A typical pandemic weekday for Mark Duplass starts with two to three hours of writing from his home office, a place he refers to as the “shithole” of an otherwise streamlined, Barbara Bestordesigned contemporary in Silver Lake. With a sound booth tucked in the corner for voiceover work, the cluttered space is something Duplass considers a vestige of “who I was when I was 25.” After the writing session, the actor/director/producer moves on to phone calls about upcoming projects before shifting into his final professional time block, reviewing cuts of the many shows, movies and documentaries he juggles with his equally multihyphenate writer/producer/actor brother Jay Duplass.
“Since we both started as editors, we’re known as fixers,” he says. “Our feedback is usually valuable.” Together, the Louisiana-born siblings founded Duplass Brothers Productions in 1996, starting with strictly indie endeavors that gradually expanded into studio projects for both film and television.
Despite the office hours, Duplass is adamant about exercise, devoting at least 45 minutes daily as a preventative against anxiety and depression, something he openly discusses battling for much of his adult life.
By 4pm, however, he shifts into family mode, enjoying a predinner drink with his wife, actress/director Katie Aselton, before preparing dinner together for their daughters, aged 8 and 12. “Since we’re all home all the time, we’re in wolf-pack mode,” he says. “For the kids, that has meant some boredom, but it’s also meant we’ve become closer.”
The domestic routine is a far cry from Duplass’ pre-COVID existence, one where the 43-year-old literally ran between Sony lot sets. On one sound stage, he oversaw Room 104, an anthology series set in an average American motel room where very-far-from-average events unfold in each episode. He’d travel less than 200 yards away to The Morning Show, Apple TV’s big-budget ode to early-morning TV. “I went from one of the biggest sound stages on the lot, The Morning Show, to a tiny closet stage for 104,” he explains. “It was my own Upstairs, Downstairs life.”
Despite showing up for Room 104 in The Morning Show makeup, Duplass says the backand- forth represented a career evolution. “Getting to be on that enormous ship without having to drive it was so appealing,” says Duplass. “It is such an amazing female-led team, and then to be working with these titans like Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell, Billy Crudup, Karen Pitman. Even if the character sucked, I would have done it,” says Duplass of his role as Charlie “Chip” Black, The Morning Show’s executive producer who attempts to steer the production to safe harbor amid a #MeToo storm of Matt Lauer proportions.
But the character didn’t suck, nor did Duplass’ interpretation of it, which earned him his first Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor. As of this writing, a winner had yet to be announced.
The character also neatly dovetailed with Duplass’ professional experience, despite the fact that he’s never been a morning news show consumer. “The big connection to Chip is that I’m an independent film producer. I can identify with the level of stress you have to ingest to captain a ship. What was so fun about playing him is that this is live TV. It’s a ticking time bomb of a format.”
And then, overnight, the Sony lot sprint ground to a halt when the pandemic hit the U.S. in early March. Suddenly, life retreated home for much of the entertainment industry. And yet for Duplass, work has far from slowed.
If his physical life retreated to a far smaller sphere revolving around his Silver Lake home, his mental, emotional and professional parameters have expanded far beyond The Morning Show’s #MeToo underpinnings to encompass other social movements that have Duplass considering his roles both on screen and off. “This whole new layer came out with BLM,” he explains. “The writing captures that brilliantly. I did some interesting things to humanize Chip and make him a little more mumbling with the ‘ahhs’ and improvisations, but the big stuff is all [writer] Kerry Anne Ehrin. I’m looking back at the show now with a new context. Now I’m thinking about what it means to be a white male in a position of power and get it right. I don’t have any specific answers quite yet.”
Which isn’t to say he wasn’t asking questions prior to 2020. “Jay and I had the insane privilege of parents who said, ‘We love you and believe in you. Here’s $5,000. Go make a movie.’”
Earlier this year Duplass and Aselton founded the Soul Points Fund, a zero-interest, zero-equity loan program for people lacking the cash to realize creative projects and smallbusiness concepts. “We’re taking shots on people,” he says. “Here is $5,000. Go do your thing. Here is 10 to 15 hours of mentoring. Those are the smaller stakes. The bigger stakes are, ‘Let’s go make a $50K to $100K movie.’ That will be more heavily curated. That person should be a person of color or a woman filmmaker.”
With production paused on many projects, Duplass is taking advantage of time at home with his family. “My 8-year-old daughter wrote a book. I was her stenographer,” he continues. “My friends joke about me as the eternal optimist. It’s why I think I have a career and an ability to shift. I thought I was going to be a Fox Searchlight filmmaker. That dried up. So I moved to TV. That dried up. Then I made Room 104. I can find work anywhere. All privilege aside, I’m very happy and very at peace.”
Photography by: Sam Jones