Pasadena, Calif. — Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass have been making movies together since they were kids in New Orleans trying to be the Cohen Brothers. After a number of popular indie flicks, the pair has taken its talent to HBO with Togetherness, the half-hour comedy premiering Sunday.
“We feel like we struggled for years to find not only good roles but the ability to make anything good ourselves,” Mark said Thursday at the TCA Winter Press Tour. “At the end of the day, we still feel like unless we make the work it will not come to us.”
“We care about the interworlds of people,” added Jay, who cocreated, wrote and directed the series with Mark. “Our stories are not told with images and visuals; they’re told in the faces of these people ... ultimately the whole show is in these four faces.”
Those four faces are Mark, Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet and Steve Zissis. Duplass and Lynskey play a married couple who lets his best friend (Zissis) and her sister (Peet) stay with them at their Los Angeles home.
“This is the first time we’ve had a story where you have four equal protagonists,” said Mark. “We set a challenge for ourselves to write the women up as much as we could.”
While Peet heaped praise on the scripts — “Jay and Mark are such brilliant writers” — the brothers encourage improvisation in the acting. They provide full scripts but ask the actors to change any lines that feel false and to pay attention to their fellow actors, Mark said. “Improvisation is used as a means to get some of that intimacy, a sense of honesty.”
Added Jay, “We hire brilliant human beings who are funny and know depth of character.”
Other highlights from the panel included:
—Mark commented on the chemistry between Peet and Zissis, whose characters grow to have a unique friendship. “We asked Amanda to come in and read with Steve,” Duplass said. “There’s something so exciting about the natural, intrinsic chemistry of Steve and Amanda.” Added Peet, “We feel like there’s something there that’s beyond the regular pure buddy kind of thing.”
—Zissis, who plays an out-of-work actor with some similarities to his own career, was asked how “metta” it was performing in the show. “It’s how it had to be, since I don’t have any acting talent or imagination,” he said.