Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us. In today’s episode, I get to talk to two of my very favorite human beings. I’m talking to Jay and Mark Duplass. They’re brothers. They are filmmakers, writers, directors. They’re both actors, they’re activists. I was thinking about this before I went to record this. So we recorded this podcast in late January before the pandemic, before COVID-19, so take that context into consideration as you’re listening. I remember flying out there, thinking, “How did I first discover them?” And I can’t even remember not knowing their work. They grew up in New Orleans, they went to the University of Texas at Austin. I think the first thing I ever saw might have been their first big break, a short movie, seven minutes long called This Is John. I think it cost them $3 to make, and it blew everybody away at Sundance. And I remember seeing it and thinking, “A seven-minute movie about someone recording their outgoing message on their answering machine. What is this going to be?” And I think someone sent it to me, maybe on YouTube, I don’t even remember, but I just sobbed during the whole thing and afterward. And it’s so emblematic of who they are.
BB: They have written a beautiful, funny, honest book together. It’s a memoir and it’s about everything. It’s about their relationship as brothers. It’s about love. It’s about family. It’s about creativity and collaboration. It’s about film making. It’s about hard conversations. A second place where I fell in love with them once again was the HBO series, Togetherness. They created it, wrote it, directed, and Mark starred in it. It’s probably one of the most real, honest, at times cringy, truths about probably your 30s and 40s. If you haven’t seen it, it’s called Togetherness on HBO. Watch it. Mark also co-starred in this TV series, The League, and you may know him as Chip on The Morning Show. I still claim he’s the best cusser on television. And, again, that’s coming from me, so you know that’s high praise. Jay’s also a gifted actor. He co-stars in the Amazon series Transparent. He plays Josh Pfefferman who… Oh, Josh Pfeffer… I just want to punch him in the face and cuddle him and get him into treatment maybe. I don’t know. Jay’s also starred with Edie Falco in the movie Outside In.
BB: They’re brothers, they’re creatives, they love each other, they want to kill each other. But mostly, they just love each other and teach us so much in this conversation. So, this is one of those conversations where you need to get a hot cup of tea, snuggle in, and just join us. I had, as you can tell, so much fun. If you know them, this is going to be wonderful. And if you’re just meeting them for the first time, it may even be more wonderful. Okay, let’s dig in. Mark and Jay Duplass.
BB: Hi everybody, it’s Brené and I am sitting here… I am almost too excited to talk about it, with Mark and Jay Duplass. And when I made a list for season one, a pie in the sky, who do you want to talk to, they were at the top of my love list. So, hi guys.
Mark Duplass: Hi.
Jay Duplass: Hi. You’re at the top of our love list.
MD: Nobody knows who we are, Brené. [laughter] They don’t know.
BB: Yes, they do.
JD: They do?
MD: Some people do.
BB: I think they do.
MD: Mom is listening, Jay. She knows. She knows.
BB: Oh my God. Okay…
JD: That’s good. Our wives are listening.
BB: So I met your parents, when I watched The Puffy Chair.
BB: They are so New Orleans.
MD: Yeah, they’re very short and the accents are very tall.
BB: Very tall. And I actually owe your dad probably dinner the next time I’m in New Orleans, and I’ll tell you why. I totally cribbed one of his quotes from that movie that I thought was genius. So, you’re in conflict, and he gives you this advice about your relationship. He said, “You’re not going to know anything more than you know right now. You’re waiting for something disastrous to happen or something wonderful to happen. You’re not going to know anything more than you know right now.” And as the mother of a 20-year-old in college, I’m totally taking credit for that. [laughter] “Let me just tell you, Ellen, you’re not going to know… ”
MD: It’s something he told us when we were in the middle of relationships in our 20s. It was a real piece of advice he gave us, and we remember that feeling where it was that sinking doom of truth.
JD: Let me do it, yeah…
MD: He’s so true… He’s so right, and I can’t deal with this right now.
JD: “You’re probably waiting for something real big or real small to come along and make the decision for you. And it’s not going to happen.”
MD: It’s not going to happen.
BB: He’s a trial lawyer, right?
MD: Yeah, he’s retired now. But yeah, he was. Yeah.
JD: He’s still kind of doing it.
BB: He would be persuasive.
JD: He’s kind of our business manager now.
BB: Is he?
MD: Yeah. Yeah.
JD: He was the head lawyer for American Honda back in the ’80s when three-wheelers came out in Southern Louisiana…
MD: Well, in the Southern parts. It was actually a very Duplass-brother style thing that he did, which was like, they needed attorneys down there who could speak the language and who had the accent. And he was like, “Guys, rather than bringing your California people who no one is ever going to trust or talk to, hire me at a third of the rate down here because my rents are cheaper, and I’ll do it all for you.” And that’s how he made his business, and that’s literally what we’re doing today in California is like… When we go to Netflix, we’re like, “Hey, hire us at a third of the rate.” And they’re like, “Great.” [laughter] It’s literally the same model.
BB: God they… I just love… I only met them for a few minutes, but I just loved them and they just… Did y’all know I grew up in New Orleans? Yeah. So, I spent some time in New Orleans and I just heard it and I was like, “Oh.” Okay, let’s say… Let’s just start here. Like Brothers, your book. I probably will not get through this time without crying. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.
JD: Oh my God.
MD: This is so meaningful to us. Just to be honest, really quick, because that book, it was very hard to write. As most people know who write books. It was very… Jay and I were going through some transitions in our life and our relationship at the time. And if I’m just being super candid, it didn’t really hit the way we wanted it to and not as many people read it, which is just always hard when you pour yourself into something. So just the fact that you love it and are sharing this with us is huge.
BB: So, when I bought this book, it said, “Other people who bought this book… People who bought this book bought these other books.” And they were all like “Making a Feature Film on Your Credit Card.” To me, filmmaking is a part of this book, but everybody needs to read this book. This is not a book about filmmaking. This is a book about love.
BB: So, I have not told Mark and Jay what I’m going to say in a minute because I have a theory about the whole book that I want to lay out in front of you. It’s a theory about y’all.
MD: I’m already starting to cry, and I’m real nervous and excited.
BB: No. Reading this book, it’s a collection of essays about your relationships, about your work, about your families, about life. I… It was like I would flip from reading a book that was like a conversation between Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, and then the next chapter would be a conversation between Beavis and Butthead.
JD: That’s great. That’s who we are.
MD: We’ve always said if our art could be Sartre and fart jokes simultaneously…
MD: We would be happy, and so you literally just defined what we’re trying to do.
BB: So, the Woog. Tell me about the Woog.
MD: So, the Woog runs deep in us; it’s kind of this term we’ve come up with for the anxiety and depression that we have both experienced, and the soul-sickness and the weird ancestral sadness that we seem to have been born with.
JD: Middle class malaise.
MD: Yeah, exactly. And emotional mayonnaise. And we didn’t know how to deal with it, and we didn’t know what it was called for a long time, so we liked giving it its own nickname. And it’s this lovely monster that comes to visit us; that sometimes we try to push away, and sometimes we try to accept and we’ve had to learn to live with; and at times try to transcend it, and at times just say, “Hey, you’re here. What does that mean? Let’s figure it out.”
JD: But it really comes from us growing up in New Orleans, which, if you know anything about New Orleans, it’s kind of 50 years behind the rest of the world. We did not grow up with therapy. We did not grow up with meds. We did not grow up with talking about that stuff. We didn’t grow up with any of that stuff. We grew up talking to each other about the shit that we were feeling. Our parents weren’t even talking to us about that kind of stuff. Our parents were amazing and supportive and stuff, but Mark and I were not curated as children.
MD: Yeah. There was no “woo-woo” emotional involvement language in our home.
JD: No. We had great parents and lovely people, but we were like, let be. [chuckle] We talk about this even more now about how we weren’t… We were just allowed to… We didn’t have a lot of toys, we didn’t go a lot of places, we weren’t sent to camps, we didn’t do any of that stuff. We were just wandering around the streets…
MD: We were emotionally feral.
JD: We were feral, but we were also incredibly sensitive, and, for some reason, we had this dialogue going with each other, where we understood that we both had all the things that all human beings have: anxiety, and depression, and feeling like you’re not good enough, or whatever all those things might be. And for whatever it’s worth, for whatever reason, we had a relationship where we slept in the same single bed when we were kids, even though we didn’t even have to. We actually had enough money to have separate bedrooms, but we slept in the same single bed. And we constantly talked about that stuff and have talked about that stuff over the course of four decades now.
BB: It was so interesting to me, because I guessed, I was like, “Maybe their parents were early adopters in therapy? Maybe they did a lot of family of origin therapy work?” Like…
BB: Nothing, okay.
JD: Nada, nada. But old… They come from Catholic families with… They each have four siblings. They just barely surviving…
MD: They gave us something critical that I think allowed us the confidence with which to pursue these conversations and think we weren’t crazy, which was, “You guys are amazing. We love you. We think if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to do anything.” That is the core of it and why we were able to feel confident to pursue the arts, to be able to feel like we can talk about these things without feeling so strange. But it wasn’t in any way curated or encouraged; they weren’t at that place.
