Indie Darling Jay Duplass Goes On A 'Manson Family Vacation'
Even though Charles Manson was sent to prison over forty years ago, he still looms large in the public imagination. He lead his followers to commit heinous murders, including that of movie star Sharon Tate, and the 1969 deaths were massively culturally significant. They represented the end of the ‘60s – the end of an idealistic, hopeful era, and the entrance of a darker, scarier time. The Tate/LaBianca murders were news and tabloid fodder for years, and Manson still has followers. It’s spooky shit.
The new film Manson Family Vacation (out now on iTunes/VOD and on Netflix October 27th) tackles Manson worship in the modern age. The movie, directed and written by J. Davis, focuses on two brothers: Nick, an ordinary family man, and Conrad, a drifter and Charles Manson obsessive. Conrad rolls into Los Angeles, and convinces Nick to go on a tour of the sites where the Manson Family committed their crimes. Murder-themed hijinks ensue. It’s a great, strangely affecting movie.
Manson Family Vacation stars actor Linas Phillips as Conrad, and actor/producer Jay Duplass, who also stars on Transparent and The Mindy Project, as Nick. Jay produced Manson under the company that he has with his brother, Mark. Together, the Duplass Brothers are a powerhouse producing pair, with a four-picture deal at Netflix. They’ve produced tons of movies, all of which are generally excellent, including Tangerine, 6 Years, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Skeleton Twins, and the HBO sadcom Togetherness. We caught up with Duplass and Phillips to talk about their movie, the Mindy set, and their thoughts on Manson himself.
Jay, what draws you to a particular script? Is there a certain quality you look for?
Jay: I think the most important thing is that the core of the story has to strike some weird, irrational chord. It has to be a story that you think needs to be told, and something that you think you can tell. The script has to be well-structured. We feel like we can shuck and jive and find the depth as we’re going, but it still has to be a well-structured story that we feel like is really going to some place truthful. In the case of this movie – there are spoilers we can’t reveal – but in the case of this movie, there’s a twist that we’ve heard people felt was a surprise, but one that was totally earned. So that’s what we’re really looking for.
I really admire your work on Transparent. Before you joined the show, were transgender rights an important issue to you?
J: I would say in general that I have always considered myself an advocate of the LGBTQ community. Now that we’ve made Tangerine and I’m on Transparent, it’s weird. I just live in an incredibly gender fluid world now, so much so that I don’t even notice it anymore. Whatever there needs to be said or done, I’m proud and happy to do it. It’s important to me. I’m just more awake to the tremendous amount of injustice that’s going on in the world in regards to transgender issues. I’m happy to help, and I feel compelled to.
Tangerine was so good. Were you ever on set during production?
J: Those girls are really incredible. I’ve gotten to know them really well, and they’re just the most dynamic people. They’re just so funny and so talented. I didn’t go on set. I was busy shooting at the time, but a lot of the movies that we get behind and produce are movies from first time filmmakers, or some specific thing is going on. In this case, first and foremost, we were just drawn to Sean Baker. He’s always been one of our favorite filmmakers. We never had any doubt. We just needed to provide the platform for him to do it. We raised the money for him, and sent him on his way. He made a fucking great movie.
It’s a fucking great movie. On another subject, you’re kind of a dick on Transparent.
Linus: A lovable dick!
“I’m just more awake to the tremendous amount of injustice that’s going on in the world in regards to transgender issues. I’m happy to help, and I feel compelled to.”
In contrast, I find you so funny on the Mindy Project. Your facial expressions are just great. What is it like —
J: To be a muppet onscreen?
To be a muppet onscreen. And do you like being on screen with your brother? Is it fun?
J: Yeah. I mean that was so fun to do that. That’s truthfully my first acting job. Mindy just thought it would be really funny if we did that, and it’s been really fun for me. God, that set is such a blast. Mindy Kaling is such an awesome person. She gets us, and allows us to do our subtle, weird sense of humor. They just encourage us to do whatever we feel like. Clearly they write scripts and they’re brilliant, but we get to play around too. I love it whenever I get the chance to do it.
I love the use of puns in this film’s log line. One is a devoted family man, and one is devoted to the family. Is there one that you connect with more?
