LP: If every actor is different, how does a director find out which style works best for which actor?
JD: I think it comes down to basic communication skills, both on the director’s part and on the actor’s part. On Transparent [the Amazon series on which Duplass is a regular cast member], guest directors come on set and they’re brand new, whereas I’ve been living this world for four years, so it can be challenging for them to come in and give us what we need. So I’ll do things like say, “I’ll do whatever you guys want, ultimately, but here are some things that I feel and this is where I’m thinking about going.” Or I’ll say, “Hey, can I just have like one or two takes where I just come and express what I think my character would express in this moment?”
LP: You get it out of your system.
JD: It could seem pushy and it could rub them the wrong way, but the truth is all the stuff that we’re talking about comes down to capturing some sort of powerful energy that is happening beyond the characters and words and actions. There’s an energy there, so the push and pull is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re being respectful and a good human being. I’ll say certain things that could be perceived as what a fussy actor would do and say. For example, we’re going into a really heavy emotional scene, and the director is not going to shoot cross coverage, and they’re gonna shoot the other actor’s side first. And it might be a scene where I’m expected to lose my shit and cry. I know enough about myself to know that if I’m in that scene with [co-stars] Gaby Hoffmann or Kathryn Hahn, it’s gonna happen for me right away. So I will go to them and be like, “I’m really sorry to reroute this, but if we want the real deal for me, you need to turn this around and turn the camera on me first.”
LP: So it seems that a director should say, “Are you coming in hot, or do you wanna warm into it, maybe do the wide shot first?”
ML: I don’t know. I feel like my performance on someone else’s coverage and my performance on my own coverage are all in the same world. I guess I have a lot of tears inside me—there’s not really a time when I run out! Although that did happen one time and this Greek director did witchcraft on me and got me to cry more.
LP: Wow. What else did you like about him?
ML: He would talk about the characters like they were old friends of his that he was being sort of catty about. It was weird. He was very playful and he had such clear ideas. Whenever someone has a clear idea of what they want, I’m just excited to go with it.
TS: Any time a director lets me know where a note is coming from is great. Is it a note that is purely aesthetic-based or “for the shot?” Is the note story-driven? Is it an acting note? Basically, as long as the director is specific and good at communicating, he or she can do no wrong.
JD: The best directors I’ve been around do this: They say less. They trust you. They hold some sort of space for you. They essentially are there to witness something for you. MM
Rainbow Time opens in theaters November 4, 2016, courtesy of The Orchard.
This article appears in MovieMaker’s 2017 Complete Guide to Making Movies. Featured image: Timm Sharp (plaid) and Linas Phillips (right) on the set of Rainbow Time. Photograph by Scott Pitts.