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Cyrus Director Jay Duplass on Landing John C. Reilly and Making People Squirm

At last night's Cinema Society screening at of Cyrus, we caught up with director Jay Duplass (who, with his brother Mark, also directed The Puffy Chair and Baghead) to chat about his first studio film, which stars John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener.

You wrote this role for John C. Reilly. Was there ever any doubt that he would take it?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. When we started writing the role, you know, we just couldn’t stop imagining him in the film. I mean, it was one of those things where every time we would imagine him doing something, it got funnier, it got more emotional, it got more tragic, it got all the things that we wanted the film to be. And, you know, a few months into it we realized if he didn’t want to do the movie, we weren’t sure we were going to make it. So, luckily he agreed [Laughs], and he did an even better job than we thought he would do.

Everyone is talking about the improvisation.

We’ve always worked in this way, but our improvisation is a little bit different than what is typically regarded as improvisation today. I mean, in comedic films like Apatow or Will Ferrell films, it’s about finding a joke or making up a joke. For us, it’s really just about loosening up the dialogue and putting two people in a room and saying, “You know what it is that you want to accomplish. If you want to use the language from the script, great, but know that the person across from you may not be responding with the perfect lines and order, so you have to be on your toes and you have to be aware.” And it kind of gives it a really genuine feeling that anything in this moment can happen, and I think that viewers subconsciously pick up on that.

What was the most awkward scene? There’s one in the trailer where Jonah Hill goes into the bathroom while Marisa Tomei is taking a shower.

There’s a lot of awkwardness in this movie. We like to make people squirm.

Did Jonah Hill’s character remind you of yourself when you were 21?
[Laughs] Not really, but, um, let me think … Not at all, actually. I mean, we sometimes pull from our own lives, but sometimes we pull from the world, and that, in particular. Jonah was really inspired to take that character to a special place, so we have to give that up to him.

How did you come up with these characters?
Well, it first started with the idea of creating a love story and having the guy who was pursuing the woman be an unconventional character, and, you know, we’ve watched John C. Reilly forever and just thought we’d love to see him in a role like that. And so it started with him, and then we needed someone who could match his wit, his humor, you know, his emotional awareness, and Jonah was that guy. And once we had those two strong characters, then we knew we needed a strong woman who could fill in, and Marisa, I mean, who else can you get if you’re looking for a strong woman?

You’re known for doing handheld-camera technique. So when are we going to see the first Duplass brothers feature in 3-D?

As soon as I can figure out how to carry a 90-pound camera on my shoulder. Um, I guess three years of squats? Maybe that’s what it’ll take.

Photo: Patrick McMullan