The Duplass brothers dissect Cyrus

Leftfield comedy Cyrus, starring Jonah Hill, is a triumph for the ‘mumblecore’ genre


There’s a new movement sweeping the American indie film industry, and it’s called ‘mumblecore’. Typefied by extremely low-budget production, improvised scripts and a focus on twentysomethings, the genre has been spearheaded by writing and directing team Mark and Jay Duplass, who have brought together Jonah Hill (Superbad), John C Reilly (Step Brothers) and Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) for their latest film, Cyrus. This indie comedy combines mumblecore and mainstream ideals, and the result is a hilariously bizarre story about a woman whose fully-grown son is dead set on putting a stop to her burgeoning romance. We grabbed the Duplass brothers to find out more.

What is Cyrus all about?
Jay: It’s a new take on the love triangle. It’s a film that blends drama and comedy and a movie that tries to show a side of life you don’t often see on screen. It shows things that are happening in your bedroom that you imagine are happening in your next-door-neighbour’s house. It looks at the banal, everyday things that happen to regular people. The film shows you are not alone. We know how messed up you are and we celebrate that. We don’t condemn you for it. It’s a film with weird, awkward moments so you can laugh and cringe at the same time.

You were given a bigger budget and crew for this film. What difference does that make to your work?
Mark: We are hopelessly and helplessly ourselves when it comes to making a movie. You can give us US$4 or you can give us US$4 billion and we’ll probably make a movie mostly in close-ups about people’s feelings. That’s just what we like doing.

How did you cast Jonah Hill as Cyrus? He said he stalked you and really wanted to work with you.
Mark: He’s being super-sweet by saying that – we’d wanted to work with him for years. We had a meeting set up with him because we were interested in him for this role. We drove up in our battered Prius and parked it illegally and waited for him for about three minutes. And then he drove up in his battered Prius and we were like: ‘Brother, where art thou?’ It was like coming home. It was great because he sees the world in the way that Jay and I see it. We’re all jovial and fun to be around in many ways, but we’re also extremely sensitive and nervous and a little dark. Jonah was interested in expressing that side of himself and we were more than happy to give him the chance.

What distinguishes the actors you cast?
Mark: John is beautiful and intelligent and strange and lovely. He is a regular dude trying to make his way. We wanted to see that guy as a romantic lead in a movie. When we paired him with Marisa playing Molly, we loved the idea that everyone was going to walk into this movie thinking, ‘How the hell is John Reilly going to get Marisa Tomei? How does that play out?’ We find that both Marisa Tomei and her character, Molly, are people who can see beauty in places where no one else can. That’s the way Jay and I see the world. The characters of John and Cyrus are strange and they operate in questionable ways in the world, but their motives are so full of love and so pure. Cyrus is just a kid who’s scared to lose his mother because it’s the only relationship he has.

As co-writers and directors, how do you divide up the work?
Jay: It’s completely mood based. We generally share everything. We develop it, then we move to note cards. Mark dictates the whole movie into a Dictaphone and that’s a function of working more intuitively and not as much from the intellect. Once we get it onto paper, he reads it to me and I’ll do a draft and pass it back to him, and we trade drafts from that point onwards. On set, we direct together. I do shoot the A camera in the film, but after every take he and I either look at each other and something happens and we tell the actors something, or we’ll have a little private conference. If the scene isn’t working, we’ll stop and walk around the block.
Mark: Usually with Doritos.

You include a lot of improvisation in your films. How much do you have to trust your actors?
Jay: They have to have trust in us because they don’t really know where everything is going and it feels like it’s out of control sometimes. I guess we do trust our actors, but we can always take them in another direction, yet they can’t always take us in another direction.
Cyrus is in UAE cinemas now.

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