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Film, Interview

FILM INTERVIEW: Mark Duplass — Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed

ALASDAIR DUNCAN risks his personal safety for a time-travelling chat with actor MARK DUPLASS.

AD: How did your involvement with Safety Not Guaranteed actually come about?
MD: Our producing partner Stephanie Langhoff found it. Jake and Aubery were attached and they had been looking for money for a while. For better or worse, Jay and I have the reputations as the guys who can get you a little money and go make your movie for you if you have failed to get the real money you wanted to make it. When I read it, I just fell in love with it — and with Kenneth.

AD: Would you say that in part, Safety Not Guaranteed represents an attempt to show that you can make an interesting sci-fi film without a huge budget or lots of special effects?
MD: Not at all — for me, it’s about the heart in the movie. It’s about a man who believes deeply in something that is an impossible dream. I love that sense of optimism and, most importantly, the lack of cynicism. All that said, I do think it’s very cool that we made a sci-fi movie with so little money.

AD: I get the sense you’re very committed to keeping the independent film spirit alive and well — is that a challenge in this day and age?
MD: I think it’s easier than ever. You don’t get as rich doing it as people could in the ‘80s or ‘90s, because there are tons of indie films out there, but the technology is such that any idiot can go out and make a movie now for little to no money. The only limit we have now is our own creativity. It’s scary, but it’s a great challenge to be faced with as an artist.

AD: Your character Kenneth is interesting, because you never quite know if he’s for real or if he’s crazy — what are the challenges that come with playing a character like that?
MD: Good question. For my money, I wanted Kenneth to be both sad and funny, not one or the other. I did my best to make him believable and relatable, and not just some joke. I think Kenneth could have easily gone in that quirky caricature direction, but none of us were interested in making that film.

AD: Overall, the film is quite optimistic — was the lack of cynicism something that specifically drew you towards it?
MD: You nailed it. That was it for me. I am a cynical, sarcastic person. I can’t help it — it’s just my nature. Being Kenneth was like wish-fulfilment for me. I love him, and Rocky Balboa, and Mark Borchardt from American Movie. These are three unlikely heroes, and you find yourself rooting for them against all your initial instincts. I just love that about Safety Not Guaranteed.

AD: At one point in the film, you play the zither — did you actually have to learn to play specifically for the part?
MD: Yes, but I have played guitar for many years, so it was an easy learn. Ryan Miller wrote the song and sent me a video of him playing it so I could learn it. I practised it in my shitty hotel room every night for two weeks before I had to do it on set. The recording in the film was done live on set.

AD: This is a pretty vague question, but how awesome is Aubrey Plaza, right?
MD: She’s a fantastic person — unique, odd, inspired, weird, funny, sad, unexpected. She’s also a great creative partner. I’d love to do something else with her.

AD: I’m curious to ask a bit about the nuts and bolts of shooting a low-budget film like this — does it bring you closer to the crew and turn you into a little family?
MD: It can — or it can make you hate each-other. In our case, I knew a lot of this crew because I have made a few films in the northwest, where we shot, so it was all good vibes from day one.

AD: I recall you saying that Battleship would’ve been better if it was just dudes on a battleship arguing — do you think there’ll come a time when blockbusters become more cerebral?
MD: I doubt it. I think you could make that movie, but it would make less money and, honestly, disappoint the people who paid to see it. I have no problem with the existence of those films — I just don’t really like them, unless I’m severely shitfaced.

AD: The last few years have been a really strong period for interesting and inventive TV comedy, and lots of new talents have emerged from that world — why would you say this is?
MD: Cable TV in the States has been great — I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s “free”, people will watch some more daring things than what they have to pay for in a movie theatre, where they want a sure thing. I’m on a show called The League, and we just do weird, inventive dick jokes all day long. Who would have thought someone would air that?

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is released on 18 October, 2012. http://www.palacecinemas.com.au

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About Zenobia Frost

Zenobia Frost is a Brisbane writer. Her work has been published in Voiceworks, Overland, The Lifted Brow and The Guardian. Her debut poetry collection, Salt and Bone, is out through Walleah Press. @zenfrost

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