My Life in Movies: Mark Duplass on Making Out to 'Roger Rabbit' and Weeping to 'Titanic'

Kevin Polowy
Senior Editor
August 21, 2014

Writer-director-actor Mark Duplass has become one of film’s top indie renaissance men, starting with the 2005 Sundance breakout The Puffy Chair, and continuing this week with the buzzy (and very mysterious) The One I Love. In the film, which opens Friday, Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) star as a couple whose weekend retreat to save their marriage goes to very unexpected places. The One I Love is drawing raves for its twisty take on the romantic comedy — the less you read about this one, the better — and, like most Duplass efforts, it’s 500 miles from usual Hollywood fare. The projects Duplass chooses, many of which he conceives the stories for, develops and produces, tend to strike a balance between realism (he was a big part of the “mumblecore” movement) and absurdity. But despite his indie-cinema sensibilities, the 37-year-old Duplass grew up on the blockbusters. We take a stroll down memory lane in our latest edition of “My Life in Movies.” 

What was the first movie that you remember seeing?
That’s so hard, because there are things that my parents told me I saw, but then you get [that] confused with what’s an actual memory. I have early strong memories with Grease, and with Popeye, and with Superman. That was all around 1980, when I was like 3. That’s when I start to remember feeling movies.

What was the first movie you snuck into?
Something really interesting happened to me and my brother [frequent collaborator Jay Duplass] when I was 8 and my brother was 12. General Cinemas put out something called the “Counting Candy” contest. Before the trailers of movies, they would put up this screen for like two seconds — an image [of] tons of candy and popcorn floating in space. The persons who [accurately] counted the candy won free movie passes for them and a guest for a year. We basically stayed at the movie theater for a couple of movies in a row and skipped around through different movies. So we got to see that screen around five or six times. 

And we were mathematical kids, so we broke the screen into eight quadrants, and then we counted roughly what was in an eighth of it, and multiplied it. We realized it was probably going to be within like 100 pieces of candy. Like somewhere between 600 and 700. And they only give you one guess, so we took the [entry form] and photocopied it, and we [entered submissions] guessing [intervals of three] between 600 and 700. So we rigged it. And we won free passes to the movie theater for a year. And that’s basically the year we became filmmakers. Because to be a good filmmaker, you have to not only watch a lot of movies, you have to re-watch movies.

That was the year [1984-1985] with Karate Kid going into Back to the Future, and we really f—king pounded it out.

What was your first date movie?
Who Framed Roger Rabbit, fifth grade. I made out with Shannon… God, I can’t remember her last name, she’s going to kill me. But Bob Hoskins was right there, and me and Shannon were making out. And I think I bit her tongue, and she told everyone at school and embarrassed the s—t out of me.

What movie made you want to become an actor… or a filmmaker?
I never really wanted to become an actor; it was a byproduct of me wanting to make movies, and I would just put myself in them. But I remember watching Raising Arizona for the first time in the movie theater and being like, “Somebody made this movie,” and feeling the direction in it. And that got me really interested.

What movie did you love when you were younger that you’re embarrassed by now?
I don’t really get embarrassed about stuff, because I think it’s so awesome to have great viewing experiences, and then realize you were an idiot later on. But one of my peak emotional experiences in the movie theater was Titanic. I was like 19, and I fancied myself a bit of a Jack on the cruise ship of life, going out to explore, and I just wept and felt so big in that movie. I saw it twice. So in terms of the disparity between quality of film and the quality of my viewing experience, it doesn’t get much bigger than Titanic.

Twice was still well below the national average, though.
I think I didn’t go back because I would get dehydrated from crying so much. It wasn’t for a lack of desire.

What movie have you seen more than any other?
There are a couple: There’s Slacker, because it was playing at midnight in Austin, and I used to go see that all the time because Richard Linklater would sometimes show up for a Q&A. I would see him there in jeans and a t-shirt and would think, “He’s just like this normal guy, but he’s a filmmaker. Like, he dresses like me, and he used to play sports in high school. He’s not wearing a beret and smoking.” And I was like, “Maybe I could be a filmmaker, too.”

But I think [overall] now it’s The Karate Kid, because I watched it so much as a kid. My daughter is six, and now she’s into it, so I’m getting a second-generation viewing with it.

What movie have you seen recently that knocked your socks off?
Oh, I’m getting a little more fussy in my old age, unfortunately, and it’s more and more rare that I see a narrative that just truly knocks my d—k in the dirt. The last time I think I was really bowled over by something was this docu-series, The Staircase. It’s an eight-part miniseries that was shot by this French filmmaker [Jean-Xavier de Lestrade], and it’s just as simple as can be. [There’s a] nice older couple in North Carolina, and she ends up dead at the bottom of the stairs, and he’s the only one there. And it’s, “Did she fall, or did he push her?” And they study this thing, and the things that happen in there you can’t imagine happening in real life. It’s like crack. 

What are the other movies you watch as a family these days?
When we get the whole crew together? Well, there’s two generations, there’s the stuff I loved watching with my parents when I was growing up, and now the s—t I watch with my kids, too. In terms of something that spans it all… It’s tricky because my kids are 6 and 2. So the 2-year-old can’t really watch a lot. We dream about the days when we can whip out Sixteen Candles and all of us can watch it. We’re just not there yet. So a lot of the family movies are more Disney-oriented than I want them to be, and I’m just biding my time until my 6-year-old turns 8 or so and it will be Back to the Future all the time. 

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Photo: AP