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Mark Duplass on His Mindy Appearance, the Birth Canal, and Competing With Chris Messina

Mark Duplass. Photo: Getty Images

Mark and Jay Duplass made their network TV debut (and Jay his acting debut) as “midwives with attitude” on The Mindy Project this week, playing two brothers who are the practitioners of a holistic birthing center in the same building as Shulman and Associates’ OB/GYN practice — making it easier for them to steal their patients. The pair, who made quite an impression as Brendan and Duncan in Tuesday’s episode, will be back for six or seven more, and in addition to professional rivalry, they might even stir up some romantic tension during their stint on the show, according to Mark Duplass, who phoned Vulture late last night to give us the lowdown.

Hi! I just saw the episode.
Was I good? You have the distinct advantage over me, because I haven’t seen it yet.

You were great. Although to be fair, Jay doesn’t speak as much, so you got the better lines.
I have to be overprotective of him, because he’s quiet. He will speak more in future episodes. But my character Brendan is one of the most confident people on the planet. He’s in a touchy-feely field, which is very sweet and loving, yet he’s type-A and a kick-ass midwife. He’s what I’m like to a certain degree, because my mother is very sweet and creative, and my dad is a kick-ass attorney, and I’m the result of those two conflicting forces. But his key basic component is that he trusts his instincts, deeply, and I’m so the opposite of that. I question every move. I’m constantly second-guessing myself. Even this, because I’ve never been on a network show before, so I was wondering what it was going to be like. Do you really have to stick to your lines? Is the blocking more serious? I was a little nervous, you know? But it was great and loose and a big love fest. I got to improvise a lot.

Did you learn anything about midwifery for this part? Did you watch The Business of Being Born? Did having two kids help you feel more familiar with this world?
I did, about four years ago, and holy cow! That water birthing scene was amazing. She basically had the discomfort level of a popcorn kernel lodged in her teeth. But I didn’t go crazy method on this stuff. That being said, I was basically the doula for the birth of our two children, so I’m not afraid of the whole thing, the moment the vagina becomes a birth canal. I feel good about it.

At least you already have the experience of shooting a crazy birth scene on The League, so whatever The Mindy Project throws at you, you’ll be prepared.
Katie [Aselton, his wife] had just given birth to our real daughter three months before that, so that scene was not funny for me and Katie. We were just fucking traumatized! We were not ready to be back in a room like that just yet. And we used a real baby in that scene, so the first time the doctor lifted it up, Katie burst into tears for like ten minutes. It was just too close to home. And if I have to deliver a baby on The Mindy Project, there could be some crying. You might see some shit happen. No spoilers, though. I want people to be excited to see what happens next. I can say that we’re going to be around this season, and we’re going to get up in their grill.

Are you suggesting rom-com references to Mindy? Perhaps something related to Same Time, Next Year, since you’re writing/directing the reboot?
You know, I watched the original Same Time, Next Year on DVD about ten times this year, and I cried all ten times. It has this unabashed, fist-pumping lack of sarcasm, which I think is missing a little bit in art right now. If you believe in things, it can come across as so goddamn cheesy, but I have to say, I love that spirit of optimism and lack of cynicism. And I think Mindy has that, too.

Was the eyelash moment improvised?
That was an idea I had. I pitched it, Mindy loved it, and we did it.

Is that a reference to a specific romantic comedy moment?
It could be. I didn’t have anything in particular in mind, but I firmly believe that everything I do is a thinly veiled rip-off of something I can’t quite remember. I did this take in Safety Not Guaranteed where I thought my character shouldn’t understand sarcasm, so he said, “Why does your voice sound like that?” And then afterwards, I remembered how Daryl Hannah in Splash couldn’t understand sarcasm and said the same thing, which was probably somewhere in my mind at the time. But what I wanted out of the eyelash moment was a thing about how Mindy beats him down with her tirade, and then with a single move, without saying a word, he exhibits his own strength.

There was some romantic tension there. Could your character become a rival to Chris Messina’s Danny for the love-hate department?
Definitely off-camera. Chris and I are always duking it out for Mindy’s affections on set. In this first moment, there is some extreme push and pull going on, almost a Sam-and-Diane from Cheers thing going on. There’s some kind of little attraction, but they could not be more different. At least he’s working in the same field as her, even if they have diametrically opposed philosophies about everything in life.

How did you feel about being called the “super-good-looking, super-hot guys”?
Can I be honest? Messina is the best looking one in the room. That dude is hot. That’s just my taste. I find him to be very attractive, even when he gets the parts we’re both going for. I’m a producer and a director, so I see all the cast lists, and seriously, it’s like it’s always me up against Messina. There was this thing about how we’re often confused with each other, which was very funny. We should be mortal enemies, but he’s so goddamned nice and attractive and lovely to be with, so we decided not to murder each other.

Were you up against him for your part in Zero Dark Thirty? Was he up against you for his part in Argo?
One of those is definitely true.

Can he help you get a part on The Newsroom?
I’m a little terrified of that. That man [Aaron Sorkin] loves the cadence of his words so much, and my strength as an actor is to bring a looseness and a fluidity, to find things in the moment, as opposed to being the vessel for one man’s will.   

You’re also producing The Skeleton Twins, with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig starring. Will we by chance see you and Bill interact on The Mindy Project, since he plays her ex?
Obviously we know Bill Hader is funny and charming, but my question is, can he do raw humanity and naturalism? I think so. I think he’s truly beautiful in this movie, as corny as that sounds, playing a truly wrecked human being. There is something amazing there, so look out for him. What I would love for the show is if he could get pregnant, then I could battle Chris Messina on who gets to pull out that baby.

Mark Duplass on His Mindy Appearance