JD: And we didn’t talk about any of this stuff outside of the two of us until very late in the game. It was just something that we were articulating to ourselves, and also throughout the process of trying to make art and failing to do so, which we talk of a lot about in the book, is it wasn’t really until we shared that private conversation. Like the first movie we made that connected and went to Sundance, and had a very visceral reaction with everyone, was a stupid movie about a guy trying to perfect the personal greeting of his answering machine, failing to do so, and having a nervous breakdown on camera, which pretty much happened to Mark in the room, and I was the only other person in the room filming. And we were… That was our dialogue, essentially. It’s like, “Okay, this is where we’re at. I’m pushing 30, I can’t… I can’t do this anymore.”
MD: And Fartre was born.
JD: And Fartre… [chuckle]
MD: In your kitchen in Austin, Texas. Yeah.
JD: That’s right, that’s right.
BB: It’s funny because when I was reading “The Woog” and you’re talking to the reader and you say, “Do you have the Woog sometimes?” Like the two things, like, “I want a huge, big career, but no, maybe I should have a small life”, “I want to make a big difference. Who am I to think… ” Like, this struggle. And if I could think of a word that captures you for me… And I know you’re… Both of y’all, that captures y’all for me, it’s the “paradox”. You all are just paradoxical people. There was something that Katie said in one of the chapters on wives. So, there’s a chapter in the book where they ask questions of Jen and Katie, their wives, and they answer, which is one of my favorite chapters. And Katie said, “They’re really complicated, uber-sensitive about feelings, but laugh at burp and fart jokes. They love Dumb and Dumber and therapy equally.” And so I started thinking… Because I’m a big Jungian person; I think a lot about Carl Jung and that work. And he wrote that “Paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions, because only paradox comes anywhere near the ability to comprehend the fullness of life. It’s the natural medium for expressing trans-conscious facts. The union of opposites is a trans-conscious process and, in principle, not amenable to scientific explanation.” I don’t know of any filmmakers who consistently and honestly capture the paradoxical moments that you capture in a way that takes my breath away. I’ve hated both of you intensely.
BB: Really intensely. Tell me about “Paradox.”
MD: Oh, it’s weird. I’ve never thought about it in those terms. Jay and I tend to be not super intellectual as we approach our art. We tend to be a little bit more visceral than intellectual, but when you were saying that, what occurred to me is that Jay and I have talked a lot about this inextricable team that he and I have been for years and what that means, and why we stayed so tight for so long, and how actually in some ways different we are in our energetic responses to the world in how we operate. And not to be reductive, but I can be a little bit more forward and aggressive and I try to be outwardly confident, and Jay can be a little more trepidatious and measured and smart and exacting at times. And the thing that is occurring to me is that the Duplass Brothers themselves, that one-unit thing is kind of the ultimate paradox. We are together operating and moving forward with two vastly different energies and styles. And then, beyond that, inside of each of us is also that natural human paradox. But I think we have learned to be comfortable in a union that has paradox because it suits us and we, I think, deeply love each other for it and appreciate it in the partnership. Case in point being… I really believe this. If I were left to my own devices as a filmmaker, I would make 15 to 20 terrible pieces of art each year. I really believe it. And I believe if Jay was left alone, he would make three-quarters of the greatest movie ever made and then he would die.
MD: Because he would not be able to finish it.
JD: I would… Yeah.
MD: And somehow, together, in the paradox of our things, we make it work, and so maybe that allows us to celebrate it in the subjects we portray, or something in there?
BB: There’s something here. I was just struck. Because I do think individually, you’re both very paradoxical people. I think your relationship is just the meta of that, but I do think… And in that chapter on “The Woog”, I’m going back to it because it was like you had a theory that maybe it was because your parents were so different, and that maybe…
MD: [chuckle] That’s one of our theories.
BB: Yeah, one of your theories is your parents were so different. And maybe today, because kids… Or parents are… Today people are getting married a lot later and they’re looking for more similarities. But here, I have a different theory.
MD: Okay, I like this, this is good.
JD: I want to learn some shit about myself.
BB: Well, I don’t know. I could be wrong, I could be just dead-ass wrong, but I doubt it on this, because…
JD: Oh, good.
BB: Just because I’m around young people and I teach a lot. I think there’s something about… Individually, and I don’t want to talk about y’all as one person, because I see you as very different people. I relate to you in some ways, Mark, but then I’m the oldest of four. And so, during y’all’s hard conversations, I can really feel you, Jay. I’m like, “Oh, punch him.” Yeah, just… birth order’s a lot. That my theory is there are very few people in the world today that have the tolerance for discomfort that y’all have. And to be able to hold the tension of opposites. This is a very deeply spiritual Jungian thing, to hold the tension of opposites without dropping either one of them and to maintain that tension until something new is born, to me, describes your art. It describes your conversations when you’re hiking. Do y’all know? Do you know, Jay, how you lean into hard stuff?
JD: Yeah, it’s hell. But it is… I think that is right. It’s interesting because there is a conversation that we have with our actors. It’s hard to even talk about it in relation to us, so I’ll start with us and our process with actors. So, Mark and I, we did go to an all-boys Jesuit high school and we did learn Latin and play sports like a motherfucker. We did all those things and we grew up in a very male dominated society. We did all… But we’re also incredibly sensitive, and so we have this other side that we’ve been exploring deeper and deeper and deeper as we go into the art world. And a lot of people, I think, when they come to our sets, we do present forward with jokes and lightness, and our wives think it’s so funny that everybody thinks that we’re so freewheeling and easy, because we’re the most complicated, difficult people to live with on the planet, as far as they’re concerned.
BB: Oh, you have to be. Yeah.
JD: We are. We are. We’re nightmares, okay? But we present otherwise. We’re good actors, and we are also trying to usher in a feeling of positivity, a feeling of like, “Let’s come do this, anything can happen.” But there does come a point where we have to tell our actors, “This looks really fun. But just so you know, the core of what we are creating and doing here is we are creating a realm of chaos, where anything can happen in this moment. And in order for your art to achieve the feeling that anything can happen in this moment, it has to be real. So this is not controlled. You don’t know what’s going to happen to you. That person across from you may say or do anything, and we just want to warn you that you’re going to be incredibly uncomfortable throughout this process. And the more that you can embrace that, the better this is going to go. Because we feel like it’s very important for you to feel like not only that you can fall on your face, but that you must fall on your face.”
MD: And we want that.
JD: And we want that, and we need that. And we’re not going to do it in a… “You’re going to be safe and this environment is going to be safe and you’re going to know that we have your back. And we’re good artists and you’re going to look good and things are going to happen, but it’s going to be hell on some level, and… ”
MD: That’s what we’re looking for…
JD: That is what we’re looking for.
MD: That’s the key is that we… It’s not that we enjoy it, but if you’re watching us on set, when things come to a bit of a detente and a bit of a confusion with characters, that is when we light up and that is when we get excited.
JD: And that moment where you’re like, “I don’t know what’s happening here, but I’m super excited and super terrified.” And we’re not going to do what almost everyone does, which is try to control it. We’re going to release the control and we’re going to go into this moment, and that, I think, is the core of our art. If the way that Mark and I have talked about it with each other is this idea that anything can really happen in this moment. And the transmission… Like audiences, they’re not going to be able to articulate that, necessarily, you were doing it. It’s rare that someone will even say that, but they feel it, they know when something is real.
BB: Oh yeah.
JD: When a moment is unfolding…
BB: We know truth.
MD: Yeah, we know truth.
JD: You know truth, and that is palpable, and you get chills when you’re feeling it, and that’s… And honestly, we’ve failed for so long in making our art. The only way we know how to make powerful art is to create an environment where something real is going to happen, and that’s how we view it. And that has been not just the container of making the art, but the container of operating. What it requires is a full-scale, throttle back of your ego. That whole concept that filmmakers are auteurs, and that they have decided something in a room three years ago, and they’re going to execute it and force these human beings into this box.
MD: Some people, by the way, do that and it’s pretty interesting. We don’t know how to do that.
JD: Some people do… The Coen brothers, and I don’t understand it. We tried to be the Coen brothers, we failed. This is what we have to offer, is like we can create a safe space where people can have a real moment. And so, the way that we articulate it even to actors is, “We are not trying to execute the script. We want you to say and do whatever you feel moved to do to accomplish your goals. And what we’re trying to do is allow lightning to strike in this space and then for the camera to be rolling when it happens, and then we’ll just re-orient the story continually around that.” And let me tell you, we’ve had some actors who are not okay with it and they have crumbled.
MD: We’ve had to be more clear at the front of our process now and say, “We just want you to know that if you’re not genuinely excited to do this, it’s probably not going to be that fun for you and we might not want to do this together, if it doesn’t sound good, because this is… ”
JD: Yeah. If you think Script is God, and from here, we will go forth and we will never alter a thing, we should part ways.
MD: It’s just a different thing.
JD: It is and…
BB: It’s a different thing, and let me tell you, it’s a different thing and it jumps off the screen and grabs you by the throat.
JD: That’s great.
MD: That’s so sweet.
BB: No… It’s not… It’s sweet, but it’s also jacked up a little bit.
JD: It’s jacked up.
BB: It is. I mean like…
MD: It’s sweet that you feel that so deeply, it feels very… I guess what I’m going to say is, it feels very good to be so understood and you speak so clearly, you’re very eloquent about it, and we don’t often face that, so it’s nice to hear is what I meant to say.
BB: Well, here’s a quote that, again… [chuckle] Steve’s like, “Are you having a conversation with them or are you studying them?” I’m like, “Both!” Paradox and, again, Carl Jung. “Paradox does more justice to the unknowable than clarity does.”
