Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass of The One I Love

Best known for their small-screen work — with Mark Duplass a fixture on FXX’s The League and Elizabeth Moss  just about to draw the curtain on her work as Peggy Olson on Mad Men —  the two actors also appear in the just-released The One I Love, a film that, without too much explanation, takes what looks like an all-too-familiar romantic comedy into territory that’s strange, beautiful, true … and

yes, still very much romantic and comedic. We spoke with Moss and Duplass in L.A. about working off the cuff, the role of magic in romance and making movies happen fast. 

There’s a certain level of constraint about what we can talk about in regards to the film, but Mark, in talking to Mr. McDowell, it seems you were instrumental in getting The One I Love made …

Duplass: I met with Charlie (McDowell) and Justin Lader, and they were trying to get this $5 million independent film made … which is impossible to get made now. They were like “I hear you make movies quickly and cheaply.” I said “I do, but, um, it’s not going to make you rich — but we can do it.” They said “What do you have in mind? So I looked (in my notebook) and I had this little two-sentence description that was not at all a movie, but had the germ of something interesting in it, and it was based on my desire to do an in-depth relationship movie like I’ve done, but with a different genre. So I sent it to them, and they got

this 10-page outline with these great characters, and I was like “I think we should make this; we gotta find a female star who’ll hopefully do this with us. And I had been friends with Lizzie (Moss) for a bit, and I thought “Okay, she can do what’s required on the Rom-Com front, she can do that light funny endearing thing — but she can also do that dark, brooding super-weird and mean thing, too,” and I was like “Yeahhhhhhh …” I pitched to her and I said “Would you be interested in something like this? and she said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” and I was “I just sent you a 10-page outline; you should wait for the whole shebang.” And we kind of all put it together.

Ms. Moss, you were sent a 10-page outline for a quick, off-the-cuff film … but you’re known for a TV series, Mad Men, with the kind of writing where the dialogue has a specific rhythm and meter and style. Do doing something as freestyle as this, did it feel — in a good way or a bad way — like throwing away the sheet music?

Moss: Yeah, that’s actually an excellent way of putting it — which I am going to steal for all subsequent interviews. (Laughs) But it was. For me, I wanted to work with Mark; I was a fan of his and a fan of his films, and this quickly became a much more collaborative experience than I think I even thought I was going to get, which I was very appreciative of; I read the 10-page treatment, and it was a movie I wanted to see, let alone be in. And for me to be able to go — I finished Mad Men season 6 and two days later started this film, and to be thrown into this situation where my ideas, what I spend my time thinking about inbetween scenes or inbetween takes or even overnight while I was sleeping would show up in the film the next day, and that was very exciting to me. And it was exciting for me to feel that I was really able to be of service in a way that I hadn’t really explored before, in terms of creating this character from the ground up; it was great. It was very freeing. It was a true tennis match; everything that I did affected Mark’s character, and everything his character did affected mine and the film. It was a very organic experience, working it out every single day, every single scene, creating it from this outline that’s now, what, a 60-page script? There was very little hierarchy …

Duplass: … Oh, you carried lights. For sure.

Moss: … You were responsible for “What costume are you wearing? Go put it on.” It felt like this summer camp theater experience that was really fun.

Is some of talking about this movie and trying to get an audience for this movie complicated by the fact that  North American pop culture doesn’t really have a tradition of “magical realism” in pop culture?

Duplass: It’s funny, because literature does have that tradition;  look at A Hundred Years of Solitude, or Marquez — it’s great, we read about it, we jump right in. But in film, when you go to the  realm of the mystical or the unreal, the performances come up with them. The goal with this — whether we were successful or not — was to stay grounded as a real couple, with real emotions, playing real fear of “My God, does she not love me anymore? Does she want me to be the way I used to be?” All the way we talk about our relationships — but explode it into the ether with some sort of magic. And it was fun, and we weren’t sure if we were going to get there.

Ms. Moss, there’s this great scene early in the film where you two recreate your first date, you break into a pool like you did, and you’re sort of floating there with this look of “Well, this isn’t working.” on your face. Do you find in something like this, where you’re asked to do so much with silence, that it’s a chance to flex those specific acting muscles?

Moss: Yeah; I love doing that kind of acting. Despite all the incredible writing on Mad Men, some of my favorite things to do were these silent moments. I personally just love doing that, but that scene for me was such a great representation of where they are in the relationship in one scene. they’re trying — they haven’t given up completely. It’s such a great way to, in very little time, show the audience where this couple is. And I don’t know a couple, whether they’ve been together for three weeks or 16 years, where one of them doesn’t at some point say “Huh … this isn’t exactly where I wanted to be.” Ad they have to decide whether or not they stay …

Duplass: Basically, this couple falls into doing what Hollywood’s doing right now: They find one thing that works .. and they try to recreate it. (Laughs)