Directing duo Mark and Jay Duplass do an incredible job of retaining their unique, indie esthetic while ramping it up on a much grander scale in their latest film, Jeff, Who Live at Home. They’ve got car chases, traffic jams, people jumping off of bridges… they even got the Coast Guard involved. I sat down recently with the brothers Duplass and the stars of their latest film!
At a press junket in Beverly Hills that included cast members Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon, we got to dig deeper with the Duplass brothers. We wanted to know what kind of logistical challenges ramping up their intimate style of filmmaking presented for the filmmakers and the actors, if Jason and Ed really did their own stunts, and what Susan thought of her make-out scene with her character’s secret admirer. If you haven’t seen the film, you might want to read this after you have. Spoilers ahead!
MARK DUPLASS: Traditionally, we’ve shot films that take place mostly in close-ups of people’s faces that deal with interpersonal human relations and the tragic comedy of relationships. This film maintains that, but it also expands it, because it’s sort of an adventure in a day-in-the-life of these people. And in this sort of shaggy, improvisatory style that we shoot in, it’s kind of hard to shoot a car chase scene while improvising.
JAY DUPLASS: You have to plan everything in a way that we normally don’t, because we do employ improvisation. We shoot documentary style. We let our actors lead and we come to them. So you plan it, then you make it, then you have to shaggy it up again. Mark makes a good metaphor that it’s like thrift store shopping, where you have to work really, really hard to make a shirt look like like you picked it up off your floor. And yes, for any stunts that did happen in the film, the boys were doing everything.
PPLA: Were you guys nervous about doing that jump into the river?
ED HELMS: Jason did it first…
JASON SEGEL: Yeah, I did.
ED HELMS: …and survived. So I was confident, but I still landed in the water with my pants full of pee. It was extremely high, it actually doesn’t even look as high as it felt.
JASON SEGEL: It felt crazy high. I did something smart. I told everybody that I was going to do the jump, so that when it came time, I couldn’t not do it because I told everyone I was going to do it. So, I had to do it.
SUSAN SARANDON: I came to the set just to watch.
JASON SEGEL: I know you did.
SUSAN SARANDON: So he actually had to do it.
ED HELMS: I had family visiting and I couldn’t let them down. Yeah, that’s how I cornered myself into it.
JASON SEGEL: They didn’t tell us until after… they were like, “It’s totally safe, we’ve scoured the waters.” Then after we jumped, the dude was we like, “We caught an alligator this morning.”
MARK DUPLASS: That’s a Louisiana stuntman trick. They just use that line.
ED HELMS: And the crawfish, with the little, [makes clicking noises, pinching fingers togethers] pincher things…
MARK DUPLASS: Yeah. They’re coming for you.
ED HELMS: Yeah, they can pinch you!
PPLA: Ed, your character takes one wild ride in a Porsche. Are you safe driver?
ED HELMS: I am a pretty conservative driver. That said, if I’m late to, say, a junket, I will go quickly. And I have been known to scoff the law, on occasion. But no, I am a pretty conservative driver.
MARK DUPLASS: I can speak to that a little bit in terms of the big scene in the motel room that is about the essence of the marriage between Judy and Ed’s character is very much what we have done in our comfort zone before. You know, a couple, two people in a room trying to figure each other out, and if you watched the first take of that versus what started happening in the third, fourth and fifth takes, you see how quickly they establish their chemistry and their dynamics. And that was one of those scenes, I think, where the improvisation really paid off. That scene went further off-book than some of the other scenes in the film. And a lot of those really darker moments would come from either me or Jay or Ed or Judy. We were all just in this room with two cameras, shooting it, and we were throwing out lines of dialogue. And that was like a true collaboration and just creating the thing right there.
PPLA: Judy and Ed, the scene that you do in the motel is very emotional. When you do a scene like that, is it hard to shake it off when you go home at night?
JUDY GREER: Not for me. I mean, I felt like I got it.
MARK DUPLASS: She is a bit of sociopath. So she really digged it.
JUDY GREER: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I feel like I got it all out on camera. I have a harder time getting ready for scenes like that than I do letting them go. When it’s over, I’m like, “Whoo!” so we don’t have to feel like that any more. But getting prepared for it is more difficult for me.
ED HELMS: As far as letting it go at the end of the day goes, these kinds of scenes are to me therapeutic somehow. I don’t know what that says about me, but I really love like exercising these, I don’t know, icky feelings that I think we all have and bottle up and to get to have this kind of explosive scene with a loved one, even if it’s imaginary. I don’t know, it has some sort of value. And that’s kind of a tribute to the process, too, because it is so organic and these words are just bubbling out. And it’s tapping into real things, real emotions and experiences. It’s exciting, it’s fun, but it also has some sort of healing property.
PPLA: Susan, your character finds herself in a bicurious relationship with Rae Dawn Chong in the movie, how was it to play that experimental lesbian romance?
SUSAN SARANDON: Well in The Hunger, that wasn’t experimental, that was like, full-on. This was just dabbling with Rae Dawn. But we were in a bathroom, so couldn’t go full… whatever.
PPLA: Susan, in the sprinkler scene, with you and Rae being basically rained on indoors, what was it like working under such wet conditions?
SUSAN SARANDON: Well, I don’t think we did a lot of takes, because once it rained you couldn’t really go back. It wasn’t that kind of movie where they were going to take another day and dry everything out. But I felt like it was much more romantic with the rain coming down except the fact that there was something in the water that was really stinging my eyes. So, I didn’t know where that water was coming from, but it wasn’t rainwater. So, it wasn’t as romantic as it felt initially before my eyes started to burn. But it really moved me emotionally. I felt like I was being baptized or something, that one take that we got when I stood up and see everybody going away and then just say, “F*ck it,” you know and just … Oh, I guess I’m not supposed to say that.
PPLA: Yeah, you can say that.
SUSAN SARANDON: So I thought it was a great thing in the script to do it that way. It’s a nice metaphorical, but also very physical, thing. I thought it was very cool.
Find out more about Jeff Who Lives at Home.