BB: And I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about. There’s this whole school of study on the tension between opposites and the ability to hold it and what it takes. Most people do not like straddling tension. Most people like choosing the binary.
JD: Yeah. We don’t like it, we just… To be clear, we’re not…
JD: Yeah. And we don’t get off on it at all, it’s painful for us too.
BB: I can tell. Yeah.
JD: It’s very painful, but I will say that we have… I don’t know, we do know. I don’t know why we…
MD: We trust in it and we believe in it, and I think that…
BB: That’s it.
MD: What happened… Jay spoke so well about the microcosm of how that applied to our film making process, but I think that on a more personal level as it applied to me and Jay, it was a similar thing. We went through a couple of years ago as we started to realize, “What does this mean for us to be this close and also be married?” And also realize some of our personal differences and our appetites are changing, and we maybe want a little bit of breathing room. And that was unthinkable to each of us because we had banded up so tightly and we had no idea how to approach it. So, the only way we could approach it was to dive right into the very confusion and tense sauce of what is our future going to be as people who love each other dearly and want to stay so close, but we’re going to have to try to create some space so that we can grow? And that took 18 to 24 months to figure out, maybe?
JD: Oh, yeah. I mean…
MD: Not even figured out, we’re still in it. We’re still in it.
JD: We haven’t figured it out. But we… Yeah, it took definitely two years to get to the point where it just wasn’t totally triggering every interaction, everything around it, just…
MD: But our artistic process taught us a lot about how to be and how to just… We do have a trust that… I always have a trust. I don’t know if you ever had this moment where you, you’re thinking about someone in your life that you have to have a difficult conversation with, and you write a little email first and you read it and say, “Oh no, I can’t do this through email.” Then you say, “Maybe I’ll send a text and talk to him.” “Oh no, no, no, wait, you know what, maybe I’ll leave a voicemail, so I know I get it right.” I do that with a lot of people in my life, I never have to do it with Jay. All I have to do is pick up the phone and walk in the door. And I know that I trust, if I just speak from truth and I speak vulnerably, it’s going to be fine. It’ll be hard, but we’ll be fine.
BB: There’s this idea of staying with it, which is what you’re describing with your relationship. Staying in the hard stuff, staying with the film. Staying with it, I don’t know if y’all know this is, if you do a thematic analysis of your book, it’s probably the phrase used most often, whether you’re talking about each other or you’re talking about your films, or you’re talking about love. Staying with it. You guys do not tap out when things… When shit gets hard, you do not tap out.
MD: No. That is interesting. It does resonate with me and I can’t even tell you why that is or where that comes from. I don’t know what that is.
BB: I really need to know, is that the Jesuit upbringing?
JD: Part of it is the Jesuit upbringing, I…
MD: But not everybody’s like that from there? I mean…
JD: I have a lot of articulation about this because I work a lot with my therapist, and what I call it is immigrant mentality. So…
JD: Our grandfather started a cleaners in 1939 with his two brothers, and everybody’s working with the family’s…
MD: Off the money they got from stolen tires off of cars. [chuckle]
JD: Yes, yeah. So like… And the whole mentality of our family is you must band together and you must put your head down and you must not think about the consequences. You must, just like…
JD: Put all of your energy behind the head of a pin, and then that pin will pierce everything. Nothing can stop it.
MD: Because that’ll be your only chance.
JD: That’s your only chance. And that is how Mark and I started. We grew up in New Orleans in the suburbs. The only model of a successful artist is a 55-year-old Black musician. We tried to do that. We were in white boy funk bands in the late ’80s and early ’90s… [laughter]
MD: Crushing it. Making $42 a night to split between 9 people.
JD: Yeah. Exactly. It didn’t work out. And for so long, we have had this mentality of, you just don’t… You don’t question anything; you just do it. And that is partly Jesuit too, like five years of Latin, you know what I mean? You just put your head down and you just… And…
MD: That’s a good distinction though of like we were going to… If we were going to be successful artists, then this is the most impossible task we could think of, which is probably why we chose it. Part of it.
BB: Probably… Yeah.
JD: Yeah, yeah.
MD: And so, there would be no room for those things. Just go behind the pin and hit it.
JD: We made… Kids today will ask us, “How do you do it?” And it’s like, “Well, you just keep doing it until… ”
MD: Until it ends, with either your death… [laughter]
JD: Until it ends, with your death or success.
MD: Or success.
JD: That is truly the methodology. It truly is, and it’s messed up. And I think part of also our uncoupling in that immigrant way is part of us looking to our wives, to each other and also saying, “Okay. We made it. We don’t need to kill ourselves anymore. What does the second half of life look like? What if we could create something new?” And I think that’s where we are right now. I think we’re still figuring that part out…
MD: Yeah. That is very confusing. Yeah.
JD: It’s like, “Where do we go from here?” Because that methodology…
JD: Almost killed us. We have both gone through so much mental and physical pain and both had nervous breakdowns and we… It’s not been super pleasant, I would say.
MD: Gotten a lot of joy, a lot of reward, a lot of big tears and things, but there has been no peace.
BB: There’s also something about that immigrant ethos. I have a very Texas German-American ethos. It’s very similar, like, you don’t get sick, you don’t quit, you keep working. But there’s also a lot of shame around self-indulgent when you’re resting…
BB: Shame around lazy. Shame around squandering talent that’s God-given, shame around… So, the second half of life, reboot, to get out from underneath those, the kind of shame messages that underlie that is hard.
JD: The journey I’ve had to teach myself how to spend money, I’m barely there. I’m not doing it. I’m probably worse than you would…
MD: You’re way worse than me and I’m awful.
JD: And you’re awful, but I’m like monk-ish in that way. When we went to Jesuit and we found out the priests we were making $20 a month, I was like, “Yeah. That makes sense. I could swing that.” Because until… I was probably 33 when we first made our first money in Hollywood, and up until that point, I shit you not, we were making probably in the realm of $12-15,000 per year each, living in Austin. At that time, it was a very… It was a place where you could survive on that.
MD: Yeah. You get three roommates and you make a buck…
JD: Yeah. You got a bunch of roommates, you’re eating peanut and jelly sandwiches, you’re doing your art…
BB: Renting out your cameras…
JD: You rent out cameras…
MD: You rent out your cameras. You edit a television show for a church at night, that’s what you do.
JD: Yeah. You work at restaurants along the way and you just… You’re working 15 to 20 hours a week, just enough to get the rent and just to go to that next place…
MD: And the rest goes to your art.
JD: And your rest goes to your art constantly.
BB: Yeah. I waited tables in Austin for six years and my daughter was talking to me about it, and she’s like. ” What if you couldn’t make rent?” And I was like, “You just picked up back-to-back doubles.”
JD: Yeah. Absolutely. Wait, where did you work?
JD: Oh, Pappadeaux. We worked at Chez Zee.
BB: Oh, you did? Yeah. No, yeah, Pappadeaux for years, Yeah. Because I mean this is what you did and it’s hard too. We’ll have to get into this conversation because I’d love to talk to you about the privilege and fear of raising kids that… With things that you didn’t have and… It’s a lot of worry attached.
MD: It is.
JD: Oh yeah.
BB: Let me get back to that. I want to ask you this question because this is where I first… Let me see. This is where I first see your paradoxical, interesting ability to hold tension, and I have to ask you how this worked. First of all, the stories of y’all lying in bed at night talking to each other. [laughter] You know, I have sisters, identical twins. Younger sisters and they both work with me, and so…
JD: Wow. That’s amazing.
BB: Yeah. It is amazing.
MD: That’s really great.
BB: It’s really fun. Yeah. So, I related to a lot of the, “I love you.” “Love you too.” “Asshole.” “You’re an asshole.” So when cable came, I remember cable coming, like Pong and cable for us came around the same time, and it was like a big deal.
JD: Huge deal.
BB: And we were watching… Like I was laughing because y’all were watching Fletch, Every Which Way but Loose. We still use “Right Turn Clyde.” [laughter] We still use it, oh yeah. Boosh. So, we were watching that, and the programming was super sketch in terms of them not thinking about mature program like rating…
JD: No, not at all.
BB: They ran everything right after school. So y’all were watching with me Fletch and Every Which Way but Loose but y’all were also watching Ordinary People, The Deer Hunter, Sophie’s Choice, [laughter] and Coming Home.
BB: And let me see what you write here. “We just loved watching people emote and feel, and we deeply connected with the spirits of those dealing with divorce, hunger, PTSD, and death. It wasn’t that we were morbid either, we were just into it.”
BB: Like, what the…
MD: What is that?
BB: I don’t know. This is where I saw it.
JD: We just knew that we… It wasn’t that we were going to have those feelings. We had those feelings.
BB: I know, but everybody has those feelings at that age.
JD: Everybody does.
BB: No one wants to watch them.
JD: Why did we want to sit in them?
BB: Why did you want to sit in those feelings?
MD: I don’t know. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to the bolstering. This has just been so big for me lately. The bolstering that my parents gave to me in particular, and I can’t really speak for you on this, but we got the same messaging. “You’re so amazing and I love you so much and everything is going to be great. And if you work hard, you’re going to do great.” And sensing that we were middle class, so I was probably not going to have like big school debt, and I wasn’t going to go starving. That foundation that everything would be okay. All I had to do was lean into what was exciting to me. That maybe gave me the confidence or the… Just basic support system to allow myself to lean into what is essentially the darkness of that interest without fearing it but being excited by it. I think there’s something to that.
