Mark Duplass Q&A: Stoners, ‘Signs’ And ‘Jeff, Who Lives At Home’

OK, so I cried. Quite unexpectedly at the end of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” Mark and Jay Duplass’ seriocomedy about a 30-year-old still living in his mom’s basement, a few tears streamed down my cheek. I didn’t see that coming — neither the unexpectedly heartstring-tugging ending nor the way I blubbered in the face of the film’s emotional catharsis after 83 minutes of laughs and familial confrontation — but it’s no big deal. As Mark Duplass told me earlier this week when he stopped by the MTV Newsroom and I confessed to crying, “A wonderful character from ’The Big Lebowski’ once said, ’Strong men also cry.’ ”

That sentiment, it could be argued, has informed all of the Duplass brothers’ films, from their 2005 Sundance debut, “The Puffy Chair,” up through “Cyrus,” a deeply weird, deeply affecting comedy starring Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly. “Jeff,” too. The film, which opens in limited release on Friday (March 16), stars Jason Segel as the title character — a guy with too much appreciation for bong hits and not enough for growing up and getting a job. Plus he hates his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), and only begrudgingly (and incompetently) runs errands for his mom (Susan Sarandon). On the day we first meet Jeff, though, he’s finally about to burst into action — into life — after so many years spent sitting on the sidelines, getting crazy high.

During our chat, Duplass explained to us why Jeff isn’t your familiar cinematic stoner, why the film is so heavily connected to M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” and what we can expect on the next season of his FX comedy, “The League.”

MTV: So what’s the creative genesis of the film?

Duplass: Most of our movies start with a character, and in this case it was this idea of creating this odd, unexpected neo-philosopher in the form of a basement-dwelling stoner. Jason Segel as Jeff is a 30-year-old guy living in his mom’s basement, but he’s also a thinker and he believes the universe has grand things in store for him. So instead of being that average, lazy stoner who’s just a man-child, he really has a ton of integrity and is biding his time like a coiled spring until the universe delivers him his destiny, and this movie is about the day that happens.

MTV: So Jeff isn’t your typical stoner man-child.

Duplass: Our hope is to do a twist on the typical stoner man-child thing.

MTV: It’s a venerable genre.

Duplass: It is a venerable genre that has been around for at least three years, and we’re hoping to improve on it and make young men tear up by the end.

MTV: You and your brother actually moved back in with your parents when you were making the movie, which sounds like a very dangerous idea.

Duplass: We shot the film in Louisiana, and my brother and I grew up just outside of New Orleans. There were eight on us in the house: me, my wife and our daughter, Jay, his wife, and his daughter, and my parents. There’s that theory that good art imitates life, so we pulled from some of the tragically-comedic things that were happening in our own home at the time. There were very funny things happening in the house. Not funny for us. Tragic for us. But funny for everyone else to look at. And that’s a bit of the tone of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” We haven’t seen Jason Segel and Ed Helms do this kind of thing before, and we’re excited for people to see ’em.

MTV: Speaking of childhood, you assemble some amazing childhood photos of Jeff and Ed that you show in the opening sequence.

Duplass: There’s a very specific process for getting childhood photos. You ask the actors, they say no. Then you go to their representatives, and they say no. Then you send your representatives to talk to their representatives, and they say no. Then you get your assistant to break into their homes and steal them and get the best stuff. It’s really easy.

MTV: And the instructions are get the most awkward photos with the pimples and the braces…

Duplass: Listen, the humanity of a character is not in the hottie photos, it’s in the very specific ones that have that odd vulnerability. There’s a picture of Jason that was maybe a little bit of a “Top Gun” phase — I don’t know that’s all I can deduce from seeing it. There’s some great stuff in there.

MTV: The movie “Signs” plays an integral role in the film. Are you an M. Night Shyamalan fan? Do you have an ironic love for that movie?

Duplass: The key to “Signs” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is not how my brother and I feel about it, but how Jeff feels about it. We thought it would be a great way to introduce the character by not only having him be obsessed with the film, “Signs,” but living by the principles of the film, “Signs.” We thought, “What better way to show this character is a dreamer? That he believes in destiny and fate and has not an ounce of cynicism in his body?”

MTV: I was keeping my fingers crossed for an M. Night cameo.

Duplass: We have made M. Night aware of the film. We are holding some screenings in Los Angeles of “Signs” where Jason Segel will be showing up in character as Jeff doing commentary on film. We’ve invited M. Night, and I’m hoping he’ll come and enjoy it with us.

MTV: Let’s talk about “The Bachelor.” I know you’re a big fan. Are you still reeling from Sunday’s finale, when Ben picked Courtney?

Duplass: Here’s what I think. I think Ben is a fantastic individual. He may not be the most exciting person on the planet. Courtney is a bolt of lightning that struck him. When you get struck by lightning, you don’t judge what kind of lightening it is. You just get excited by burning burnt for a little bit. And now I’m ready to pub this season behind me and welcome [upcoming “Bachelorette” star] Emily into my home and explore love with her. I think she’s got what it takes.

MTV: What’s going to happen to Courtney and Ben? Are they doomed or will they make it?

Duplass: As far as I’m concerned, they’ve already made it. This is as far as this was supposed to go. We need to grade this on the curve. The fact that they were still speaking during the finale was as big a success as you can hope for.

MTV: Where does “The League” go from here now that Shiva, their fantasy football trophy, has burned?

Duplass: There was a moment in the epic “Star Wars” trilogy, at the end of “Empire Strikes Back,” where it seems all was lost, and we’re there right now on “The League.” But don’t forget the Ewoks came in “Return of the Jedi.” So I don’t know what those Ewoks are yet, but I think we can open our hearts and dope that the gentlemen and one gentle lady of “The League” will return to former glory.

MTV: Who’s the Death Star in this metaphor?

Duplass: Well, for me, it’s clearly [Nick Kroll’s character] Ruxin. I’m definitely Luke Skywalker. Is there any doubt? We know this. And I would say [Paul Scheer’s] Andre is Princess Leia.