Before shooting the spanking scene in last Sunday’s episode of Togetherness, Mark Duplass, the show’s co-creator and star, had a discussion with Melanie Lynskey, who plays his on screen wife. “I was like, look, due to the blocking of this, which is the right blocking choice, you’re going to be seeing things that I don’t think even my wife has seen necessarily,” he told EW. “I just want to apologize to you off the bat for that. She was like, ‘Oh, please. I live to do scenes like this; this is my favorite stuff.'”
The scene required Duplass to be on all fours in handcuffs, while Lynskey stood behind him, her character, Michelle, trying on the role of dominatrix. For the filming, Duplass was stark naked.
Lynskey and Duplass, who created the show with his brother Jay, play Michelle and Brett, a Los Angeles couple who have found themselves in a sexual rut. In the show’s second episode, their houseguests—Michelle’s sister (Amanda Peet) and their out-of-work actor friend (Steve Zissis, another co-creator)—take Brett and Michelle’s children out for the night so that the couple can have some alone time, and Michelle can enact out her fantasies. Brett is hungry and baffled when he comes home, but tries to play along. Neither Brett nor Michelle feel at ease in their roles, but they both try to keep up their facades, until Michelle accidentally hits Brett in the testicle while spanking him and he starts to burp as if he is going to throw up.
“The spanking scene was one such instance that came to us, which was really born out of our desire to maintain that sense of naturalism but also have those wonderfully insane spikes of weirdness that tend to happen to us in our lives,” Duplass explained.
The scene also showed off what Duplass loves about the characters: Though there have been many stories about couples with children whose relationships aren’t what they used to be, Brett and Michelle are committed to being together despite their rough patch. “As crazy as that scene is, I love that Michelle decided she wanted to do this, and I love even more that Brett tried to go along with it and tried to make it work, even though he’s totally too anal—no pun intended—to actually be able to have fun doing it,” Duplass said. “More importantly, it was the perfect vehicle for that cringe-worthy comedy that we have really come to like.”
Some of the most cringe-worthy moments came through improvisation, including the burping. “I think I do remember at one point playing football when I was little and taking a really tough groin shot and I remember having a bad stomach ache and getting nauseous and it just kind of hit me in that moment,” Duplass said. Another line that came through improvisation was Brett’s worried cry of “You’re not going to put anything in there though, right?” as Michelle stands behind him.
“Really, when you get down to it, not only was I exposed, but everything was perfectly ready to receive whatever could happen back there,” Duplass said. “It didn’t occur to me in the writing, but it did occur to me in the moment as I was on all fours, yeah, this is a real concern, I need to bring this up.”
Duplass says he went completely nude after realizing that the sack or thong-like contraptions that would hide his, ahem, stuff, would pose just as many challenges as letting it all hang out would. “At a certain point we were like, if the camera sees any of that stuff then the shot is blown, and so if the camera sees any of my real stuff then it’s the same thing,” he said. “At that point were just like, Oh, I’m just going in naked, and we’ll just see what happens.”
Duplass and his brother, who directed the episode together, employed three cameras, which they usually do for scenes with stunts or emotional moments that may only happen once. “With this one, we had the added concern of at any point in time one camera could be shooting straight into a set of testicles, so we need to have at least another two cameras that might have a more advantageous shot,” Duplass said.
The entire scene, however, didn’t take long to shoot—under two hours without that many takes, Duplass said. And, of course, it’s not like Duplass was working with a total stranger. “Jay has seen it all at many different stages and sizes, shapes, forms,” he said. “It’s really nothing new for him.”