BB: There is something to it. I have to tell you. When I read about your upbringing, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t have all the stories we’re telling right now. Let me run a word by y’all and see if it resonates. Was there safety in your home growing up?
MD: 100%. Our mother didn’t work, she stayed home. She was there for whatever we needed. We were in a safe suburban wide street with not a lot of traffic, so we could go on adventures and not have to worry about it. It felt…
JD: It was very, very safe, yes.
BB: Was it emotionally safe?
JD: Emotionally safe.
MD: Yeah, it was emotionally safe.
JD: No situations where…
MD: Alcohol was not an issue.
BB: Yeah. No eggshell. Was there an eggshell environment like, who’s going to rage, who’s going to…
MD: No, none of that stuff.
BB: You have to… Because the way I’m thinking…
MD: That’s huge.
MD: That’s huge, man.
BB: It’s huge. So the thing that I’m thinking, because I unfortunately don’t… I don’t know that I believe in your theory that kids today, because their parents have more in common will have more ability to talk out the Woog, stay in the Woog, be in the Woog. I’m scared for kids today. I’m scared for young adults today because I don’t think we are creating emotional safety.
JD: Yeah. I agree with that.
MD: That’s a really good identification you’ve made. My girls are 12 and 7 right now.
MD: And they feel pretty good. I didn’t even identify it, but I know they feel very safe and at home and they love our home and they love the environment. And there’s not a lot going on with me and Katie that would be explosive or dangerous for them. And they’re pretty fucking well-rooted in terms of some of the emotional volatility that’s happening, particularly at age 12.
BB: Oh yeah.
MD: She’s pretty locked down on it. But that’s really interesting, I never thought about that before.
BB: I’m wondering, because Steve and I did not grow up in safe homes. There was lot of mercurial… A lot of fighting, a lot of… A lot of divorce, just really… And so, I would never have watched… I couldn’t handle Ordinary People when I was in my 20s, but I couldn’t have watched that.
JD: Right. It’s too triggering.
BB: Because, yeah, it was too… We looked for escapism. I wanted the orangutan that knew how to punch somebody out for me.
MD: And I can’t tell you how many people on Twitter say stuff to us. I try not to search myself, but I have an ego and I do. And people are just like, “What made you think I wanted to watch that?”
MD: Like angry people.
JD: We do get some of that.
MD: Particularly on Togetherness, which I feel was maybe us at our best in terms of the interpersonal relationships that you’re speaking about, and the things that you enjoy about holding the tension and the paradox. I remember feeling… Because it went out pretty wide being on HBO on Sundays, newer people were coming to it. I like Amanda Peet, I’ll watch her…
JD: But not even newer people. What was weird to me is like our peers who were going through the same thing, a lot of them really didn’t want to deal with it, or they really resented what it was showing.
BB: Oh, yeah.
JD: How hard it is to be married with toddlers, trying to have sex, trying to hold on to your own fucking dreams and…
BB: Oh, yeah.
JD: You’re like this close to drowning. You’re just… Your eyeballs are barely above water.
JD: People didn’t… We were surprised because we were like, “Well, we’re serving it up with some good humor here and we’re laughing at ourselves.” But that part was even the most triggering, is people didn’t like… Because that is one thing that… Because Mark and I do see each other so clearly, it’s just like… You can’t hold up the ego of just… He knows how pathetic it is, all the things that I’m doing. And I guess where that helps us just bring it forward easily because we…
MD: The way we share with each other allows us to share with other people in that way.
JD: But other people were not cool with it. And really smart, urban, LA, woke people, shit like that, were just like, “Yeah, I don’t watch your show because it’s extremely infuriating and it caused me and my wife to fight last week.”
JD: And we’re like, “What?”
MD: And we’re like, “Sorry, but yes.”
JD: Sorry… But yes, also. But yes, also.
MD: We did it! We did it!
BB: Let me tell you the funniest…
BB: The funniest text exchange.
JD: Oh, my God.
BB: From one of my girlfriends. We were watching it together, like three or four of us would watch it and we were like, “Wait. Okay, it’s on, on.” And then, I don’t remember the episode, but when it’s over, I get this text from my friend and she goes, “Fuck this show.”
BB: Wait, wait. Like two minutes later, it said, “And fuck Dune.”
JD: Fuck Dune.
MD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
BB: I was like… Because we all have… We were of the age, like I’m probably seven or eight. How old are you, Jay?
JD: I’m 46.
BB: So I’m 8 years older than you. So you’re my sisters’ age and you’re younger. But it was of that age where like, “We’re not dating anyone that’s reading Dune, and we’re not dating anyone who wore a black armband when John Lennon was killed.”
MD: Yes, exactly. You had to have that manifesto.
BB: That was like… We had to have that manifesto.
JD: You had to peg yourself on some level.
MD: And Rush laser light shows are in question now. It has to be.
BB: I mean, it just… Yes. So, my overarching theory is paradox is so powerful in you, I do think you can hold tension and create a whole new third space by doing that, which is full of love and honesty and truth in a way that other people can’t do. My guess, I don’t know, it just feels like or sounds like you had a lot of safety with each other and your family.
BB: To try on different ways of being and to let emotion in, in a way that a lot of us just couldn’t or can’t, and it’s… And I want to go through…
MD: I want to say something really quick before you continue, because I think it’s very important if anyone is listening to this, who has an interest in seeing relationships like Jay and I had in their children. We get a lot of that, and my parents get a ton, “What did you do to raise two boys that made them stick together like this, communicate, love each other the way they do?”
MD: And the only thing I can say clearly is it has to start with the older sibling. All the younger siblings really want to go party with the older siblings, and they usually experience a rejection there, and then the toxicity enters, and it never leaves. And that’s my dime store analysis.
BB: I think that’s true.
MD: And Jay loved me, and I had the safety with him, and that created the ability for me to just give him unbridled worship without having to compete, and he loved that worship. And that started very young, and that poured cement into our hearts that said, “We’re going to be fine here.” “Give me the worship, I’ll take the worship.” We’re good for a little while, and that created this impenetrable trust. And so if you foster that in your older sibling, and I kind of did this as an experiment with my oldest daughter… Basically, giving her a lot of positive reaffirmation in being sweet to her younger sibling, because Jay was to me, and the dividends you’ll get down the line if you put money in the bank now, the ways you can explain it to them along the line. And, I swear to God, my daughters are just like me and Jay. Like it has happened.
BB: It’s powerful. So, let me ask you this other parenting question, because this is really interesting, I think we should pause here for a second. I think some of the most painful interviews I’ve done over the last 20 years are between adult siblings who have no relationship. And there seems to be a pattern in that that I see, which is parents use shame as a parenting tool, and then siblings look and see what hurts the most and use that with each other.
MD: They model it.
BB: And then parents go, “Eh, brothers are going to be brothers.”
BB: “They’re kids.” It didn’t sound like there was a lot of shaming in your house growing up.
BB: Like putting down, humiliating as a form of behavior management.
MD: No. None.
JD: We saw it all around us…
BB: Did you?
JD: Going to all-boy schools.
MD: Oh my God. The brothers were awful to each other.
BB: Cruel, right?
JD: We had a lot of brother pairs, who will remain unnamed, in our neighborhood, at our schools, a lot of brothers my age because three and a half years is a very common split.
JD: And we had a lot of pairs, and we would watch other… Particularly older brothers destroying younger brothers, and it was just fucking devastating to us. And maybe it was because we were so supported that we could look at it, we could look at Sophie’s Choice and really take it in. But I remember watching it a lot and also just… It even, if anything, it reinforced, “What’s the point? What is the point of this? They’re just three and a half years younger. Let’s love them up.” And I would even try to bring in the younger brothers at times, but it was like the tide was too strong.
MD: They were too triggered and didn’t trust it.
JD: Yeah, the tide was way too strong.
MD: They were like, “If Jay is nice to me, he’s going to get me in my room…
JD: He’s going to destroy me on the back end.
MD: Yeah, he’s going to hold my arms down to fart in my face. That’s what he’s going to do”.
BB: Yeah. Do you think people don’t get… You know that people don’t really survive that well, right? You know that that’s not a joke? The cruel older sibling who knows that the acne is the hurt place, or the weight is the hurt place, or the date that didn’t show up for you? I don’t get it when parents laugh about that. I just don’t. It is…
JD: Well, it’s so important. And I think just to… One of the things that I have to encourage in my daughter with my son, it’s a little trickier because I have a daughter and then I have a son who’s younger, and so they’re sort of developmental age spread is even more exacerbated and they don’t have as much in common as two siblings of the same gender would. So, a lot of times what I have to encourage in my daughter is just really clear cut, “Okay, I understand why you said what you said to Sam. But if your end goal is for this behavior to change and for him to come more into where you are, what we need to do is encourage the things that you love in him, and you need to go to those places and to find ways. And so, if you can let one part go and then just encourage the part that you love, that’s the opposite of shame, right?”
BB: Yeah, totally.
JD: It’s like finding what you love about someone and letting that blossom as much as possible, and that’s also something that Jen and I have to encourage in each other too, is just… Because kids are fucking hard. They’re really, really hard.
