a person who can play a 21-year-old that truly can go head to head with John?” Because we weren’t going to be creating their battle of wits by any methods of artifice or by set pieces or anything like that. When John and Jonah are at it against each other, there’s an element of reality there. So, they really were going toe to toe. So, when you really start thinking about that type of kid, we honestly only really knew one, and we knew Jonah a little bit and were excited to explore different parts of him.

Q. And Marisa?
Jay Duplass: Well, we had these two awesome guys in this love triangle and, I think, the danger of any love triangle movie is that the object of affection – and, in this case, it was going to be the Molly character – could easily recede and disappear. So, first we were looking for someone really bold, with a lot of integrity, who would stand up for their character. Marisa has certainly demonstrated that over and over again, but is also warm. She was also excited to play a mum for the first time. I mean, a lot of women are scared to date themselves, or to… they feel like they may have crossed a threshold when they play a mother for the first time. But her quote to us was: “I want to show my depth, I want to do this and go to this new place.” So, we kind of need personalities who are willing to jump off of cliffs to make our movies successful, so there’s definitely a certain personality type that we look for, more so than any acting style or anything like that.