Recently, I had the chance to interview Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard, the two stars from Lynn Shelton‘s film, Humpday. Humpday is a film about two guys that decide to make a guy porn together, except neither one is gay. It is all for the sake of “art”. Mark Duplass plays the character of Ben, a family man with the house, wife, and the boring job. Joshua Leonard plays the character of Andrew, the “artistic”, gypsy-type who travels all around the world and leads a directionless life. It was pretty interesting listening to the two of them for a few reasons. First off, they shed a lot of insight into their characters from the film, and because they were just entertaining.
Reading this interview before you see the movie might be slightly enlightening for a few reasons because they talk about the film! More than that, they talk about how they came up with their characters and how they, basically, were improvising throughout the entire film. On a side note: they have pretty awesome porn names as well.
Check out what they had to say in the interview below…
With this recent trend of the “bromace” comedy, this film falls in that category but it is so different from the others. Why do you think people are connecting with this film more than the others?
MD: There is certainly a connection with the whole “bromance” movement. Our movie is certainly a more intimate version of that and the comedy is a little less broad and a little more character based. It is about two lost dudes in their early 30s and the fact that they are not happy with where they have ended up and some jealousy and competition between them. It is rooted in everyday life.
JL: We had a bit of an unfair advantage because we were able to make this film completely on our own terms with no real world stakes. We were set up to succeed or fail within our very tiny paradigm. I think what came out of that was a very un-elevated version of what you are seeing polished up a little more in the studio system. I don’t know that it is necessarily that we are better, but we could cut through the subtext that other people were working, in the studio system, in their own movies, that were focused on similar conundrums, but were not able to attack without someone keeping count on the jokes per minute.
The chemistry between the two of you was fantastic. Can you talk about that and what type of relationship you were going for in the film?
MD: We have good chemistry. I like the way he smells. My wife and I have a theory, and you have your best chance of finding a mate in the world is based on if you like the way the other person smells, and Josh smells fucking incredible. When Lynn asked me to do the movie, initially, she asked me to play the part of Andrew. I felt more comfortable playing the role of Ben, because I had recently gotten married and I have a kid; Josh and I were not that close at the time, but I immediately thought of him because there are these two elements that Lynn and I wanted for these two guys to have between them; one is a sensitivity where they can lean on each other and talk therapy talk, express their insecurities, and do all that new-agey stuff, but also the Type-A, agro male where they could rip each other’s head off. Josh and I, we met under great circumstances and became quick friends, but if we were on the wrong side of the battlefield during the 1400s in Scotland, we would destroy the living shit out of each other.
JL: How can you put words to chemistry like that? However, if we were born as libertines in the 20s in Paris, we might have gone the other way.
MD: That is very true. Actually, we might have done both. I think that is what you would do if you were a libertine in Paris; you beat the shit out of each other, then you have sex, then you share a cigarette and some weird cheese.
Can you tell us a bit about Ben’s wife Anna, played by Alycia Delmore?
MD: This is going to kind of sound like total press bullshit, but she really is the unsung hero in this movie. This movie could have turned into a bullshit farce with no human sympathy or understanding of the characters. The biggest trap in this film would be either the wife who doesn’t understand what is going on and smiles through the whole thing, or the bullshit, nagging wife who has no sensitivity and tries to clamp down on what is happening. Somehow, because there is no script, she navigates this stuff; she is sensitive in the right moments, understanding when she should be, and clamping when she should be. I think it is a credit to the essence of her person and how she might have handled herself in this situation. She had enough love and enough understanding, but also toughness when things go to far. She is amazing.
JL: The one line pitch of this movie is stupid enough that I think without that cornerstone, it could have gone bad so easily. None of us wanted to make a farce, but without that character being three dimensional, it really would not have stood a chance. I think what Alycia does by inhabiting that character in such a dimensional way, is play as the voice of reality against these two guys who are so caught up in their alpha male, moronic ego battle that they can’t see the forest through the trees. I think she is able to ask the questions and put up the challenges that the audiences are going to be putting up. Without that, the guys will go unchallenged and the film will just fall on its face.
The movie screened at Sundance. What was that experience like?
MD: Our first screening was at the Eckels, which is the big, 1200-seat theater. I have had a bunch of movies at Sundance, but I had never had any of them screen at the Eckels. You have that underdog feeling where you only have 12 or 13 people making the film, cast and crew included, and then suddenly you are at Sundance. Sundance is known for having audiences being a little bit more excited and a little more ready for an indie film, but it was really explosive. There was a lengthy Q&A; they had to literally kick us out of the theater. For a person who loves to have attention and their ego stroked, it was a good place to be.
JL: I really do believe that people want the underdog film to succeed. I know I do. There is a feeling where if one succeeds, we all succeed. It has become increasingly harder to get your film out there. The distribution channels slimmed a bit. When a little film actually maneuvers its way through the obstacle course to find an audience, there is a part of us, in the independent film community, who cheer a little bit. I think we have all felt a tremendous amount of good will with this film. A lot of the stuff you see at Sundance, for better or worse, are studio films. They are 20 million dollar independent films with a bunch of movie stars in it. It is getting harder and harder for a little film with no movie stars, and practically no budget, to compete with that. I think we have benefited from that tremendously and the luck of timing with the whole “bromace” zeitgeist kind of hitting its stride.
