It isn’t easy to explain what happens in The One I Love, the directorial debut from filmmaker Charlie McDowell, without ruining it. That’s because the great twist of the story doesn’t come at the end, where a viewer might expect it, but about 20 minutes in. What can be said is that the movie, which stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, is about a couple that decides to spend a weekend in the country working out their differences, but instead finds an entirely new—and exceedingly odd—set of circumstances to contend with.
According to Duplass, who starred in this summer’s Tammy and is working on the upcoming HBO series Togetherness, the offbeat nature of the film is exactly what made it appealing. Here, he tells DuJour about keeping the film’s secret and his own worst weekend away.
How are you describing the movie to people without ruining things for them?
I guess the way I try to talk about it is by saying it’s a romantic comedy that sort of has a bomb thrown in at the 20-minute mark, and to say more about that would ruin it. From a theme standpoint, it’s really about that thing you do when you first start dating someone and you pretend like you’re a lot cooler than you really are—like that you’re into museums and that you only eat kale and that you exercise all the time, when really you just eat pizza and stream Netflix at home—and then three months into the relationship, you all eventually find out who you really are. It was something that the filmmakers and I had all done in our relationships and we thought it would kind of fun and we found this really odd way to explore that in the plotting of the film.
What’s the greatest falsehood you ever put forward about yourself in that type of situation?
I told a direct lie to Katie, my wife, when I first met her about how I was kind of dating this girl, and we broke it off. I think I told Katie that I was really honest in the way that I broke up with her, like I said, ‘Look, I’m not attracted to you and I’m worried that it’s never going to work out between us so we should just stop it now,’ when in reality I like totally chickened out when I broke up with her, and I was like, ‘It’s not you, it’s me! I’ve got my own problems!’ I wanted Katie to think I was this direct, strong, confident communicator, which, of course, she figured that I am not, but she didn’t know that when I lured her into my nest.
What made you want to play Ethan?
The way that I’ve built a lot of these smaller movies that I’ve made, like Your Sister’s Sister, is I’ll come up with the concept for a movie and bring it to a filmmaker and we develop it together. That’s how we did this one and, without saying too much, it was a very exciting acting challenge for me to play this part, which people will quickly discover when they watch the movie. It was something I had never done before.
In this case, how did you decide Charlie was the filmmaker you wanted to work with?
I meet with a lot of first time filmmakers, and I love working with them because they’re excited and they’re inspired and they’re appreciative of the opportunity to go make a movie. Because I’ve been making movies for so long, I usually start out as a bit of a mentor, and then by the time we’re shooting I’m totally backed off and they’re taking the reins on it. In Charlie’s case, it was just like a gut feeling, I was like, ‘Oh, this guy really has all these wonderful qualities.’ I thought it would be a good fit.
Something people can pick up from the film’s trailer is that it’s about this couple on a really weird weekend. What’s the strangest weekend trip you’ve had?
Most of my crazy travel came from my life as a musician touring with a band. When you’re only making a few hundred dollars a night, what you normally do is you want to sleep on people’s floors rather than waste your money on a hotel. Sometimes you get to these people’s house and you realize very quickly that you don’t want to sleep here because there are 13 cats or you don’t know if you’re totally safe there. I remember one time I was in North Carolina that we went back to this dude’s house and we got there and there was already a skinny-dipping party going on when we showed up, which is fine, but he was really, really drunk, and I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t know if I’m gonna go swimming,’ and he came up, like right in my face, and he was like, ‘I really think you should get in the pool,’ and I was like, ‘Why?’ and he was like, ‘Cause you’re an angel.’ That was his only response. So I slept in the van that night.
You’ve got a busy year: you’re a producer on The Skeleton Twins and you’re working on a show for HBO. What is the common quality to projects that catch your interest?
I try to just follow my gut in terms of what’s interesting to me. At core of these movies is some form of intense study of interpersonal relationships and how they can be funny and sweet and sad and strange; that’s ultimately what I’m obsessed with and what I’m going to continue to make my art about. This year, what I’m more interested in is taking that analysis and putting it into more types of genres.
Is there a genre you’ve yet to explore that you’re anxious to sink your teeth into?
I’d love to make something that my kids could watch, but unfortunately there’s just the darkness with which I approach my material. I haven’t found a way to reconcile that yet with children’s programming, but I’m working on it.
Watch the film’s official trailer.