Safety Not Guaranteed is a touching and funny movie about time travel, hope and the power of believing. Loosely based on a ‘90s classified ad seeking a companion for a time-travelling expedition, Safety Not Guaranteed charts the relationship between Kenneth (Mark Duplass) – a denim jacket clad paranoid eccentric with a heart of gold – and steely newspaper intern Darius (Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza) as they prepare for their mission.
Indie filmmaker extraordinaire, actor and all-round movie enthusiast Mark Duplass (one half of the acclaimed Duplass brothers) spoke with Killings about his rising star, Safety Not Guaranteed and his admiration for Kenneth.
You character Kenneth is kind of my dream man – you manage to make him endearing rather than manic, without losing the crazy. He believes in things others don’t but has an awareness of the world around him; they think he’s foolish, but in reality he’s no fool. Was it this complexity – the balancing of sane and insane, naturalism and absurdity, frightening and sweet – that drew you to the role?
This role was written so well. My job, basically, was not to fuck it up and not to make him so crazy that people wouldn’t understand him. To me he has that wonderful quality that draws you in, but you don’t know why you’re being drawn in until it’s too late. I guess he’s the ultimate believer… you can’t be a cynic and believe in time travel, you know?
The word ‘intensity’ is bandied around between Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Kenneth quite a bit – the mission, his person, her person, their relationship. What struck me is the physical intensity of Kenneth, his histrionics seemed almost slapstick at times, but in a wonderfully deadpan, emotive way. How much of that did you bring to the role yourself, and how much was either on the page or via the director’s guidance?
Hard to say. There weren’t too many physical descriptions about his movements, except that he should run with his hands flat, not balled up into fists. I think I took that description and just ran with it.
In other interviews you have mentioned that Kenneth, as a character, is less like yourself than any you have played before. So while you may often bring some of yourself to a character, do you ever take on any of the characteristics of a role in your own life?
God, I wish I was more like Kenneth. Seriously. The way he believes and loves. The purity with which he moves through the world. I’m much more cynical. Much more jaded. That said, I do own two jean jackets of my own now, and I wear them as unironically as I possibly can.
Your own films has been heralded as ‘mumblecore’ and you have been called a founding member of this unofficial movement. I often wonder, do you appreciate these kinds of groupings or informal labels, or does it irk you that you’re being lumped together with other artists due to similar, timely sensibilities?
They bother me now, because I find the term a bit reductive and simplistic. I would say that I’m a big fan of micro-budget cinema, working cheaply so you can discover things and take risks without the burden of money and fear hindering you from trying new, weird things. But I would also try not to mumble while saying that…
Given you have your fingers in so many pies, I have to ask you to participate in the most unfair game of FMK ever (and a most obvious question): Acting? Producing? Directing?
F = Acting
M = Producing
K = Directing
Kenneth works a frustrating job in a supermarket stacking Campbell’s soup cans repeatedly, with Warhol-like artistry, but it is his dream – the mission – that propels his day-to-day existence. Did you have to work any frustrating jobs while attempting to follow your filmmaking dreams? Do you have advice for emerging filmmakers?
I was very lucky to work as an editor early on and I also got a tremendous amount of support from my parents. My advice to emerging filmmakers is to make tons of short films, quickly, and as cheaply as possible. I know very few filmmakers whose first 5 films were anything other than pure garbage. Get your garbage out of the way … learn what you have to offer when you finally make something that’s watchable, and grow it from there.
Also, test your movies on your friends and be honest with yourself when your movies suck. It’s okay. Everybody makes shitty movies. I continue to do so.
You seem to be getting more and more coverage as a filmmaker, more and more roles as an actor – kudos on being in the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow film – it seems that your career is on the up-and-up. Coming from an indie world, are you conscious about, or interested in, ‘Hollywood stardom’?
I am conscious of it a little bit, but mostly because the more popular I get as an actor, the more my films that I make with myself in them will reach farther into the world. That’s about the extent of it. I highly doubt I will be a leading Hollywood tentpole franchise anytime soon.
Your Twitter followers will know that you have been recommending Netflix once a day for a while now. How do you feel about extending your life and public image through Twitter?
I am okay with it to a certain extent. Weird thoughts, movie recs, etc. But I’m not gonna air stuff out about my wife and kids on there. That’s private stuff (that I only exploit for my films)!
What are your thoughts on streaming avenues such as Netflix, particularly for the emerging/independent/micro-budget sector?
Full support. Full. On. Support. I love it. At the end of the day, I want people to see my movies. Anyway, anyhow.
Actually, I see you recommended Muriel’s Wedding as part of these Twitter Netflix recs. Are you at all familiar with the Australian industry beyond that film?
Oh yeah. The Magician. Kenny. And the incredible Chopper. Also, I love the Edgerton boys, particularly Nash’s amazing shorts, which I’ve been watching at Sundance over the years.
Since seeing Safety Not Guaranteed, obviously I’ve been contemplating what I’d do if I could time travel with a chosen companion. My dream companion would be Bill Murray. So, if you could time travel with Bill Murray, where would you go? Or if not Bill Murray, who would you choose as a dream mission companion?
I would go anywhere with Bill Murray. But, ideally, I’d go to the future where he is president of the United States and I am filming a documentary about his meteoric rise to political stardom. And the final scene would likely involve him eating an entire key lime pie as his State of the Union address. No words. Just eating.