BB: Oh my God, they’re hard.
JD: And life is hard and we’re all trying to do way too much. And it’s really hard not to scream and yell on the way to school in the morning. It’s like the modern fucking Buddha, if you can do that. If you can get your kids in the motherfucking car without any yelling or screaming, you have accomplished something incredible. But just creating the culture around, even just the thoughts around, “Well, we want Sam to think positively about who he is and what he contributes to this family.” That kind of stuff, which 50% of the time does not land whatsoever. At least 50%.
MD: I think it lands though.
JD: It does.
MD: You start building that lore, it lands, it sticks, it stays in there in the long term. It does.
BB: I do think it lands too.
MD: They hear it.
JD: Yeah. Well, if you’re modeling the behavior, that’s where it is.
BB: It does. I can fast forward for a little bit for you, at least in my family, because my daughter’s 20, a junior at UT.
JD: Awesome. Hook ’em.
BB: Yes. Hook ’em… And then my son’s 14, so they are six years apart. Because I had Ellen when I was getting my PhD, and then we took… And Steve was in residency. We took a while off and then we had my son.
JD: Oh my God, you guys. That is so hard. I just…
BB: But they are so… They love each other so much.
MD: Oh, that’s so good. That’s so good.
JD: That’s wonderful.
BB: And in fact, it was really tough. We underestimated what Ellen going off to college… We thought Charlie would be like, “Alright, now I’m the only one for a while”. But he was like, “This is terrible.”
BB: And so, I think you can do it. And it’s not Pollyanna, it’s just…
BB: I don’t know, it’s…
JD: Well, what you’re doing is, you’re creating reality.
JD: You are… It’s not…
JD: It’s not about saying something that isn’t real or trying to believe in something or anything. You are actually engineering reality as you do it. You are creating…
MD: These are the new rules of our community.
JD: These are the… You’re creating rules, you’re creating patterns, you’re creating synapses. We’re constantly creating all the…
BB: New neural pathways, yeah.
JD: All the things that we’re doing, we’re creating the world that we want to live in with our behavior, with the way that we treat people.
BB: Okay, let’s go through… This is my list of paradoxes that I loved.
MD: This is awesome.
BB: Yeah. Professionalism as career killer.
BB: Get the shots in. I don’t know what your movie lingo is, but like, deliver the day on time, do everything perfect. This hyper-professionalism as career ender.
JD: Or just as a crusher of…
JD: Of the ability to capture lightning in a real, weird environment.
MD: Yeah. And to remain inspired so that you don’t get too confused by, “If I just follow these rules, it will then make me successful.”
MD: Because that is something that when you’re swimming in a sea of infinite confusion, you’re looking to hang on to something, you’re looking for those buoys and the rules of the most simple buoys, but they’ll really get you in the long run. You’ll just end up sitting there floating out there. You gotta look for the things that are going to take you to shore, the new interesting things.
JD: And it’s obvious…
MD: I just did a whole swimming metaphor there, guys.
JD: I loved it.
BB: I liked it.
JD: It was pretty cool. And it’s obvious in art making. I think most people can even relate to fact, “Oh right, yeah. You can’t really… ” We’re not jerks about it. We’re like good Catholic school boys. So like instead of busting open a 12-hour day and ruining everyone’s week, we just schedule nine hours of work inside of a 12-hour day so that you can go to those extremes if you need to go to them, because you can’t control it. So that’s easier to see in art making, but it’s like I think it’s real in life too. It’s like you’re going to have a critical conversation with somebody, right?
JD: You have this idea of how it’s going to go, and this is the information that you need to disperse. And maybe there’s even a time constraint on that conversation, if you’re like in human resources or whatever. And it’s all getting in the way of creating something pure and honest and vulnerable and real and valuable.
JD: Fucking valuable, right? So if you can just get all those rules out of the way and create some space for yourself to have that conversation and just be like… Like when Mark and I have to have these really tough conversations, we go on a hike in the morning and we clear our fucking day, because one of us might be absolutely devastated.
MD: Or it might take longer than we think, or…
JD: Might take longer than you think. And so, to create the space to force shit to go wrong, to have really tough moment for somebody to have a breakdown and get triggered or whatever it might be.
MD: You know what’s funny, we always… We’ll often call each other for advice about how we should deal with a certain person or a certain situation, and we never learn our lesson. It always comes down to, “So, this is what I’m thinking about saying, I guess what I really want to try and get across is… I’m confused. I don’t know what to do. I’m worried it’s going to go really bad for us. I love you very much. I’m scared you’re feeling devalued, but I don’t know how to say this correctly. And so, how do I do it?” And then, the other is just like, “Will you just say it exactly like you just say it?”
BB: Just that express, that’s it.
JD: That’s exactly what it is.
MD: Express all the fears. Express all the things.
MD: And literally, still we’ve given each other that advice 100 times and we still forget it, all the time.
JD: Because we’re in an answer-driven environment.
JD: We need results and we need answers, and you need to have everything figured out before you get there. And it’s actually undermining the way that we relate to each other because you’re not really putting faith and trust in that other person when you’re coming in with the whole package…
JD: Which we all do. We all do this.
MD: They sense they’re being managed, yeah.
BB: They’re… Totally. People know they’re being managed.
JD: They know, yeah. And so it’s…
BB: And I think the way y’all operate is very subversive.
MD: Yeah, but Brené, you really brought up something good about feeling safe, and growing up in an environment that’s safe, and the safety that Jay and I had. I was talking earlier about, he’s one of the few people I feel comfortable to stumble in that door and not prepare with all of the parameters of the conversation and the handling. And when you can get yourself to the stumbling spot and the trust that if you just lead with the truth, you’ll be okay. That’s where the intimacy is, and that’s, I think, why our art has that goal implicitly built into it.
BB: Yeah and I just want to say the book Like Brothers… One of the things that I do a lot of, I do a lot of leadership work for places like Google, Pixar, all… Special forces in the military, there’s leadership gold in this book. Leaders should read this book, yeah.
JD: Oh wow.
MD: Thank you.
BB: I mean, how to have hard conversations.
BB: Next one. This is one of my favorites. Seeing each other more clearly when you’re not looking at each other in the eye. So, where do you have a lot of your hard conversations? Hiking.
JD: Hiking side by side.
BB: Hiking. Side by side.
JD: It’s like most parents know if you’re going to have a tough one with your kid, they should be in the car and you should be in the car and you’re not staring at each other. You are floating ideas.
MD: It helps us, for whatever reason, and not everybody’s like that, but it really works for us.
BB: I remember one place in the book, Mark, where you said, “This was a very difficult conversation. We both knew we were in a hard place, so we picked a technically difficult hike where it would really require us to be looking down at the terrain.”
MD: Treacherous terrains.
JD: Yeah, exactly.
MD: More eyes down.
JD: Could barely get the words out, yeah.
BB: But you know, it’s people like, “Is that chicken shit?” I think what people don’t understand is, it’s not chicken shit. It’s so smart because…
JD: It’s curation, is what it is.
BB: Yes, it is. It’s thoughtful curation because neuro-biologically, when we look someone in the eye, even there… Your wife is a social worker, right?
BB: We’re trained that it can be too intense…
BB: And we go limbic.
MD: That’s exactly what happens.
BB: We go fight, fight… We just get too defensive; we get too crazy.
MD: That’s what happens for us.
JD: I have a whole theory beyond this…
JD: That I’ve been dying to share publicly…
BB: Do it.
JD: Is that I think our whole system of going to parties, this whole thing where you stand up at a cocktail party and you hold a drink and you look at other people and you have conversations, is a fucking nightmare.
JD: There are maybe 5% of people who are just pure extroverts, who just eat it up. We all know a couple of those people. Everyone else is on some scale of nightmare, to absolute nightmare, to “I would do anything to avoid this moment”. One of the things that Mark and I… And why we do work a lot is we love socializing in the process of making a film because it is parallel, it is in that same way, we’re all looking forward towards this other thing, and we are relating to each other and we’re talking about the biggest things in life and the scariest things, but we’re not doing it in a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation. And I think it actually mimics human evolution. I think it mimics the way… We didn’t go to cocktail parties back in the day. We were gathering food.
BB: Yeah, shared tasks.
JD: We were painting things, we were making clothes, we were doing tasks together. There wasn’t a lot of eye contact. There was a lot of talking going on, a lot of people in groups figuring things out together. And when you think about it that way, the level of intimacy you can achieve in that and also just community that you can achieve in an environment like that.
MD: When you talk to people who have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and those trail buddies, and what they achieved by all that silent time together next to each other, and that’s like really special.
JD: They hardly ever look each other in the face. They’re looking at the back of somebody’s head, or you’re walking side by side and you just see somebody’s shoes that…
BB: I think your theory is not only spot on, I think it’s proven, because I think the worst way you can build team… Like if there’s team struggle in an organization, the worst thing is the…
JD: The cocktail party.
BB: The cocktail party. That’s just disaster. Go bowling together, do something cheesy. Just do something together that’s a shared task, where you’re doing something preferably with your hands.
JD: Yes, because that’s… We’re monkeys.
BB: That’s how we’re wired. We are.
JD: Let’s face it.
BB: Okay, these are my favorite. Okay. “Truth is more uncomfortable… ” This is my takeaway from your book. “Truth is more uncomfortable than lying, but way easier.”
