On last night’s episode of “The Mindy Project,” Mindy (Mindy Kaling), Danny (Chris Messina) and Jeremy (Ed Weeks) faced down rivals from the office upstairs — two holistic midwifing specialists who’d started poaching their patients and threatening their business. One of the siblings was a familiar face to any indie film fan — Mark Duplass, star of “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Humpday” and FX comedy “The League.” The other was played by his brother and filmmaking partner Jay, who’s tended to stay behind the camera when directing the pair’s efforts together, including features like “The Puffy Chair,” “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” Indiewire caught up with the Duplasses today to hear about their guest arc on the Fox sitcom and how TV and indie film aren’t all that different.
Jay, we don’t often get to see you in front of the camera — how did that happen, and what led you to take on an acting role?
Jay Duplass: Normally I’m the primary camera operator on all the movies that we make, so it’s never even been a thought for me to be in anything, but we had met Mindy socially and really were all fond of each other. She told us a few months ago that she had written this part for us together, as brothers, as midwives. It just seemed really silly and easy and just a great opportunity to do something purely fun. We went on set and that turned out to be totally the case. It was a blast.
Now this is a multiple-episode arc, right? We’re going to be seeing more of you guys?
Jay: Yeah, we’ll be around for a little while.
You’re playing antagonistic holistic midwives — can you tell me a little bit about the characters? Did you have any kind of input in shaping them?
Mark Duplass: They were interesting to us because when you see a representation of anybody new agey on screen, they’re usually very loving, very gushy-gushy and touchy-feely. I love that these guys are, like, Brown-educated, Calvin Klein-wearing, very Type A. It’s a weird blend of two worlds. So that was exciting.
I think Jay and I both agree that Mindy is one of the great writers, particularly for TV. She’s very good at getting the voices of these characters on paper, but we come up with little things here and there that are brought in the moment. There’s a cool moment with an eyelash in last night’s episode. That was something that I emailed to Mindy when I read the script, and she’s like, “Great, I love it!” And then it ended up in draft the next day. It’s a fluid process.
So you guys are playing brothers — are we going to get to see more of your sibling dynamic on screen? And does it reflect your real-life relationship at all?
Jay: Not really. It’s just the chance to be playful. Mark probably is a bit more Type A than I am, but the dynamic range that we’re showing on screen is probably a hundred times the size of the gap that we would normally have. It is really fun, especially for me — for (kind of) my first acting gig — to be on a network television show. It could be intimidating, but having Mark there and playing brothers… it helps that we certainly know a lot about that.
Have you had any contact with characters like this before — Type A but new agey?
Mark: No, but, that being said, our father — he’s retired now — but he was a kick-ass civil trial attorney. And our mother was a very creative ex-school teacher who stayed home to take care of us. So there are these two elements in the midwives’ characters that are in both of us, so that’s fun to play with. And then I guess the other experience we have—Jay and I are both overly dutiful dads. When our wives had kids, we were basically the doula, so we’re no strangers to the vagina and birth canal.
You’ve managed a balance of going between working on larger films and smaller films — I was wondering what your thoughts are on how TV fits in with that. Mark, you have “The League,” and it seems like a lot of indie filmmakers you guys came up with on the festival circuit are working in TV more these days.
Jay: In the case of this show, for instance — I think a big thing that’s happening right now is that the style of TV has changed a lot. It actually has a lot of crossover with some independent film work because they’re dealing with the same topics — regular people, problems at work, domestic conflict.
Also, the style of shooting — it’s interesting to go on a network TV show and see roving documentary-style cameras and improvising and having moments that are fluid. It very well may just be that the general aesthetics have merged, or it could be a product of the technology. But there are a lot of similar aesthetics in both styles.
Do you feel that there’s a little more openness to out of the box approaches to TV these days? Maybe a little more creative freedom?
Mark: Well, TV is such a broad word. When you’re on a hit network show, from what we hear — we haven’t really been on that kind of set — there can be very little freedom, because it’s a commodity. But when I’m on “The League,” there’s tons of freedom because we’re improvising off of an outline. With that show, there are enough viewers to make it worth it to the network, so they let us do whatever we want.
The same is true of independent film. Sometimes you can be on a $500,000 movie, and if your financier is a dick, you have no freedom. We got to make a near $10 million movie with “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” that was completely creatively free because our financier was awesome. It all depends on who is “The Man” in that situation and what are they will to let you do. The only thing I would say that TV certainly offers you that independent film doesn’t is the ability to let your audience fall in love with these characters long term, so that by the time seasons three and four roll around, you can let your characters do some really despicable things, and your audience will still ride with them, because they’ve been loving them for so long. That’s a cool little luxury.
You guys seem plenty busy already, but would you ever have any interest in heading up a show of your own?
Jay: We talked about it. It’s definitely something we’d discuss.
Mark, a lot of people are about to see you in “Zero Dark Thirty” — what was it like to act in something that seems a lot heavier in content than your usual roles?
Mark: Well, it was a nice transition, because Kathryn Bigelow shoots very similarly to how Jay and I shoot — there’s three cameras going, it’s a very organic process. I actually improvised quite a bit in the role. The only thing is the subject matter’s a bit different, and the sets are a little more amazing and intense. But they’re really lovely people, so it didn’t really feel that dissimilar to me, honestly. Improvising simple emotions is pretty easy, but improvising political data is a whole other thing.
So is there anything you can tell us about what to look forward to on “The Mindy Project” from you guys?
Jay: Well, we don’t want to give too many spoilers, but you could say that while there’s definitely been some professional push and pull between the doctors and the midwives, there’s also going to be some personal issues arising with us as well.