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Why Mark and Jay Duplass Are Done Directing (for Now) and Taking a Creative Break from Each Other

After HBO cancelled “Togetherness” the Duplass Brothers wrote a book to analyze their relationship and learn how to be creative “ex-soulmates.”

Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass on the set of "Togetherness"

Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass on the set of “Togetherness”

John P. Johnson/HBO

When you read Mark and Jay Duplass’ new book “Like Brothers” — a memoir about their relationship as much as it is about their filmmaking career — it is hard to imagine how individual directors manage to carve out a productive filmmaking career working by themselves. The book chronicles the adversities they faced in their career and how through a complementary skill set and ability for one brother to take charge — supplying confidence when the other didn’t have any — they were able to find success.

At the heart of the book are two siblings who are able to talk honestly about anything, even their feelings for each other, and find a way to move forward to a better place. It’s because of this, that the last bump in the road Mark and Jay detail in the book — HBO’s cancelation of “Togetherness” after two seasons — was also the impetus for them to write.

“When we were writing ‘Like Brothers,’ we were talking about who are we going to be after the death of ‘Togetherness,’ which I think really informed the arc of the book,” said Mark, in an joint IndieWire interview with Jay.

Steve Zissis, Mark Duplass, Amanda Peet & Melanie Lynskey in "Togetherness" Season 2

“Togetherness”

John P. Johnson/HBO

When they received the shocking call from HBO, which originally signaled Season 3 as a go, the Duplasses admit that they were devastated. At the same time, they were afraid to admit to each other that they were also relieved. The show had been a far bigger time commitment than they originally imagined, leaving them exhausted and away from their families, while limiting them from other projects.

Projects, that for the first time, didn’t involve working together. Mark was enjoying his producing and mentoring role, taking advantage of the “Duplass Brothers” brand with enough clout to shepherd and shelter projects like the Way Brothers’ Netflix series “Wild Wild Country.” Meanwhile, Jay was enjoying acting for the first time on “Transparent.”

“[It] has been at once exciting and painful to discover that we can have a lot of creative fun outside our own marriage,” said Mark. “We miss the old days, but you can’t have the old days because we have wives, we don’t sleep in the same [room]. I think we felt bad about that for a little bit and we didn’t know how to do deal with it and honestly making this book was helpful for us. We’ve come out the other side in an overall better space of understanding what it means for us now to be essentially ex-soulmates and maintain a level of intimacy that is healthy, but not what we once were, which was an unhealthy, twin-like co-dependency.”

When asked if they had any plans to write and direct anything together, they both said no. Jay said the only thing he was even considering writing on his own would be a script he could act in.

Jay Duplass and Trace Lysette

Jay Duplass and Trace Lysette in “Transparent”

Jennifer Clasen/Amazon Studios

“I never thought I would want to act, so a huge part of what I’m doing – because basically I became an actor when I was 40 – let’s just get on this train and see what I can do with this because I love it irrationally and I’m super excited about it,” said Jay. “The outside validation from ‘Transparent’ that I wouldn’t have gotten in Duplass world was important. They didn’t need anything from me as a writer or producer, I was only of value to them as an actor and I think that was pretty instrumental for me in owning the fact that I am maybe good at this and it’s a career in and of itself.”

For Mark’s part, any desire to direct is trumped by a desire to be a dad who drops his kids off at school in the morning and is home at night to make pizzas with them for dinner. He has also found a satisfying creative outlet for himself in collaborations on projects like “Blue Jay,” a small indie he produced, wrote and acted in, but was directed by Alex Lehmann.

“I don’t have to helm the whole thing, but I can be a creative part of it, where we can help usher in a film like ‘Blue Jay,’ that feels right, right now,” said Mark. “I like being nine-to-five while my kids are young (six and 10 years old) and we’re in a really great spot right now, so I’ve discovered that delegating authority to our company has been really great. I just try to just focus on the things that I’m really, really uniquely special at, and the other things I try to punt and be home.”

“Blue Jay”

Netflix

Jay, when he is not acting, still helps Mark with their producing projects, and for both brothers their mentoring-producing role has also allowed them address the one part of their career that doesn’t make them proud.

“We have not done, historically, a good enough job of collaborating with female filmmakers and filmmakers of color,” said Mark. “I think what happens, if we’re speaking frankly, is when you are producing in the industry you tend to grab the nearest person to you to help and lift up and that has just traditionally in this industry been white males and we had to get conscious about it and we have done that.”

In particular, HBO “Room 104” — an anthology series, set in a motel room —  has allowed the Duplass Brothers help filmmakers break into TV and bring diverse stories that they haven’t told in the past. Something Mark indicates they plan on doubling down on in Season Two.

“Like Brothers” is available now in bookstores everywhere.

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