JD: Yeah, that’s totally true. That’s totally true.
BB: Yeah, yeah, [chuckle] but most people would be like, “Well, that sounds like bullshit.” Say it again.
JD: Lying is a nightmare.
BB: Truth is more uncomfortable than lying, but way easier. So, the example that you used, which I was just laughing because I was like, “But everyone lives this way.” Where you’re out of time on a shoot, I don’t know all the technicalities to that, I don’t know your business, but you’re out of time on a shoot, and then instead of saying, “Look, we’re out of time, we really want to do this intricate, complex shoot, but we’re going to have to do something simpler because we’re out of time.” 9 times out of 10, the director will bullshit and say, “You know what? This is the better idea to actually do it this way.” And everyone knows it’s a lie, and everyone’s participating in the lie, everyone feels gross.
BB: So tell me about this. Lying more difficult, but easier.
JD: Well, it’s because Mark and I can’t lie to each other. I know what he’s thinking at all times, and he knows what I’m thinking at all times, so the veil is gone. When we show up and work together, it’s a pain in the ass.
MD: We didn’t choose it, it just happened naturally, and then we saw the benefit of it, honestly.
JD: Yeah. It’s like, yeah, you could probably pull the wool over this actor’s eyes who you only know for three weeks and you’re just trying to get through it and stuff, but Mark and I know what the reality is, and we can’t look at each other and lie. So we’ve been, by fire, forced to do that thing, but I will say now that we work more independently, we still do the same thing because it’s ingrained in us and we do know that when you show up with the truth, everybody knows…
MD: They feel it.
JD: Everybody knows what’s going on.
BB: But that’s your motto everywhere.
MD: It should be that everywhere.
BB: It’s how you work…
MD: And we miss it…
BB: But it’s also what you show us. You do not show us bullshit.
MD: You know it’s funny, like Jay and I had to make a decision, about four or five years ago, we can’t go to industry parties together, because the level of small talk that is often required to make it work successfully, we’re just so goddamn grossed out by having to do it next to each other, because we know it’s bullshit…
BB: Because you can see each other? [chuckle]
MD: Because we could see each other. So, we have to do it with other people where it’s so less obvious and gross.
JD: Yeah. We’ll see each other at a party and just be like, “‘Sup?”
MD: And just be like, “I got you.” But we don’t talk to each other.
JD: We don’t circle up at the same…
MD: We can’t do that. Those two energies are anathema to each other.
BB: Okay, so I can’t do that in front of my sisters either. I can’t watch you; I can’t know that you’re watching me and I’m on.
MD: It’s too gross. It’s so hard.
BB: I feel ashamed sometimes by it.
MD: That’s the way we feel too, and we separate it.
JD: No, it is a really tough spot to be in. For a long time, it was really tough for us to just like, “How do we do it?” Now, we’ve come so far where we don’t even go to parties anymore. There’s one party a year that we both have talked about, that’s like, “Alright if we’re going to go to one fucking party, it’s going to be this party.”
MD: Let’s get this done and get most of it done.
JD: Yeah. And we don’t do it together, you know?
MD: But when I see you, don’t come near me. [laughter]
BB: Yeah, exactly!
MD: I don’t want Jay to smell any of the shit I’m selling right now.
JD: What is that feeling? I think people have it with their spouses too, and I think there’s something interesting… Well, I think there’s so many things about it that are super interesting. People have it with their spouses, “Oh God, he’s telling that same goddamn story again, I can’t live through these next three minutes and he’s going to yuck it up and he’s going to do this thing,” and it’s like…
MD: But if that spouse gets to tell it on his own with a new group of people, he can actually enjoy himself and light it up with them, and it’s okay.
BB: They can actually enjoy it. Yeah, they can enjoy it. They can feel a sense of power. It’s about… I think it’s about exposure around inauthenticity.
BB: And I think it’s about being on. If I’m on at a party, I’m either talking to the wait staff, the children who have been pushed off in the kitchen or somewhere, or in the fetal position in the coatroom. That’s me genuinely being authentic at a party. I hate it.
JD: Right. I totally get it.
JD: So, “Do we need to be on at parties?” is the real question.
MD: It’s a choice. It’s a choice.
BB: It’s a choice, but you’re a weirdo if you’re not.
JD: It’s weird. And…
BB: You can’t be like…
JD: I mean I got the job on Transparent as an actor because I went to a party that I did not want to go to. It was crazy.
BB: And then, you helped the person that you talked to, brainstorm other actors, right?
JD: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.
BB: I read that in the book.
JD: Yeah, but I genuinely didn’t want to be at that party, so there is value in going to a party and telling your stories and getting on, I guess, turning yourself on.
BB: There’s value in connecting with people.
JD: There is, but you have to…
MD: But the deeper value, as we’re talking here, as applies to work, as applies to real relationships, and look, we are in the privilege now of being in the more successful end of our career…
MD: So we have the privilege of being able to say, “I don’t know.” or “I messed this up.”
MD: And say those kinds of truths without consequences.
BB: That’s when… That’s wind at your sails though, right?
MD: Yes, that’s wind in my sails and we’re aware of that, that not everybody has this privilege now. But we are so privileged to be able to walk on the film shoot now and say, “Guys, we messed up all of the time management. We’re going to have to make some sacrifices here. I think it’ll probably be like 80% as good as it should be, and that actually won’t affect the movie that much, you guys cool with it? We’ll be good.” You know…
MD: And just let it be what it is. And it’s nothing wrong with that, but it took us a long time to get there.
JD: I mean, another part of this equation, I think, that’s interesting in terms of being on and being at parties and doing that stuff, is the person that you’re talking to. Mark and I don’t do this anymore. We don’t go to interviews together anymore, because I think our last one on the book tour was Terry Gross, and we were like, “We did it.”
MD: ” We did it. It’s over.”
JD: But then you called, and what we have learned is that when the person on the other side is fully inspired and is fully coming from a place of true curiosity, then it’s all new.
JD: I’ve said half the stuff I’ve said in front of Mark already. I don’t mind because you have created a space where the energy is elevated and we’re exploring new ideas and we are on to something new, and there is something… This is all quarter baked because I haven’t figured this out yet, but it’s something that I think about a lot. I think about socializing, and what that means and…
MD: Those dynamics. Yeah.
JD: Those dynamics, and Mark and I have talked about it so much, it’s just like, “Well, he’s the gregarious one today, so I guess I’m just going to recede.” Those kinds of things, I think about it with my wife and in terms of like how do you socialize with your spouse and how do you do it together and like both feel supported? When’s the last time you went to a social event with your spouse and you both left feeling great? [chuckle]
JD: I mean, when’s the last time that happened?
BB: I actually can’t. It’s a real hard thing for both of us.
MD: I think that most people feel that way.
BB: You think so?
MD: I think so.
BB: I thought it was just weird because I’m introverted and he’s more of an ambivert, but socially more shy.
BB: So I have to go… And we both have jobs where we’re on… He’s a doctor, and I’m this.
MD: I think, at the very least, it’s more of a “This is more of your thing and I’ll be there with you and get what I can out of it, and the other thing is going to be more my thing.”
BB: That’s exactly right.
MD: So there’s a little bit of that, just like scale of joy.
JD: “This is what I need from you in this interaction.”
JD: We’re full on special ops when we go to stuff together, Jen and I. It’s just like, “Okay, what I need from… What I need is to talk to these two people. I don’t need you to be near me. Do you need me to… ” I mean like it is… Full on…
BB: We do the same thing. We have a code word, everything.
JD: All that stuff, I think is critical because, back to what we were saying, I think it’s fucked up. I think these social interactions that we’re doing, they’re so deeply uncomfortable, that’s why people drink so much at these.
BB: It is totally… And I’m sober 23 years.
BB: So for me, it’s a real nightmare because I don’t have…
MD: The lube…
BB: I don’t have… Yeah, the liquid courage. I don’t have… And I quit smoking and drinking the same day, so I don’t have the cigarette, I don’t have anything.
JD: Oh my God. You have nothing to rely on.
BB: I’ve got nothing. I’ve got… Yeah, it’s just, it’s… You need a fully…
MD: Gum? Get some gum at least. [chuckle]
BB: Gum… [chuckle] Imagine, it’s Brené, blowing bubbles. Can you fully bake this idea, so you can help us? Because…
JD: I’m working on it.
BB: Yeah, it is… It’s a stressor.
BB: And I kinda have this growing… Like I think I’m one of the first big authors that actually turned down book signings. So I, when I went on my last book tour, I said, “I’m not signing anything anywhere.”
JD: That’s great.
BB: And they were like, “Yeah, you are. ”
JD: They are like, “You are crazy.”, it’s what they’re going to say.
BB: Yeah, and I said, “I’m not.”
MD: It was really hard for me and Jay, I don’t know what it was, but the 1500 pictures we took on the last book tour and like wanting to give and connect, but the drain of that… And I talk a lot about something called Soul Points, which is like, where is your balance? What have you given out, what have you filled up so that you can continue to have renewable energy and move forward?
BB: That’s right.
MD: And we were on the floor for a week after that one. That was tough.
BB: It was… This is my experience, and maybe y’all could use it if that’s helpful for your next book stuff, but I addressed it with… I actually pulled a Duplass. I addressed it with the audience and I said…
MD: Oh, good for you.
