Mark Duplass

My 5 Minutes with the President

Louisiana native Mark Duplass is known as a force in independent film both behind and in front of the camera — writing, producing, directing and starring in a number of films. He made a name for himself when he starred in, co-wrote and co-directed a string of award-winning short films, including “This is John” and “Scrabble,” both of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

He and his brother Jay also wrote and directed the Sundance breakout hit “The Puffy Chair,” which went on to win the Audience Award at SXSW, was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards and was released theatrically by Roadside Attractions and Netflix. “Baghead,” their next feature film, was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. Fox Searchlight released Mark and Jay’s first studio feature, “Cyrus,” starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei, which garnered rave reviews. Mark and Jay’s next film was Paramount’s recent release “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.

As an actor, Mark co-starred in “The Puffy Chair,” “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” “Your Sister’s Sister” (with Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt), Lawrence Kasdan’s “Darling Companion” opposite Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Richard Jenkins and Dianne Wiest, and the breakout hit “Humpday.” Mark also appeared opposite Ben Stiller in Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg,” released by Focus Features.

Mark has produced numerous films including “The Freebie,” starring Dax Shepard and Katie Aselton, as well as “Lovers of Hate” and “Bass Ackwards,” all three of which premiered at Sundance. Mark also produced the hit Sundance 2012 film “Safety Not Guaranteed,” in which he stars. Mark can be seen on the small screen as the lead in FX’s “The League,” a semi-scripted comedy about a fantasy football league; and in the film “People Like Us,” which is currently in theaters. 

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

MARK DUPLASS: Education. I have this core belief that people of means (i.e., rich people) should be sponsoring young kids’ private, charter or parochial school educations if those kids don’t have decent public schools near them. I have lots of ideas about how to galvanize this money. I am not a rich person, but if you looked at me and said, “Please find $7,000 a year to sponsor this kid to go to a decent parochial school, instead of the failed public school in his district,” I would say yes. And I know lots of people who would also say yes. 

RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?

MD: What was the last movie that made you weep? Not that single-tear kind of thing … I’m talking full-on bawling like a baby, because it moved you down to the essence of your being. I’m fascinated by what that would be. I bet it’s not “Dave,” but what if it was? 

RB: What piece of advice would you give President Obama as he’s campaigning for the upcoming election?

MD: Talk about the fact that he promised America some drastic changes in his first presidential campaign, and that, even though he hasn’t been able to fully deliver most of those changes, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve another chance at making those changes in the next four years. I’d encourage him to bring back that raw honesty in his rhetoric that attracted us to him in the first place. 

RB: If you were going to send the president to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

MD: Crestline, Calif. It’s a small mountain town just east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountain Range. It’s very poor. It’s geographically beautiful. It has an underdog quality to it. It’s got the spirit of broken-down Americana, but it’s not beaten yet. I love this place. It has blind hope and great pancakes! Very, very, American. 

 RB: What piece of music would you recommend that President Obama add to his collection? Why?

MD: Bon Iver’s latest, because it makes me cry a lot. And crying is good for grown-ups. It keeps us honest (I think). I suppose I really want to see Obama cry for some reason. That’s kind of weird, isn’t it? I don’t know… maybe I miss some of that vulnerability he embodied when he was our underdog.  

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

MD: No way. I use way too many abstract metaphors to make my points. I’d make a terrible orator for the masses.

Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.