Over the last four years, Mark Duplass has been a part of the great ensemble comedy that is The League, a show that centers around a group of middle-aged guys in a fantasy football league. As Pete Eckhart, he’s been a voice of reason for the group, but as the show’s fandom knows, being a voice of reason is a rather tall task for these guys.
Duplass himself has recently become a triple-threat: not only does he anchor The League, he’s also occasionally in The Mindy Project, and he has a slew of upcoming films. He also has a new HBO show called Togetherness that he’s writing, producing and starring in, due out in 2014. Rolling Stone spoke with Duplass last week about the long-lasting appeal of The League, what’s in store for Togetherness and Bad Milo, his new Gremlins throwback movie.
The League is now in its fifth season. What can we expect, and will there be any maturity whatsoever?
If you had to guess, I think you’d know what to say: No. The higher the season count, the more regression you have. It’s purely infantile behavior.
Over the years, has the idea of what makes a good man-child changed?
It’s funny – I think the man-child thing was in the zeitgeist moreso in the late 2000s, when this show started. There were big movies about it and stuff. I feel like it’s not quite as prevalent. One thing that I’ve enjoyed tracking with this show is most man-child storytelling involves that man-child growing up over the course of 90 minutes. We don’t change. There’s no signs of changing coming. All signs point towards all these characters in their 50s still behaving this way. Some of them had kids, and that didn’t change them. Some got divorced, that didn’t change them. There’s something kind of fun about that.
Which character over the course of the series has been the toughest to get down in terms of finding his voice?
I wouldn’t say any have been particularly tough. They’ve all taken different paths than we thought. For instance, the Ruxin character (Nick Kroll) has become a much more central character than we all imagined it. That’s not only the genius of Nick Kroll, but we thought Ruxin was going to be one of the most unlikeable characters to ever hit television. And while he is despicable, people love that in him. Those storylines have been able to grow and be glorious and disgusting. People seem to love it. We though that was going to have to be something in small doses because it was so atrocious. The sweetness of Kevin (Steve Rannazzisi) and Jenny (Katie Aselton) – we weren’t sure that was going to be a part of it. We thought that was going to be much more of a contentious relationship, but they’re buffoons, and there’s a sweetness there. The only one that’s been perfectly nailed as it was conceived throughout season five is Andre (Paul Scheer). He’s very clearly conceived as the toilet of the group of friends, where all the shitting-on goes.
Over the years, there’s been some great football cameos. Any good ones lined up for this year?
There’s a ton of really good ones. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say or not. It’s been interesting getting NFL players on the show. Season one, we were like this little cable show that no one had heard of, and we were begging to get a third-string kicker to come on for five minutes. And now we literally have the defensive player of the year, who really wants to come on the show. The quarterback of the Chicago Bears really wants to come on the show. It’s been really cool getting better options.
As players start coming toward The League, does it get trickier working them into the plots so it doesn’t seem forced?
That’s part of the benefit of Jeff Schaffer, who is really good at this thing. He ran Seinfeld for years and was a showrunner on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He’s very good at mundane absurdity. It’s still very hijinx-y and fun and feels strange, but still very much normal and mundane. I don’t know how he does that, but he has a magic touch with that. If there’s a football player we really like and they really like us, Jeff easily finds a way to put them in there.
Is there someone The League has wanted but hasn’t been able to get yet?
There’s all kinds of things we think about doing and there’s all kind of fantasies we have about who we’d get on. A lot of it is based around “could we say this to this person without getting our asses beaten on set?” Which is a legitimate concern. There hasn’t really been a golden horse that we’ve yet not been able to pull down. It’s one of those things where if they want to be there, those are the people we want. It’s almost better when they come to us, because the last thing you want to do is throw someone in there that doesn’t understand the show.
Here’s some free advice: If Aaron Hernandez comes to you all, say no.
Oh, we’re definitely bringing him on, don’t worry. [Laughs]
The League is anchoring the new FXX channel. Why do you think this show has resonated enough over the years where it could be one of the flagship shows of a new network?
I have to credit a lot of that to Jeff Schaffer, his specific sense of humor and also the trust he’s had in the cast members. We shoot these things from outlines. It’s all improvised. That makes the jokes come fresh, and it’s just one of those things where, yes, fantasy football is very popular, so they’re tapping into that. But they come for the football and stay for this odd, brutal, hilarious version of friendship that people have connected to, more than we thought they would.
You recently signed on to do a show for HBO called Togetherness. How’s that coming along?
We are currently writing all of our episodes. In between scenes of The League, you’ll find me in my trailer, furiously typing away. We’ll start shooting that early next year. We’re really excited. We got a full season order for the first season.
Is it going to be eight or 10 episodes?
We’re still figuring that out.
Where did the idea gestate from? Was it a recent thing or an idea that’s been kicking around for awhile?
The first thing that Jay [Duplass] and I did that resonated with people was called The Puffy Chair, that we did in our mid-20s. It came out of Sundance and it became somewhat of a seminal relationship movie for that generation. Now it’s 10 years later, and Jay and I have kids, and we have a whole new set of relationship conundrums. So we thought it was time to explore that area of life. We’ve centered the show around two couples, one married with kids, one not. And they’re all living in the same house for different reasons. It was the perfect vehicle for us to explore in the relationship arena.
Can you see how this show will be unique from other shows?
This is honestly how we thought about it: HBO came to us and said, “We want a couples show. We need a show about couples.” We had this idea that we loved TV but it takes too much time to run a show. We’ve seen our friends run a TV show, and HBO educated us and sold us on why it’s a great place to be. And we bought in.
What a great phone call or email to get.
Oh, it’s the best. I probably won’t get that in various points in my life and career. I’m not stupid. I’m very appreciative that we are in the industry’s favor at the moment. I don’t know how long that will last. I’m going to juice it up as long as I can.
Is the tone going to be dark like Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home?
Yeah, on its face it will be a comedic and dramatic show like all of our movies are. When Steve Zissis and I get together, things tend to be a little kookier and a littler funnier. Hopefully it will hit that right blend.
What’s the next film scheduled on your release docket?
Good question. It’s going to be a little while before Jay and I direct because I’m going to be on two TV shows for a couple years. The HBO show will be our quote-unquote movie that we’re going to be directing next year. I have a couple movies I’ve produced and acted in. One’s called Bad Milo, which is this really fucking odd horror-comedy that we produced. It just came out on iTunes and it’s out in theaters in October. It [has] Ken Marino and Gillian Jacobs, and it’s about a guy who is very stressed out and realizes he has a demon living inside his ass. It comes out and kills people when he goes to the bathroom. It’s kind of a throwback to Gremlins.
I don’t think I”ve ever seen a movie that centers around ass demons.
And that’s why we said we have to make this movie.