J: I can relate to both characters. One of the things we wanted to play with a little bit was that when Linus’s character shows up, he looks like the dark dude. He’s a drifter. He’s got a beard. All his possessions are on his back. And then you watch the movie a little bit more, and you realize he has an optimism and a hopefulness and a sweetness about him that my character does not have. I think it’s interesting how it kind of flips back and forth as to who really is the darker person.
Linus, what drew you to this project?
L: Well, it all kind of grew out of my friendship with J. Davis. We have a lot of stuff in common, but one of the things we did not have in common was his fascination with the Manson family and the Manson murders. And when he decided he was going to make a movie about this, he asked me to play the guy who was disturbed, and I felt very confidently that I could portray that role really well.
I thought there was a lot of potential energy in the story — the depth of what Manson and the family had done to our culture beyond just the murders, and the fact that there is a modern day world of Charles Manson alive and well and thriving. It was terrifying and exciting at the same time.
Did you talk to any people that are current Manson followers?
L: I had talked to this one guy who wrote a book about Charles Manson, Marlin Marynick. He wrote this book called Charles Manson Now, and he had interviewed Manson and he pushed it sort of like talking about this man who probably needed psychological help and/or medication. But he does have a friendship with Manson, from interviewing him, so he was probably conflicted. It allowed me to kind of empathize, and get into the mode that I needed to be in for [my character] Conrad.
It’s not like we empathize with Manson, who’s at the very least a conspirator. We don’t really sympathize with him throughout this process, but you do realize that he’s not the epitome of evil that society has decided that he is, without ever really finding out about him. Not that he does himself any favors. In interviews, he really hams it up, but after a few, he kind of drops the shtick.
“We don’t really sympathize with [Manson] throughout this process, but you do realize that he’s not the epitome of evil that society has decided that he is.”
Well, the way he survived in juvenile hall was by playing crazy. Spooky.
L: Well, I think it’s sad for anyone to be imprisoned that long.
Linus, in this movie you kind of play – I don’t want to say crazy, but almost crazy. Do you enjoy these kinds of roles where you’re a little bit on the edge?
L: Well, I’m a big personality, so it’s a little bit easier for me to play such an extreme character. For me, I felt like I was playing this pretty normal character. I do more comedic characters that are very different from me, but this was a very ‘character-y’ part, even though it I felt very naturalistic and like myself a lot of the time – aside from being interested in Manson. The laugh that’s in the movie is just kind of my laugh. I don’t know. Jay always says, ‘You’re such a big personality.’
Now that you’ve done this movie, do you have more of an interest in Charles, or are you done forever with Manson stuff?
L: I think it peaked. It’s on the down slope now. I have been getting stuff from people on Facebook who are fans. I’m sure they’re really nice people, but sometimes it’s someone you just don’t know. It’s odd, but it makes the character in the movie a little more real. I still think he’s a fascinating figure.
Are you done with Manson, Jay?
J: It’s definitely opened my mind to the deeper truth of what really happened. We had some fun surprises on set where J. and Linus didn’t really reveal some stuff in the script so that I would be surprised. When he says, ‘Manson never killed anybody,’ we were in the middle of an argument, and it not only blows my character’s mind, but my mind as Jay Duplass, because I had never really acknowledged that he didn’t kill anybody. A lot of conspiracy theorists say he’s unconstitutionally in prison. How can you get multiple life sentences for just convincing people to kill somebody?
L: It’s all based on whether he was a real cult figure or not. He fits the bill. He had this flock of girls. If it wasn’t his idea though, since a lot of people think it was Tex Watson, and that Manson was more about drug stuff. But then there’s so much evidence to prove it, too. So you never really know. It is interesting that he wasn’t there, though. That just makes him seem even worse, because he manipulated all of these people.
What do you two believe? Should he be in prison?
J: I think he should probably stay in prison. I don’t know for sure, but it’s pretty clear that he was involved in the deaths of people. Anybody doing that needs to be limited in their ability to continue to do that.
L: I mean, he admits that he went and helped to tie them up, but he would say, ‘Oh, I was just trying to help!’ That’s a mentally ill person that admits that and then still affirms that he’s innocent, because he was only trying to help. It’s clear that he probably just needed a lot more support in other ways. What’s done is done. There are a lot of mentally ill people who are in prison.