Elisabeth Moss & Mark Duplass Talk About Improvising In Their Latest Film And 'True Detective' Rumors
When you put Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss and indie filmmaker and actor Mark Duplass in a room together, you'll hear them giggling a lot and riffing off each other with inside jokes. The pair's chemistry is on point in their new film, The One I Love, and it's pretty much the same in real life.
The movie follows married couple, Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss), who try to salvage their crumbling relationship by going on a weekend retreat at a secluded vacation home at the suggestion of their marriage counselor (Ted Danson). However, things aren't what they seem, weirdness ensues, and there are some Twilight Zone vibes.
The One I Love bears a strong resemblance to Duplass' other films like The Puffy Chair and Jeff, Who Lives At Home (which he co-wrote and directed with his brother, Jay Duplass) that are in the mumblecore genre, which has elements of naturalistic dialogue and improvisation in it. They also fall in the category of being indie, low budget films.
He serves as the executive producer on The One I Love, and worked with newbies, director Charlie McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader. They all collaborated (including Moss) on the plot and characters, and came out with a general 50-page outline. While there were a few scripted scenes—some of which were penned the night before—Moss and Duplass improvised most of the film.
LAist spoke to Duplass and Moss, where they talked about just how hard it was to improvise, and how they became friends over pizza.
I understand the script was a collaborative effort between you guys. Could you talk about how you came up with the idea, and developed the story and the characters?
Moss: It was all my idea and then I brought Mark along. [Laughs]
Duplass: She’s like "I’ve got to put a lot of people on...oh shit."
Moss: "Guess I have to find someone else for this movie." [Laughs]
Duplass: It started with a tiny germ of an idea I had... And then Charlie and Justin really ran with the bulk of it and created this 10-page outline that was the basic world of the movie. At which point, we asked Lizzy (Moss) to become a part of it and she ended [up] doing a really amazing job being the defender of the female voice in the script and sort of taking all the dudeness out of the female characters that needed taking out. It was a wonderful collaboration of Justin overseeing the writing and where the story went at all times and the rest of us pitching in on the back story and on set doing a lot of the sculpting of the dialogue of the characters and how they speak.
Why did you decide to kind of do more of an outline and less of a script?
Duplass: It’s my opinion is that you can’t write a perfect script within four or five months but you can make one hell of a great outline and finish the rest of it on set. From inception to shooting was about five months for this movie and when you’re doing it that quickly you shouldn’t write a full script—you should write a perfect outline and then just finish the rest of it yourself. You know, if you have two years to write a script that in some ways is preferable in my opinion.
Mark, I know that you’ve done a lot of improvising in different films. Elisabeth, was it easy or hard for you to improvise?
Moss: No, I don’t really like improvising. I get really scared and nervous and feel like I’m not saying the right thing. I think there are people who are so good at it—like Mark is one of them. The cool thing about this for me as opposed to Get Him To The Greek—which was so much about the jokes and being funny—[was that] luckily, I was a little bit more of a straight man so I didn’t have to do so much in that case. But what was cool about this was that it was more about making her real. It was just about how this character would respond to whatever I needed to say to Mark’s character. What also alleviated some of that pressure was I think some of the actors think that improv means that you have to be funny and it’s always like that. It’s about making it real and telling the story—and that I could figure out how to do. So, I appreciate writing; I prefer to have lines. [Laughs]
Mark, did you have to coach everyone else on improvising?
Duplass: No, I think improvisation is overblown like it’s this skill set. For comedic improvisation I think you do have to practice to get good at it. But for a narrative improvisation which is just the retelling of a story in an organic way, I think if you’re a good actor who likes people and you actually pay attention to the person across from you, you’re going to be great at it. I’ve never been wrong about that. I’ve brought in tons of people who have never done it before in my movies and they’ve all been good at it if they want to do it.
Moss: And Mark and I weren’t strangers as well—we were friends and we hung out quite a bit, so it wasn’t like you were just meeting somebody and we had to pretend to know each other.
Duplass: Yeah, we had a rhythm.
Moss: We obviously liked the same movies and that’s how I came to this movie because I liked his movies. We have similar sensibilities.
How long have you guys been friends for?
Duplass: I want to say 2011 or 2010 maybe.
Moss: No later than that, for sure.
Duplass: It was this crazy experience where Larry Kasden put us in his movie (Darling Companion) and all of his friends were in the movie who are the world’s hugest movie stars like Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline and Dianne Wiest and Sam Shepard. And I was there early and Lizzy showed up and we kind of met at the table very briefly and exchanged phone numbers. And she was kind of like, “Are you hanging out with all those crazy famous people?” and I was like, "No, I’m just here to hang out—will you come get pizza with me?” And she was like “Yeah” and we kind of bonded there.
Moss: We were the only people who weren’t legends in the film.
Duplass: That was our connection. [Laughs]
There’s a twist in the story I know we’re not supposed to talk about that happens pretty early on in the film. Has it been tough trying to hold back the spoilers since the film came out at Sundance?
Duplass: I would say it has been a surprise we could do it at all. We really thought once the movie came out everybody would blow it. It’s so wonderful that a lot of journalists who wrote about it were basically being very respectful and saying, “I really love this movie and I don’t want to tell you what happens because I want you to see it the way I saw it.” And it gave us all the idea of like, “You know what? Maybe we can hang onto this secret.” I don’t feel like in the age of social media—the way it is today—that we can hold onto plot spoilers but so far we’re doing it and we’re hopeful it can last as long as it can because it’s really true that the less you know about this movie before you see it, the more you will enjoy it.
Moss: And that’s how people used to go see movies. If you watch old movie trailers, they don’t tell you everything. People used to walk into movies and have no idea what was going to happen. Now the script is online before you even see the movie. I think people should take a little bit of a leap based on if you like the people involved in the movie.
Mark, you’re the executive producer on this film. What was it like working with, first-time director, Charlie McDowell?
Duplass: I love Charlie, personally, and that’s why I got involved with him. I saw this guy who was really smart, a really loving person, very emotionally involved, [and] very hungry to make a good movie. He was very frustrated with the industry like I was at his age. We developed this big brother/little brother relationship right away and the same with Justin, the writer as well. And by the time the movie was getting ready on its feet, they kind of were ready to take charge of it. And I took the training wheels off and backed off and they ran with the movie. It worked out really well, and it doesn’t always work out that way.
I’ve seen you work with some other first-time directors. Are you drawn to them?
Duplass: I am drawn to them because I feel like I have a couple of things to offer. One, it’s a way of getting movies made cheaply and quickly. Two, I can help you get a movie made if you don’t have all the accolades and experience and resume to get your movie made. Thirdly, if there are some things where you’re less than experienced with as a director, I’m always around just in case. And in the case of Charlie and Justin, they didn’t need me as much, but I would’ve been there anyway.
Elisabeth, I was curious if you could address the rumors about you being in the next season of True Detective?
Moss: I could address them...but yes, that is a possibility. It’s extremely flattering. I’m a fan of the show, I’m a fan of the people involved in the show and I’m excited to see more of it. It’s always flattering when people think you can do anything really, so it’s cool; it’s really nice to hear. But that’s all I can really say about it.
You can’t say if it’s true or not?
Well, then I would literally be telling you if it were true or not. [Laughs] You can tell me if it’s true or not, because honestly anybody knows as much as I do. If you hear anything, you call me, okay?
"The One I Love" opens Friday in theaters.