What was it like working with director, Lynn Shelton?
JL: Lynn is, if not my favorite, one of my favorite directors that I have worked with. She is smart, savvy, creative and absolutely unpretentious. There is not a pretentious bone in her body. One of her best skills, which I think she has come to very organically, is director as curator. She picks the right group of people for the right project. She really lets the people bring the entirety of themselves to the sandbox. This experience was as close to ego-less as I have ever had on a film set. Everyone was there for the right reasons.
How involved was Lynn in directing the two of you during the process of filming?
JL: The bond, the history of these guys, and the history of Ben’s and Anna’s relationship all came through very collaborative conversations, amongst the core creative group, before we went into shooting. Because there were no rehearsals before we started shooting, Lynn was there to act as a referee. She was there to keep her eye on the macro for when we lost it. There were scenes where all the hypothesizing in the world could be great, and then you get in there and it just doesn’t fucking work; it just doesn’t feel natural, organic or real. Those were the moments where Lynn stepped in. We would take a walk and have another discussion and reproach it.
MD: The only thing I would add to that is that she is very hands-off and respectful of everyone’s job. She puts a lot of trust in them to do their jobs. Josh, Lynn and I all sort of hammered out what this movie was going to be and the structure of the thing. She is confident, within herself, where she doesn’t have to have her hand in every single pot at every single time. When we would do the takes, we would do three or four takes each being maybe fifteen or thirty minutes of a scene, she would give us little notes in terms of what she liked more. She knows how to wrangle everything and then just let it go.
It seems like the two of you had a lot of freedom to build your characters. Do you think an actor can be given too much freedom?
MD: I think there is absolutely too much freedom. I think the key, within an improvised film, is a really rock-solid plot that is moving nicely towards a climax. One thing that we all decided, at the beginning of this movie, is that we would not know what would happen in the hotel room. That is a very good way to make sure everyone is asking the question, what is going to happen in the hotel room? Every good movie, that is moving forward, has a central question at its core, and that is this movie’s central question. Are these guys going to do when they hit that hotel room?
Can you tell us a bit about the final scene in the hotel room?
MD: The hotel was set up specifically to be a “who knows what the fuck will happen”. The movie was structured where we shot it in sequential order and the last scene would be the boys in the hotel room. All the dialogue was improvised throughout the film. We knew all the beats we were going to hit throughout the film except for the hotel room scene. The outline for the film said, “The boys go into the hotel room”. We decided we would check in at 7pm and check out at 7am and we would just see what we got. We did the first take and it took about an hour. We just kind of went through what we thought the guys would go through. That was a big chunk of what you actually see in the movie.
JL: We actually shot for twelve hours, but I would say that about two-thirds of what winds up in the final movie was out of takes one and two.
MD: That is what happens with this type of process. When you are improvising, we don’t rehearse and you are, essentially, rolling on the rehearsal the first time you go in. That can turn into a giant piece of shit, but sometimes you can get lightening. No one knew what was going to happen. We actually tried to repeat what we had done on the first take, while it was helpful for some connective tissue, but they were so uninspired compared to the first take.
JL: Yeah, part of that was because everyone was so excited when we first jumped in, especially for the last scene. Mark and I had kept so many psychic hand grenades in our back pockets and tossed out at each other to see how the other would react. A lot of that stuff was tossed out at the beginning so in the subsequent takes; there was more anticipation and premeditation of how we were going to react to that.
JL: This film was really set up around the process; because it was improvised, because we shot in sequence, and because we tried not to hypothesize what the last scene would be, it gave Mark and I the advantage of walking into that hotel room completely in the skin of those characters. It was scary, but it was also exciting.
What are your porn names?
MD: The classic formula for the porn name is the first pet and the first street you lived on. So that would make me Speedy Labar.
JL: Not to one up you here Mark, because really I had nothing to do with it. As the Gods would have it, my porn name would be Cheetah Saxton.
MD: You son of a bitch! Why did I go first? Scratch mine; I’m going to get back to you in a week with something better.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
JL: As Mark has said before, if you are going to make another movie about middle-class white people, you better go deep. I think the conundrums and the self-searching, which this film touches on, are certainly quality problems. The point of this film was to go deep into our own fears and offer them up on the table for both comedic and, hopefully, poignant effect. At the end of the day, it is a movie about friendship and trying to figure out who the hell you are. I know through the course of my life, people who are able to approach those subjects really honestly, and with some amount of vulnerability, have given me permission to do the same in my own life. If people walk out, and this facilitates a couple difficult conversations, and helps them to feel more comfortable to put their own fears up for introspection and redirection, then that is the best-case scenario.
MD: I hope someone says that was the strangest, most unexpected buddy movie I have seen in quite a few years.
Humpday will be released in a limited amount of theaters on July 24
Watch the trailer below…