BB: “I’m not signing books after this, and I’m going to tell you why. Because it takes too much out of me, and I love and appreciate y’all, but I really love and appreciate my husband and kids and I need to be whole when I get home.”
JD: Oh my God.
BB: And people just jumped to their feet and started clapping.
MD: That is so beautiful. You know, Jay and I… [chuckle]
JD: It’s amazing.
MD: I want to share something that Jay and I have also recognized, and I don’t think we put this in the book, I don’t… But correct me if I did. We, similarly, we’ll get anywhere from 5 to 10 emails a day from people saying, “Could I just please take you to coffee and pick your brain about how you’ve done this and where your model is?” And what we used to do was like weirdly, shamefully, and apologetically say, “You know, it’s such a busy time right now, I can’t do this and… But maybe in the spring.” We would just keep putting people off and tagging them along.
JD: And we would do a lot of it.
MD: Yeah, and we did a lot of it too.
JD: A lot of meetings with kids. Yeah.
MD: And then, we just… We got so drained, like you said, and so then we eventually had the courage to write a response, which is, “The truth is I don’t have time right now, and even if I ever did have time, I’m going to have to give it to the five things that I’m not doing enough of: My children, my exercise, sleep, reading books and meditation. So, if there ever is time, it’s going to go to those things and it’s never going to come to you, and I’m so sorry. But, if you have a question you want to ask me over email, ask it now.” And it’s usually one of five questions. And we pretty much have those responses already ready to go.
BB: Written down. Yeah.
MD: And then it gets done in that way, so there’s always some kind of solution in there.
JD: But like you said, the truth is harder, and for us to come to that point…
MD: It was hard.
JD: Where we realized… It was a very hard moment when we realized that like, “No, we’re married men with children and our self-care is extremely lacking.” We have…
MD: We’re getting better.
JD: We’re getting way better, but it used to be all about no self-care. It used to be all about like…
BB: I sensed that in the book.
JD: I’m going to throw you off the cliff…
JD: And then, hopefully the water will wash in. Hopefully, it won’t be jagged rocks. [chuckle] And then, you jump in right after me and then we’ll get down there and then I’m going to throw you off the next cliff.
JD: And we would throw each other off of cliffs.
BB: Yeah. Who dies next?
JD: Yeah. It’s similar to immigrant mentality.
BB: It is.
JD: Which is just like, we will not think, we will not pause, we will do things. And I mean, I don’t poop on it either. It’s served us really well.
BB: Me too.
JD: Our whole motto of “Make movies, not meetings.” is the main reason we have continued to make things consistently, is we didn’t get caught up in the idea of what something’s going to be. It’s just like we’re going to make this thing.
MD: Yeah, the key is now that we’re trying to take the foot off the gas, the engine’s used to revving that way for 25 years…
JD: Very hard to turn that motor off.
MD: And now we’ve got to motor off and we’ve got to figure that out.
BB: Really hard. And I’m telling you, in that mentality that y’all have that I think I share, a lot of shame messaging…
BB: And a lot of “If I say no, will this ever be perceived as a lack of gratitude for what… Have I gotten too big for my britches?” And just those things.
JD: Yes. I will say this. We… I definitely inherited a lot of Catholic shame coming up. It was very well baked into… We had nuns, and then we had Christian brothers, and then we had Jesuit priests. And I definitely got a lot of, “You’re not good enough. You got to do everything that you can possibly do.” Like who you are inherently is not enough. You must establish, you must distinguish yourself with your accomplishments, essentially, and that’s something that I’m still actively trying to undo. I still don’t believe that I am enough as I am. I definitely think that I need to win an Oscar at some point in order for this whole thing to have been worth it. I can tell you that in my brain, I’m just telling you, the motor of my immigrant spirit right now is gunning for that Oscar still, and I’m trying to tell this person that it’s going to be okay no matter what and that… And it’s dumb because we’ve accomplished enough to know that that Oscar could be the worst thing that ever happened to me.
MD: And it’s so arbitrary and crazy and who knows, yeah.
JD: It’s so arbitrary.
BB: Yeah, it’s crazy.
JD: It’s… How you get it? What happens? And then you’re at the top, and then you pretty much only have… It’s like, I think so often about the gymnast girls who win a gold medal when they’re 14 years old. Because when we were kids, we were just like, “Oh my god, they have done it.” And now, all I can think is, “You’re staring at a 70-year retrograde slide for the rest of your life from that point.”
MD: Until you recalibrate that mountain, which is tough. Yeah.
JD: Yes. For all the people who are listening, who think that when they accomplish something they’re going to get somewhere, you don’t get anywhere. I’m telling this to myself.
MD: Yeah, because we’ve hit five or six of those apexes that we set for ourselves.
MD: Get a movie in Sundance; did it. Sell a movie to a studio; did it. Get a huge acting job, win an Emmy; did it. Woo. Just keep getting sadder. Woo. This is weird.
JD: They’re just…
BB: And it’s funny because we watch your characters.
JD: Yeah. Yes. We watch them. That happened to me.
BB: We watch them with the struggle, like this is very much a throughline in many of the people that y’all have written.
BB: They move their own goalposts.
JD: Yeah. Of course.
BB: Okay, I’ve got two more I gotta cover with you, because these two are big for me. Epically small moments.
BB: This is… This is everything to me.
MD: It is everything to us. It’s the core of it.
BB: We live in a world that has… Puts no value on small moments, and a world where everyone is seeking out the wonder and awe of small moments.
MD: Right. The light, emotional breakdown just outside the Wendy’s off of I-35, after you’ve dropped off your friend’s bed that you borrowed, and you didn’t know it was going to happen, and it’s going to happen right here. And there comes the breakdown in the ugliest, most banal place you can imagine. And that is everything we’re striving for, in art, is the worship of that… The elucidation of that, the sharing of that… It’s just… I don’t know. For… I mean, I go to a lot of therapy and one of my main goals is, if I can find a way to celebrate all these confusing things that come, all these surprising things that come, and take interest in those things, then that’s a recipe for success for me in my life. And if I can give my interest and my heart to those things, so I think that’s why it comes out in the art like that.
JD: Well, the epically small stuff too is like we were literally just saying, like you can win an Oscar and you can have a terrible weird night. You can have a… That night’s probably going to be awesome, but the next day might be the most depressing. When we got our first feature film in Sundance and when we came home, I went into a dark depression for six months because I had sublimated this idea that what… That getting into Sundance would fix all my problems, which sounds so dumb but you know when you want something so bad and you’re so far from it, you subconsciously ascribe the reason why you’re upset is because you haven’t gotten to that place. And then you get to that place, and then that place tells you, “Guess what? This isn’t it.”
JD: It’s the core of your being that is unbalanced right now. That was a real starting point for me of like, “Okay, full-boat therapy. Let’s get into it. Let’s go there.” But the epically small is… What we all really know to be true is that our victories… If you’re training for a marathon, that marathon could be a shit show. It’s the Tuesday afternoon run that you didn’t think you were going to get in because your kids needed longer with their homework and there was a rainstorm coming in and you went out anyways and you ran and you’re trying to beat the rain and you didn’t beat the rain and then you realized, “I can run in the rain even if it’s 50 degrees,” and you feel like you have transcended something that you didn’t think you could transcend before. Those are the victories. I think the tricky part is having someone, like Mark, that you can celebrate those victories with, and us all creating a culture where we can talk about those victories together and stop talking about all these enormous wins and all these Instagram-able moments. Maybe we need to start Instagram-ing these little tiny things. I don’t know.
MD: Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t know how interesting that would be. I remember that night we won the Emmy for Wild Wild Country, I walked into the after-party, and I got so depressed and I was like, “I don’t want to talk to any of these people.” I remember seeing images of people holding their statues and wondering what that would feel like. And I was holding the statue and I was just like, “This feels horrible.” And I walked in the party and I walked right out. And I got in my car and I called my wife Katie, and I was like, “Do we still have the three and a half donuts in the box that were left?” And she’s like… [laughter] She said, “Yes, we do.” And I said, “Put the hot tub on, I’m coming home.” And me and the girls all went swimming in the hot tub and ate donuts, and I was like, “This is it, baby.”
JD: This is it.
MD: This is it.
BB: I just have to say I am so grateful for the epic small moments that y’all bring us. They are so… This is John, I show it in my classroom to teach vulnerability.
BB: Yeah, no, I can barely watch it.
BB: Because… I don’t know. It’s what it means to be human. The last thing I want to say around your paradoxical wholeheartedness maybe, except…
JD: I just want to say something about the pa… Because I’m not sure it will be communicated totally, the paradox, and this is very reductive. But the thing that… Because we’re talking very openly and therapeutically, and we’re in our open-hearted space. But to give the concept of the paradox with me and Mark, and our wives will be the first ones to tell you this, is that we are fucking killers. We will not stop. You talked about a little bit with the art, but there is a rigor and relentlessness, and sometimes a ruthlessness with which we will pursue something great.
MD: But also intimacy and closeness with each other…
JD: [chuckle] Yes. Yeah.
MD: And things like that.
BB: In a terrifying way, I mean…
JD: It’s a little terrifying.
BB: It’s a little terrifying, yeah, if you’re listening to this and you’re getting the sense that these are touchy-feely guys, they’re not. You need to read the book. But I think that’s an interesting part of you too, is that there’s an intensity about both of you and…
MD: I’ve destroyed some things, physical objects in an expression of my strange, confusing love for Jay Duplass.
