In "The Lazarus Effect," though, he plays a character who might have even more on his mind than Duplass himself, as a grad school scientist working on a new serum that can bring people back from the dead. When his wife and fellow scientist (played by Olivia Wilde) is killed during an experiment, he makes the decision to use the serum on her... and things go horribly, horribly wrong.
We got to chat with Duplass on the phone about why he likes horror movies so much, where his acoustic version of the old HBO theme song came from, how he decides what projects to tackle, and why he won't admit that he had to turn down "Jurassic World" even though we all know that he totally did (it was directed by his "Safety Not Guaranteed" collaborator Colin Trevorrow).
Moviefone: You certainly have an affinity for these types of movies. Where does that come from and do you want to do direct one of these movies?
Mark Duplass: Well, you know, we've flirted with the horror genre a little bit. There's a movie called "Baghead" that I directed in 2008 that's kind of touching on that genre a little bit. I grew up watching cheesy horror movies in the late '80s after going to the mall with my friends. So there was always a deep love and appreciation for it. As a director, I've gravitated to more emotionally sensitive dramedies but there's always been this interest in me to explore all types of genres, not just horror movies. I'm lucky to be at a point in my career where I'm asked to be in a movie like "Lazarus Effect." Part of the reason I haven't done a lot of this stuff before isn't me not wanting to be in them but not having the profile to get those cool jobs.
What was the appeal of "Lazarus Effect" specifically? It seems indebted to some of those '80s horror movies you mention, particularly "Flatliners."
Oh for sure. I saw "Flatliners" in the theater. But mostly it was a desire to be a lead in a movie for Jason Blum and to work with David Gelb. When I met with him I was a huge fan of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" but what's to say -- a guy who directs a really slow-paced food documentary can make a slick horror movie. But then I realized that he's one of our country's premiere trailer cutters and directs a bunch of commercials so I thought, This is good – this guy can do slick and he can do heart. And if I'm going to take a chance on a horror movie, Blumhouse + David Gelb is the train I want to hitch myself to.
The movie is currently PG-13. Was there ever a version of the movie that was harsher?
All of these movies are built to go one way or the other. But when we were making this movie, we all felt that because of the DNA of the film, because the script really obeys the horror genre really well and has all the elements that would allow for it to be a 3,000-screen movie, it would be smart of us to make a PG-13 movie. I'm a big fan of reverse engineering your art to something that can be successful. To me that's less selling out and more buying in and being intelligent about what is going to get the most eyeballs on your stuff. I do the same thing with my independent films. I think it's smart to have a little business sense about you. That's part of what I love about Blumhouse. But we all had our eyes on this thing be a bigger play and PG-13 was a big part of that.
And I'm sure there'll be a slightly scarier version on Blu-ray.
I bet there will! I can't be sure but there could be something!
Can you talk about working with this ensemble?
Yeah, the goal was really simple: when you're normally dealing with a high concept, like, say, bringing people back from the dead, it's usually set in the future where people are wearing all shiny black leather and they talk strange and they don't feel human. So we were like, if we have any take on this at all, it's that these people should feel normal and kind of dorky, like a group of researchers and in an ideal world it will connect people more closely to what they're going through.
Not to give too much away but the ending of the movie certainly leaves the possibility open for a sequel. Would you come back?
That's a really great question. To be honest with you, I haven't even thought about it. But anytime there'd be a team like David and these actors and Jason doing anything together, I'd definitely have to think about it.
You did another Blumhouse horror movie before this called "Mercy." It's finally on Netflix but was very much shelved. What was that experience like and did that experience color your interaction with Blumhouse?
I see what you're saying. But no. Jason called me up and said, "I've lost an actor, want to come do this thing for three days and it starts shooting in 20 minutes." And I was like, "F*ck yeah I'll do it." So I had no emotional attachment to that movie whatsoever. I have a long history with Jason Blum and we're good friends and we see the industry in similar ways. We both believe that movies should be made cheaply and being aggressive and taking chances. I'm very much ideologically aligned with Blumhouse. As much as our content looks extremely different, from a philosophical standpoint we could be twins.
There was another horror movie you did last year called "Creep," which I saw at South by Southwest and loved. When the Weinstein Company picked it up there was talk that it was going to be the beginning of a trilogy. Do you know what's going on with that?
We're figuring it all out right now. There's still a desire from all of us to do this thing as a trilogy but since then my life has kind of exploded, and Patrick Brice, who directed that movie, has kind of exploded as well. So we're all trying to figure out the timing of when we can get that thing done. The love is still there. The schedule is starting to be a bit of a problem. But we're in the middle of it.
You're always working. How do you decide what to do? And how do you delegate your time between projects?
It's changing on a year-by-year basis. It used to be what can I get. Like, "What can I get? Yeah I'll do it." But now I'm getting to this point in my career, just to be candid, where I have to turn down things because I don't have enough time for them. And that's crazy. The things I've had to say no to in the past year have, quite honestly, been heartbreaking, just because I'm on "The League," I have "Togetherness" to do, I have four Netflix movies that I'm producing, I have all my Sundance movies. I have a full slate. So it's changing for me right now and I'm looking at carving out a little more time for those cool acting projects. Like spending a week doing "Zero Dark Thirty" was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I'm actively looking to do more things like that.
Can you talk about some of the things you turned down? Did you turn down "Jurassic World"?
I can't really talk about it because I feel weird for the actors who ended up taking them because most directors say, "You're my first choice." And that would be really weird. But I will definitely say that there have been some huge movies that I've had to say no to that if I knew that five years ago I would think, What the f*ck are you doing? And that is a growing pain of where I'm at right now. That said, I get to do so much amazing stuff. Being able to make "Togetherness" with my brother and some of my best friends and to be on "The League" with some of the funniest people on the planet who are also some of my best friends and to get to produce movies for people like Patrick and foster their careers, like I am so lucky. And you don't get to do everything.
Didn't you shoot all of "Togetherness" before even turning it into HBO?
Yes we did. My brother and I write and direct all of the episodes of the show and we make it like an independent film where we shoot and edit it all ourselves. And they're incredibly supportive. We're ramping up Season 2 right now and we're going to do it the same way.
One of the great joys of "Togetherness" coming out was that great HBO theme song you guys did. Where did that come from?
You're talking about the dumbest thing we've ever done that was actually kind of fun. Well, Jay and I played in bands growing up, always, and one of our joke things we used to do when we were the Indigo Boys, basically two dudes playing acoustic guitars in coffee shops, in the middle of a set we would break out the HBO theme song and slowly people would realize it was happening and every time we did it we would blow the place up. So we were trying to think of something special to honor our 30 year love and commitment and marriage to HBO and it seemed like the right thing.
"The Lazarus Effect" is in theaters now.
Medical researcher Frank (Mark Duplass), his fiancee Zoe (Olivia Wilde) and their team have achieved the impossible: they have found a way to revive the dead. After a successful, but unsanctioned, experiment on a lifeless animal, they are ready to make their work public. However, when their dean learns what they've done, he shuts them down. Zoe is killed during an attempt to recreate the experiment, leading Frank to test the process on her. Zoe is revived -- but something evil is within her. Read More