This feature was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. “Cyrus” opens in theaters this Friday.
“These writer-directors are practically family at Sundance,” Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper said upon introducing Jay and Mark Duplass’s “Cyrus” at the film’s world premiere. “They’ve had shorts, they’ve had features. But this is their first time in the big house. And we’re really excited about that.”
“Cyrus” is the Duplass brothers’ first foray into more mainstream filmmaking. The film recieved backing from Fox Searchight, and for the first time in a Duplass creation, stars recognizable names in John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener.
The brothers had previously been best known as the writers and directors of mumblecore staples “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” and as Cooper noted, they have a long history with Sundance. They thanked the festival “for honestly giving us our careers and the ability to buy houses and pay for children” prior to the film’s screening, and recalled their first Park City experience.
“We came here first in 2003 with a short film called ‘This is John’ that we shot for three dollars in our kitchen in Austin, Texas,” they said. “And now we’re here with this movie. It’s awesome.”
More awesome is that the brothers have not disappointed with “Cyrus.” The bizarrely hilarious, largely improvised dark comedy follows John (Reilly), a down-on-his luck film editor whose life takes a significant and strange turn when he becomes romantically involved with Molly (Tomei), a woman with an unusually close bond with her 21-year old son Cyrus (Hill). Their antics had the audience in hysterics, and the film received a very warm round of applause as the Duplasses and their cast took the stage (the film also has some great scores on criticWIRE).
The Duplasses explained that despite their newfound studio backing, “Cyrus” wasn’t actually that much of a departure from their previous styles of working.
“We did start with a full script,” Mark said. “But we kind of discovered that not only do we not write for women very well, but also anyone that’s not our age… So we kind of write what we think these characters should say generally and then we throw it to the actors and they just start improvising and bringing these fresh things. We shoot with a bunch of cameras and just make sure we’re there for the magic to happen. A lot of those moments that really got you – like when Jonah reached over and said ‘Go fuck my mom.’ That’s not in the script. That’s him doing it. We were just as surprised.”
The brothers also admitted that they didn’t do rehearsals on set, and that the characters were “built out of the natural interactions and personal dynamics.”
“We really believed if we just let John and Jonah and Marisa and Catherine just go for it they would discover things in their improvisation,” Mark said. “So we didn’t set out ahead with them and say ‘this what you are, this is what you’re doing.’ We’re very, very hands off.”
As for the future, the brothers will continue to work on projects of a similar vein, but don’t expect much else to change.
“Well, we’re about to make another movie of similar size produced by Jason Reitman,” Jay said. “We’re going to keep doing it the way we do it. We’re gonna shoot raw and improvise a lot. Just keep doing what we think we do well…”
Watch the entire Q&A – including some fun antics care of the film’s cast – here.