Mumblecore filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass regularly turn up on TV (The League, Transparent, The Mindy Project), but HBO’s Togetherness (debuting Jan. 11 at 9:30 p.m.) marks their first time making TV. EW chatted with the multitalented siblings about their new dramedy—and why filmmakers are increasingly turning toward the small screen.
How would you describe Togetherness?
Jay: The simplest way for us to talk about the show is, it’s about when you’re trying to be a good friend, a good parent, a good husband—whatever it may be—and you’re also trying to make your own dreams come true. You feel like you’re a millimeter away from drowning.
You’ve made plenty of films (Jeff, Who Lives at Home; The Puffy Chair), but this is your first time making a TV show. Was there ever a point that this might have been a movie, or was it always a series?
Mark: It felt like a world that’s much larger than a 90-minute movie. We had a friendly relationship with HBO, and they’d always say, “Why don’t you make a show with us?” And we’ve always thought, “God, you make a TV show and it takes up your whole life!” Then we realized if we write and direct eight episodes, it’s like making two movies in a year. Then we were like, “Wait a minute—HBO’s going to support us, let us cast who we want, pay us nicely, and give us creative freedom, and when the show comes out they’re going to promote the shit out of it. Why have we not been doing this?” [Laughs]
Tell me about casting the show.
Jay: Steve Zissis, who plays Alex—the seed really began with him. Steve is our best friend from high school. Everyone in New Orleans knew who he was. He was the president of our prep school, he was the lead in all the plays, so everybody thought that he was going to be the president or Tom Hanks or both. What ended up happening was…it’s very hard to break through. We’ve been obsessed with him and wanting to find a way to bring him to the world. With the ladies, both Melanie [Lynskey] and Amanda [Peet] came in and read with us, and it was obvious within the first 30 seconds.
There’s a scene where a big-time producer says he doesn’t do movies anymore. Do you feel that the real action has shifted to TV?
Mark: The $5–10 million movie is a very fear-based place in art right now. They’re all losing money and everybody’s freaking out, and there’s a huge boon in television. The amount of fun and the great creative spirit of being at HBO right now, where they’re in the middle of this fantastic renaissance, it feels like being in Hollywood in the early ’70s in film. Or what I assume that was like.
Jay, now that you’re acting on Transparent, have you gotten the bug? When you work with Mark, is there a discussion that didn’t happen before about who will be acting?
Jay: Honestly, Togetherness is the first thing that Mark and I have made that I haven’t been the primary camera operator on. So it’s literally never even been a discussion.
Mark, for people who might know you from The League, how would you sell them on Togetherness?
Mark: I would say I play a completely different character because I’m wearing glasses. I really transformed myself, guys! And I actually even button that top button sometimes!