Jay Duplass is a busy man. When I visited him recently at the comfortable but unostentatious house in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Eagle Rock where he lives with his wife, Jen Tracy-Duplass, a social worker, and their two children, it was during a rare lull between projects. Duplass, who wore Vans and a shawl-collar cardigan (“my wife calls it my Mister Rogers sweater”), is forty-nine. He is best known for the work he did in collaboration with his younger brother, Mark, writing and directing such films as ‘The Puffy Chair’, ‘Cyrus’ and ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’, as well as the HBO series “Together”. In recent years, he’s also gained increasing recognition for his belated acting career, which began in earnest in 2014, when showrunner Joey Soloway cast him as tortured fuckboy Josh Pfefferman on the Amazon series “Transparent”.
A few years ago, the Duplass brothers decided to branch out and work on separate projects. They still run a production company together, continuing to release, in the blink of an eye, documentary projects – “Wild Wild Country”, “Sasquatch”, “The Lady and the Dale” – as well as scripted dishes, HBO series “Somebody Somewhere” to low-budget films like “7 Days,” which recently won an Independent Spirit Award. which guided their work from the beginning, when they lived in Austin in the 1990s. (They are both UT graduates.) “‘Togetherness’ was a standard studio-TV-budget show. “There was nothing forced about discounting that,” Duplass said. “But we believe in a model of making things as cheap as possible.” To that end, the brothers often ask for a lower-than-normal budget from the studios and streaming platforms. “Our wires ms are done so efficiently that we often not only go back to us, but we also have a system where normally everyone who works on a movie has a piece of back-end,” he said.
For the past two years, Duplass has focused on acting, with roles ranging from comedic (a self-directed theater director and guru on HBO Max’s “Search Party”) to likable (a canceled teacher and doubting himself on Netflix’s “The Chair”). On August 1, he will play his most dramatic role yet: an American hedge fund manager in London with murky intentions, in the second season of the HBO show “Industry.” Between filming “The Chair” in Pittsburgh and “Industry” in Wales, he also managed to direct several episodes for the first season of “Somebody Somewhere” in Illinois. (He’s currently shooting the show’s second season.) But, more than anything, Duplass is thrilled to write and direct his own material. “Over the last few years, with my brother’s decoupling, with becoming an actor . . . I guess I was coming to terms with, ‘Oh, I really want to direct, I really want to tell original stories ‘” he said to me. “Now I’m like, ‘OK, what would I like to do as me, as an older man, as an original filmmaker “Our conversation, which spanned several hours, was edited and condensed.
I mentioned to a friend that I was interviewing you, and she was like, “What are you going to talk about? Every second he has a project.
I’m sort of director first, actor second, screenwriter third, distant producer fourth. It’s the least I can do. Even from the beginning, with me and Mark, Mark was still going to locations and doing deals for a hundred bucks to shoot in their parking lot, talking to agents and talking to the press and stuff like that. . . I’ve always been more internal. He is the most type-A, outward-looking personality. I am the most nerdy perfectionist, detail oriented person. I’m the person who, like, talks to the cast and crew and nabs the endless script the night before filming. I just sent someone a movie script that I wrote with a friend of mine. I really want to get back to directing films. The last one I directed was “Jeff, who lives at home”, in 2011. And I directed it in 2010, so it’s been twelve years since I directed a film. And, because of the pandemic and this accidental acting career I fell into, I haven’t directed and written an original piece of art that I’ve imagined since “Togetherness.”
So much has happened since “Togetherness”. I became an actor, my brother and I consciously parted ways as a writer-director team. And it took a while, not just to process that and get through it, but also for me to understand, well, who am I as a writer-director without my brother? My dream from the very beginning was, I just want to be the Coen brothers. Since I saw “Raising Arizona”, it was the first realization that I had as a writer-director. I was fourteen, maybe. Then I saw pictures of them, and they looked suspiciously like me and Mark. One of them is, like, pointy and nosy and black curly hair, and the other has blonde. When I first saw a photo of them, it was like a white lightning bolt going through my body. Like, Oh, my God!
Yeah, it’s like seeing a picture of Steely Dan or something in 1978 for the first time.
It’s funny you say that, because Steely Dan is the band that influenced us the most. A like-minded couple of two guys whose partnership is greater than the sum of its parts. Which probably doesn’t bode well for my career as a solo director. [Laughs.]
I wanted to be [the Coen brothers]. I loved the work they did. I thought they were so funny and so poignant, and they made for the most anticipated films of the year. They were everything to me, and the fact that they were two brothers who looked like us, who seemed inseparable, and also Mark and I grew up in suburban New Orleans. We had no ties to the industry, so we always felt like immigrants in the film landscape. No entry point. It was going to take everything we had. We come from immigrants in New Orleans, not our parents but our grandparents; they lived in row houses side by side. We’re, like, French and Italian and Jewish and German.
So you have Jewish roots. Interesting.
Because you play Jews, on the most famous “Transparent”.
And everyone thinks I’m Jewish. I did my 23andMe, and it was, like, at least fifteen percent Ashkenazi Jewish.
I like these probabilities.
We know for a fact that our great-grandmother, Irene Stein, whose nickname was “the plum” – she lived to be ninety-six and smoked in hospital at the very end – we know for a fact that she was one hundred percent Jewish. But there’s more to the other side of my dad too. It’s interesting to me, because now I’m like, “Would it be good for me to play Josh Pfefferman now, in today’s climate?”
I think, as a Jew, I don’t really mind if the show is good.
Man, I feel that too. If you do a good job. . . I mean, look. It’s different too, because Joey Soloway anointed me, in a way, so it’s really like their…it has more to do with their choice, I guess. People ask me to play Jewish all the time, all the fucking time. And I tell people all the time, “Hey, I’m not culturally Jewish. Except for the fact that I was raised Catholic, which is incredibly similar to Judaism. [Laughs.]
Catholics are the Jews of Christianity.
Totally. It’s rooted in guilt, anxiety, and food.
OK, backtracking, so you wrote a script—
With a friend. A Jewish friend. [Laughs.] The idea was, I think for the last few years, to separate from my brother, to become an actor, to accept the fact that we are not going to be the Coen brothers, I guess I was, like, accept , Oh, I really want to direct, I really want to tell original stories. We started off in this very small way, where Mark and I made fun of how desperate and pathetic we were on screen, and now I’m like, ‘OK, what would I really like to do in as me, as an older man, as an original filmmaker, what would I like to do?” And it took a long time to figure out some of that. And it took a few scripts —