Interview with 'Safety Not Guaranteed' star Mark Duplass
I recently had the chance to sit down with Mark Duplass, who co-stared in and was an Executive Producer on the comedy-indie-sci-fi-romance Safety Not Guaranteed. Read on for Mark's thoughts on his dual role in the making of the film, working with his castmates and director, and where his filmmaking inspirations come from.
As a word of warning, the ending of the film is discussed. We danced around the particulars, but if you can read between the lines at all, you would do well to avoid that part of the discussion until after watching the film.
MovieRoomReviews: You were an Executive Producer and one of the leads on the film. Have you filed those two roles in the same picture before?
Mark Duplass: Yeah, I have. I did it on a movie called Your Sister's Sister that's coming out this summer. I did it on a movie called Hump Day. I've done it probably five or six times. It's a cool thing for me, to be somewhat involved in the curation of the film, helping to put it together. I knew a lot of people in Washington state, a good crew base there, because I've shot there. I know how to make movies cheaply. I think that's why they came to me and my brother.
'Get to set the tone to the movie a little bit, but obviously not directing the film, so I don't have to stress out about it the whole time. Just kind of set the thing up, and go have fun as a an actor. It's really cool.
MRR: Were you acting mostly as a producer in the setup, and then bleed into...
Duplass: Yeah, exactly. I think that's a good way to describe it, is setting the tone for the film, the budget, the scope, having conversations with Collin, who's a first time director, about any concerns he had, and maybe putting my requests to him as a producer and an actor. Collin is visually better than I will ever be, with cinema. He just has a wealth of knowledge in these kinds of movies. So I just said, “Do all that, but I still need enough time as an actor to do what I need to do and what we need to do to make sure I get four or five takes in, give you the options you need in the edit room.” We proved to be a really great team. Kind of tag teamed that.
MRR: Forgive me if I try to talk about the ending without talking about the ending. That's one of things I gravitate towards, because think it is really one of the strongest parts of the film, is that it went the direction it did go. Was it in the script, the ending as it is?
Duplass: I'll say this. We shot multiple different versions of the end of the film. That was something that we all talked about early on. I've made a lot of independent movies, and I've discovered one thing, is that as much as you think you know what you want while you're shooting, you really don't until you get into the edit room. You need options. That will help you avoid reshoots. So we shot a bunch of different version of the end. The one that's actually in the film is one that we didn't shoot and we concocted after the fact. That was due to screening the films for audiences and seeing what was working and what wasn't. Once we kind of distilled the essence of the film, we figured out what the right ending was.
MRR: So as an actor, you didn't necessarily know what was going to happen.
Duplass: I knew, because I'm a producer on the film and I was a big part of figuring out what this ending should be, but Aubrey did not know anything when she saw the film at Sundance.
MRR: As a moviegoer in the screening, what I was kind of terrified of was this great, really cool movie, this awesome character, awesome story, was going to go the K-Pax route. Those endings, certainly they have their place, and it definitely worked in K-Pax, where you have this thing where you decide for yourself. But as a nerd, as a card carrying member of the Geek community, I wanted this movie, particularly this movie, to present and say, “Yes, these things can happen.”
Duplass: For me, the essence of this film is watching a group of cynical people encounter someone who has not an ounce of cynicism in their body. You've got these magazine reporters who work for a publication that's not unlike The Onion, that thrives on making fun of people. What happens when they meet someone who's completely pure? That's fascinating to me, because I think that sincerity occupies a very strange place in society right now, and in art. Why I love this movie is that it has a purity and a sincerity to it. It goes for something at the risk of falling flat.
[END SPOILER ALERT]
MRR: You've definitely been around. I was looking at your bio, and I was like, “God. This guy's done everything.” How was it working with a lot of people maybe filling roles they haven't filled before? You said you've done this exact kind of thing five for six times.
Duplass: It was great man. Honestly, they're really smart, great people. Jake Johnson immediately just found a way to make an inherently douche-bag-esque role relatable, which is amazing. Karan was just instantly hilarious doing very little. Aubrey had the challenge of taking her on-screen persona, which is a very dry, sarcastic, eye rolling persona that is April Ludgate but also Aubrey Plaza, and turning that on its head in this movie, pealing away those layers and showing somebody vulnerable and lost. So that was exciting to watch her do. I didn't have to do anything. It wasn't like I was the mentor who was like, “This is how it's done, guys.” I just got to be a part of everybody taking care of their own. It was great.
MRR: Another pretty significant dimension to this film, which I actually wasn't aware of... Somehow I missed the meme. I never saw the Youtube video. So it was actually kind of interesting to find out after the fact that there was actually this whole place that it was built on. I do find that idea fascinating, where these kernels of ideas kind of filter through and eventually...Like this one becomes a feature. Is that something you see happening more? Is it something you'd want to do more? Would you star or exec-produce Lolcats: The Movie?
Duplass: To me, creativity comes from the strangest of places. Sometimes it comes from an internet meme. Sometimes it comes being on a long delayed flight and sitting next to a really odd person for three hours and realizing, “You know what, I hated this person for two hours, and now I realize I'm going to make a movie about him.” So you've just got to keep your eyes open. You never know where the inspiration is going to strike. But for me, no arena is safe from being robbed for film fodder.
MRR: Yeah, I was on a cross country Greyhound trip a long ways back, and there was a certain gentleman...
Duplass: That's it. You got it. That's where the movies come from.
MRR: So any other sources like that you're kind of thinking of?
Duplass: My brother and I have a list of, and I'm not kidding, about 100 movies that we want to make. They all are those people from the Greyhound buses. They usually start with character, and these weird little stories we pick up on HuffPo and CNN. We just write them down, and sometimes they become a movie right away, and sometimes they'll take 10 years. I'm obsessed with people, and I'm obsessed with how funny, odd, and weird behavior is, including my own. It's just an endless source of material for me.
Safety Not Guaranteed opens in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland June 8th, with additional openings in other cities starting June 15th.