The Cricket: Duplass multitasks his way through Hollywood

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: June 21, 2012 01:22PM
Updated: June 25, 2012 01:36PM
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Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in a scene from "Safety Not Guaranteed." (Courtesy FilmDistrict)

When, an interviewer wonders, does Mark Duplass sleep?

The multihyphenate director-writer-actor is perhaps the busiest guy in the indie-film world. So he has to multitask.

“I’m giving an interview with my daughter on my lap,” Duplass said in a recent phone interview, which was briefly interrupted when the baby spit up.

Consider everything Duplass, 35, has done in just the first half of 2012:

• Released, first in theaters and then on DVD, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” which he and his brother Jay directed and wrote.

• Took another movie he and Jay directed, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” on the festival circuit in advance of a release later this summer.

• Attended the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Black Rock,” a thriller he wrote for director/co-star Katie Aselton, his wife.

• Saw the national release of movies in which he acts: “Darling Companion,” “Your Sister’s Sister” (which opens June 29 in Salt Lake City), the upcoming “People Like Us” (opening nationally June 29) and the Sundance award winner “Safety Not Guaranteed” (which opens today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas).

• Signed on to play a role in director Kathryn Bigelow’s first movie since “The Hurt Locker,” an untitled suspense drama about the Navy SEAL Team 6’s mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

Oh, and he and Aselton welcomed their second child into the world in April.

“I have two kids and I’m married, and I don’t work all the time,” Duplass said. “What I learned from my dad is that I try to be ruthlessly efficient with my 9-to-5 and try to do a lot of things at once.”

Time is the central theme of “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and one of the best movies of 2012.

In it, Duplass plays Kenneth, a reclusive would-be scientist who buys a classified ad seeking a partner in his time-travel experiments. The ad draws the attention of a jaded magazine reporter (Jake Johnson, from TV’s “New Girl”), who drags two interns along for the assignment. One of the interns, Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza, from TV’s “Parks and Recreation”), strikes a chord with the putative time-traveler and is drawn into his daring plan.

Duplass was approached by the film’s writer, Derek Connolly, and director, Colin Trevorrow, at first not to star in the movie but to produce it.

“For better or for worse, my brother and I are known as the guys who can get your movie made cheaply and quickly if everyone else in town, who you ask for real money, has passed on you,” Duplass said. The brothers did sign on as two of the film’s executive producers.

He fell in love with the script, which was “focused not on the semantics of time travel but more on the emotional roots on why someone would want to time-travel,” said Duplass, comparing Connolly’s script to Charlie Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” (The jury at Sundance liked the script, too, giving it the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.)

He describes his character, Kenneth, as “this really lovable, completely noncynical person. Obviously, if you believe in time travel, you’re not a sarcastic dude.”

Plaza and Johnson were already cast. (Connolly wrote the part with Plaza in mind, even before meeting her. Johnson was friends with Connolly and Trevorrow at NYU.) Based on her screen persona as a deadpan cynic — which she has portrayed on “Parks and Recreation,” “Funny People” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” — Duplass admitted he had a question about whether she could tackle the role, which requires Darius to drop her guard and begin trusting Kenneth.

“When I saw that Aubrey was attached to play [Darius], I said, ‘Great, she’s going to perfect for the first half of the movie. But is she going to be able to show that vulnerability that’s required for the second half of the film?’ ” Duplass said. “I had never seen that from her before, and I was skeptical.”

At an early table read, Duplass discovered that “we were lucky enough to have great chemistry. She had researched the role quite a bit. She was ready for the challenge.”

The second half of 2012 looks to be a good deal quieter for Duplass than the first half. There still will be publicity work for “Your Sister’s Sister” and “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” (which starts rolling out around the country in July), and the role in Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden movie — a role that Duplass can’t talk about. “I have signed a very intense nondisclosure agreement,” he said. “I could [talk about it], but you and I would be severely injured if I did.”

On the other hand, with a new baby in the house, quiet may be the last thing the Duplass family experiences for a while.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Email him at movies@sltrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans.