The actor talks to ET about the importance of taking on more supporting roles in female-driven narratives.
When writer, producer and actor Mark Duplass got started in his career, he admittedly didn’t know what it meant to be an ally to women. “I was so obsessed with myself and climbing the ladder that I couldn’t see that,” he tells ET.
Then, about five years ago, he says, he became aware of the cultural gap in Hollywood being perpetrated by men in power. Realizing that he could be part of the positive shift within the industry as a result of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, Duplass not only put women at the top of his production company, but now he takes on roles that are geared toward elevating female leads.
“I think it’s important, as a white male, to just shut up, listen and be supportive,” Duplass says. While he has no shortage of his own projects -- from writing and producing the third season of Room 104 on HBO to kickstarting his own FYC campaign for the Netflix film Paddleton -- he was drawn to two projects that cast him opposite some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Aniston, in the film Bombshell and the Apple TV+ original series The Morning Show, respectively.
With regard to working with Aniston on the latter, it comes after what Duplass calls years of “creative flirtation.” “We’ve almost worked together quite a few times and it never happened,” he says before the stars finally aligned on The Morning Show.
Now, Duplass is playing executive producer Charlie "Chip" Black opposite Aniston’s lead anchor, Alex Levy, whose world is rocked when her co-anchor, Mitch Kressler (Steve Carell), is fired after allegations of sexual misconduct surface. Over the course of the first season, which concludes with episode 10 on Friday, Chip has been struggling to maintain a balance in the studio as Alex angles for more power and an ambitious new co-anchor, Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), is brought in to replace her longtime friend and coworker.
“He’s this extremely stressed-out Captain Kirk of the Morning Show ship,” says Duplass, who identifies with the character from his longtime work as an independent filmmaker and “just trying to keep the whole thing afloat.”
While Mitch is at the center of the sexual misconduct scandal, the allegations have forced the staff to re-examine their own actions and ambitions. As it turns out, not everyone is completely innocent of any wrongdoing, including Chip. “Even though he thought his moral compass was in the right place, he may have had serious errors in judgment,” Duplass says.
“I think for a person like Chip, he has gotten where he is in his career because he has done what he's needed to do to keep people happy and to keep the morning show afloat” he goes onto explain, adding that turning “a blind eye to small bits of bad behavior” may have kept things functioning in the short term, but what Chip did was actually enable “a horrific, toxic workplace.”
It’s that kind of thinking that gets Chip into trouble, Duplass adds. And in order to right his own wrongdoings, he’s convinced himself to go along with Bradley’s plan to interview Mitch and expose a systemic problem of covering up bad behavior at the network.
While doing so would betray Alex, she’s also secretly meeting with a replacement executive producer. Episode nine ends with Chip calling Alex to see if she’ll come clean but also if he can convince her of going forward with Bradley’s plan. However, none of that happens -- and the call ends with heartbreak as Chip tells Alex, “You know we’re always good.”
“There’s a real special love between Chip and Alex,” Duplass says, explaining that there’s a complicated messiness that’s developed over the years. “They let it all down in front of each other. And that’s what I love about them. There’s this intimacy that when you watch the first half of the season, you think, ‘Geez, you guys are really sh**ty to each other.’ Toward the back half of the season, I think you can start to see what a beautiful relationship they have.”
And that’s what makes the call all the more heartbreaking. “He’s really put to the ultimate test at the end of this thing about what are you willing to do for things that you love,” Duplass says.
What unfolds in the finale is under wraps -- Duplass wouldn’t even hint at the outcome -- but the actor is confirmed for season two. “I didn’t get fired from this show,” he deadpans, before adding that he has no idea what’s in store for the next 10 episodes aside from the fact that “we’re going to start shooting in February.”
Until then, audiences can watch Duplass in Bombshell opposite Theron, who portrays controversial TV personality Megyn Kelly. In the film about the Fox News women who exposed the Roger Ailes sexual misconduct scandal and eventually took down the TV titan, Duplass plays Kelly’s husband, Douglas Brunt.
While the role didn’t require a dramatic transformation that many of his co-stars went through in order to look like their real-life counterparts (“I was in and out in five minutes,” he says), playing Brunt did require Duplass to be a supportive player for Theron and help humanize Kelly.
“There’s a trope that’s existed in Hollywood for years called ‘the wife role,’ which is the man is the nuanced, interesting lead. Then he comes home and has to have some conversations with the wife so you can get some information out of it. And Doug is kind of flipping that with the husband role,” Duplass explains, adding that in a world of powerful white men telling Megyn what to do, Doug is one example of someone who listens to her and doesn’t patronize her. “That felt like a good thing to show inside of this movie.”
Ultimately, both projects let Duplass work with people he admires and respects. “When I take roles now, it’s a lot of like, ‘Oh, I’m going to play the husband role to Charlize Theron and be the supporting actor in this.’ And when I’m on The Morning Show, I play No. 5 on the cast list to support Reese and Jen and their vision,” he says, adding that he likes being part of a deep bench in these massive undertakings.
And when it comes to the next Hollywood A-lister he’d like to work with, Duplass is quick to mention one name: Sandra Bullock. “I’ve been obsessed with her for years,” he says, revealing that he wrote a draft of a script for her years ago that never got made. While he hasn’t been in touch with the Oscar winner recently, he has a message for her: “If she’s listening right now, I miss you and I want to do something together.”
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