BB: I saw it first in destroying that box.
BB: There is a scary current that flashes through both of you, for sure.
MD: Yeah. That’s a good way to talk about the height of that paradox too, yeah, because we are…
BB: Yeah, because there’s deep, deep love, but there is also… There is an intensity to both of you. Do you agree?
JD: Oh yeah. Yeah.
BB: And an unrelenting something. Great, this is my great segue to my last kind of thing that I love around holding the tension. I think one of the most powerful things that I read in all of your essays from the bike riding and the Star Wars and the Ordinary People, [chuckle] which I will never get over, just to where you are right now, is separateness in your togetherness.
BB: Y’all are… This is hard.
MD: Yeah, we’re in… We’re still in the middle of this right now.
BB: This is still unfolding.
MD: This is still unfolding. I think it’s safe to say we’re out of the traumatic realm of it, which I think it was more traumatic for me. I think that Jay understood and… He’s always been a little downstream from me, in terms of intellectually understanding things a little earlier than I do, because I tend to be a little bit more myopic in some things. That’s a generalization but… So he understood that this needed to happen earlier than I did. Some of that was from where he was standing, it was going to be better for him; and some of it is an age and a wisdom thing, whatever, so I was a little slower on the uptick…
JD: Well, you also had a bigger life than me way earlier. Like all I wanted to do was direct from the early days and Mark was out acting pretty early. So, he started branching out and having all of these experiences…
MD: And the producing stuff I loved so much…
JD: And he started producing, and then he started co-writing in order to help those projects. All I ever wanted was for us to be the Coen brothers. And then, there was a certain point… So I was… I think the reality is I was sitting in the breakup for a lot longer…
MD: That’s exactly it.
JD: Before you even realized that it was happening.
MD: So I experienced what would relatively be called somewhat of a blind side with it, and so then Jay had to experience some of that same 7-year-old kid who would destroy a box that he wanted to make with his friend again. And maybe a more emotionally evolved version of it, but a bigger and stronger one too, so there’s also that. [laughter] And man, it was such a journey. I think that, just for me, it was so… As someone who thought I kinda had a lot figured out about how to operate, I really got knocked off of my heels. And I remember crying a lot, and I remember feeling I was doing some manipulative things every now and then, and catching myself and going, “Oh man, what are you doing? You’re trying to make him feel… What are you doing?”
MD: And then… And Jay was good. He was very gentle and we talked a lot about it, we had a lot of hikes, and I remember there being a moment where I had to understand the fact that it was possible that Jay could be happier making a piece of art without me next to him, and what that would mean for us. And that even if that art wasn’t as good or as complex as it had to be… We made so much great stuff, we’ve done more than we ever thought we could, that this would be right. And in some ways, like just for our relationship. And I had to sit in that for about six months, until I could accept that. But I have and it’s been very good for us. And now we are in this phase that has been going on for a while, which I describe as like how to be ex-soulmates, really, is what it is. How do you have intimacy and still love each other? And have all of that stuff, but probably, in some ways, be closer with your wives and children, because that’s what’s happening now. And it was a little bit of a long time coming, but it’s hard sometimes. And sometimes we get lucky. I don’t know how you… We talk about this a little… Sometimes it’s just like, we’ll go on a hike and we’re like, “It’s all working… ”
MD: “It’s all just the same.” And then, sometimes it’s not. And learning to accept that energy that we cannot predict often dictates how we’re able to do at any given moment.
JD: Yeah. Well, I think also that whole immigrant approach to making art and the self-destruction, the throwing each other off of cliffs along the way, it’s like over time, your sort of brotherhood or your relationship kind of disappears; it becomes more about what you’re creating. And you’re kind of giving, in a way, to people constantly, which is beautiful. But there’s a limit to what can happen, and then there’s a certain point… I knew for me when I started the machinations of like, “Okay, we need to loosen this up,” it was more about like, “I want to… ” I’m probably going to cry. “I want to enjoy being Mark’s brother again.” That’s the most…
MD: Yeah, we lost that. We lost that when we made Togetherness.
JD: Yeah. That was the most important thing to me is like, “Okay, in light of that thought, I can give up anything.” And I don’t know… We still don’t know what that looks like. We’re figuring that out, even like… And there are hopes that maybe one day we’ll make something together in an intimate way. I mean, we help each other with our stuff, but it’s not like we’re like, like it used to be, like lockstep.
MD: Yeah, we’re not directing side-by-side anymore.
JD: Yeah. And also, we’re like freaking middle-aged grown-ass men. We really needed each other at that time. And the truth is to make a piece of art that’s unique right now, it actually can be more unique and it’s right for us to do it on our own mostly.
MD: And partner with someone else who gives us different energy.
JD: Partnering with someone else. With different energy, yeah.
BB: Oh my God, that’s huge!
MD: And also give that person an opportunity who hasn’t had a voice before to come up in that partnership, is critical.
JD: Yeah, it’s like you’re just following the energy. You don’t really know why.
JD: But I do know that us figuring out a way to be brothers again, what that looks like, what it feels like, you can’t even decide.
MD: You can’t decide. Yeah. [chuckle]
JD: It’s like you have to just be, like you say, you just have to be vulnerable to it, and…
MD: We just have to walk into it. And without a plan is the goal.
JD: You have to go without a plan, and you have to just let it… Like the universe wants us to be brothers, right?
JD: We know that. We don’t know what it’s going to look like, right?
MD: Yeah. [chuckle] I thought when we pulled the plug on the… This is the full container of our energy, and right now it’s all work energy. If we start to drain that, I thought the brother juice would just start automatically filling in at the top…
BB: Pulling in, yeah.
MD: But it hasn’t, actually.
MD: And so now we have to get active and get smart and curate.
JD: Right now, all it really is, is going for hikes and runs and eating Mexican food after.
JD: We don’t even talk about it. But I think we don’t do it that often because we want it to be awesome when we do it, so we’re curating the awesomeness of us being brothers and we don’t… Like Mark said, we both have young kids. We’re both very present dads and husbands, and we are still fucking maniacs at work.
BB: Yeah. Yeah.
JD: There’s plenty to do. And we’re hopefully going to live a long life and we’ll have plenty of time to figure out what that brotherhood looks like.
BB: There’s such a different way that we can love each other when we’re clear about where we end and someone else begins. Do you know what I mean?
MD: We didn’t have that for a long time.
BB: It’s just not possible to love each other the same way when there’s no distinction about where the end and the beginning is. Does that make sense?
MD: When you talk about it, it feels like we’re talking about the biopic of a rock band who was on crazy drugs and had no limits, and there were those beautiful years when there was no awareness and they were all over each other, and then at a certain point, that’s not sustainable. And then, there has to be some form of a breakup and the coming back together. So we just kinda get into that reunion tour shit, figure that out. [chuckle]
JD: Yeah. And also in the meantime, Mark’s older daughter and my older daughter are like soulmates.
JD: And so we’re watching that. And it’s pretty magical to see it come about.
BB: That… Okay, I got goosebumps.
BB: That’s a miracle.
MD: Yeah. They’re nine months apart, and they’re good buds.
BB: Do y’all know Kahlil Gibran?
MD: No. I don’t.
BB: Do you know his work? There’s something that they read at my wedding when I married Steve and I was just going to read it because it reminded me of y’all, it reminded me of your work and it’s his thoughts on marriage, and it says, “You were born together, and together you shall be forever more. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Yes, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of heaven dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” And I just think that is…
BB: Yeah. I just think, for me, I was so surprised how much I learned about myself reading this book: My craft, the way I lead people, my marriage, how I parent, and I just want to say thank you for all the gifts that you just keep giving us. And holding up… I don’t know, holding up a mirror that reminds me, personally, of the epic greatness of the small moments in my life. I’m super grateful for that.
MD: Oh my God, I’m grateful for these times.
JD: Yeah, me too.
MD: It’s beautiful.
JD: You’re a big part of our family, so thank you.
BB: Thank y’all so much.
MD: This podcast was brought to you by Kramer versus Kramer.
BB: I hope y’all enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. I just… Mark and Jay are just such soulful people and such truth tellers, and I love how they pull the covers off of the creative process. And how they just… One of the big themes that I talk about with them in the podcast that has stuck with me since that is: Just stay in it. When shit gets hard, just stay in it. Tell the truth even though it’s uncomfortable. And watch everything you can by them. If you want a great list of some of the things they’ve written, directed, or starred in, you want to get more information about the book, you want to find links to how to follow them on social or learn more about them, just go to brenebrown.com/unlockingus. That is our podcast page and we have everything about our guests, including links. I can tell you that their website is www.duplassbrothers.com. Mark is @MarkDuplass on Twitter and Jay is @jayduplass. And on Instagram, Mark is @markduplass and Jay is @jayduplass. They’re pretty straightforward guys. These are just… They’re calling it like it is.
BB: Thanks for listening to Unlocking Us and whoo… If there are any guests that could help me say to you, stay awkward, brave and kind, it would be Mark and Jay. So, I know these are still tough times, I know that weariness… I don’t know about y’all, but I’m riding things like a surfboard. Sometimes I’m on top of it, kinda balancing; and other times it comes crashing behind me and takes me down. Maybe a cool thing to do during this time would be to dig into some of their films and some of their work. Soulful. Stay soulful, awkward, brave and kind.
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