Jay Duplass on His Jeff Bezos-Inspired ‘Industry’ Character and Breaking Up With Brother Mark


Jay Duplass never wanted to be an actor. For years, he remained entirely behind the scenes of the intimate indie films he wrote and directed with younger brother Mark Duplass. Then, he was handed the role of Josh Pfefferman in Transparent, which transformed his life and career more than he ever could have imagined when he still thought it was a little “web show” for Amazon.

In this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Duplass reveals how his latest acting gig as “Mr. COVID” Jesse Bloom on HBO’s Industry was inspired by Jeff Bezos, opens up about the difficult decision to separate from his brother professionally, explains why it would be “unthinkable” for a cis actor to play Jeffrey Tambor’s role on Transparent—even if that’s what viewers “needed” at the time—and a lot more.

When Duplass appears on Zoom for our conversation, a backwards baseball cap covers the remnants of the prominent white streak in his Industry character Jesse Bloom’s hair.

“I had never dyed my hair before, and that was a huge, huge ordeal,” he says, recalling the four or five hours a week of “scalp-burning hell” it took to perfect the unique look. “Shout out to all the ladies who spend that much time in hair and makeup. I was such a wuss about it. And most ladies know this already, so they’re just like, ‘No shit, dude, welcome to being alive in the 21st century.’”

Not only had Duplass never seen the first season of Industry when he got the call to join the cast for Season 2, but he’d never even heard of the show. “It’s tough to keep up, and I have kids and we’re trying to make all our stuff,” he says. “It was not on my radar at all.”

He “feverishly” consumed the first season and was “super impressed” with “how smart it was and how it was moving at a thousand miles an hour and not slowing down for you at all as a non-finance person, but somehow you’re understanding it.

“It’s just so rare when you’re watching a giant universe like that and all the performances are just so in the pocket. I was just really blown away.” When creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay laid out their plans to “level up” in Season 2, he was “100 percent in.”

Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation. You can listen to the whole thing by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.

Was it intimidating at all to know that you’re going to have to engage with that financial jargon and all of the stuff that is sometimes hard for viewers to know exactly what’s going on?

I wasn’t as intimidated as I should have been, turns out. It was way, way harder than I thought it was gonna be. I mean, I have a lot of friends who’ve done [Aaron] Sorkin stuff and they’re just like, “Get ready, it’s gonna be a lot.” But it was more than even what I imagined just because it is another language, almost entirely. Especially when you get in these little finance jargon runs where you’re just having a fully financial conversation. It’s fully veiled, and I think the toughest part about it is that it has to move super fast and it has to be laden with playfulness and fun and emotion. So there was a lot of walking around Wales in the rain saying lines out loud to myself.

‘Industry’ Creators Break Down That Wild Season 2 Premiere

Looking like a crazy person.

Looking like a freaking crazy person, yeah, exactly! Because a lot of the stuff that I’ve done, like Outside In or Transparent or other stuff that I’ve done as an actor, has been very emotionally laden stuff, very intuitive, and especially, for me, making that kind of material my whole life, it’s always been very easy for me to learn lines. So it was intimidating, and also, my brain is 49 years old. What’s incredible is, Myha’la [Herrold] is insane. She can stroll in that morning and learn her lines and I’m just like, “I’m jealous of your brain.”

Yeah, it’s funny, the show is so compelling even if you don’t always know what's going on technically. And I found that from the beginning I was just so locked into it, even though I know almost nothing about this world. But did you feel like you do have to understand it to play it?

Yeah, you do have to understand it. You have to understand everything you’re saying. I mean, I don’t understand everything in Season 2 because I gave up on everything that didn’t relate directly to me.

You’ve got to focus somewhere.

Yeah, but I did ask Mickey and Konrad a million questions as I was going. Because you not only have to understand the singular thing that you’re saying, but you have to understand the context of the world that it’s in, so that you have all those inflection points and you know exactly where this lies and what it means. Knowing all of those elements was definitely critical and laborious, to say the least.

So this character of Jesse Bloom, the first thing that we learn about him is that his nickname is “Mr. COVID” because he exploited the pandemic more than anyone else and got richer than anyone else on the pandemic. So when you first got the script and read that, what did that tell you about him and how you wanted to approach it?

Well, I just thought that part of it was fascinating. I love the fact that it takes you a while to figure out that he’s essentially in the U.K. to go get his son. Or at least try to. I thought that was incredible. I actually sat next to Jeff Bezos a few times. In the early days of Transparent, that was the show that built Amazon. And so he was at the Golden Globes with us and I don’t know why, but I got sat next to him, maybe because I was the only other white dude in the whole show.

“He’ll be comfortable with Jay.”

Yeah, I don’t know, but what I found super interesting about him is how super nice he was. Not just nice, but he genuinely took interest in asking me about my kids and stuff. Just a very charming person. And that was one of the first things that I started talking to Mickey and Konrad about, because everyone is so cutthroat in the show, and obviously Jesse can be a killer, but the thing that I started working with them on is like, I actually want this guy to be as charming as possible and as friendly as possible. Because I think that, especially from an American perspective, any self-made person in America usually comes from charm and charisma. The U.K. system is very different, the old money is different, people are baked into power a lot more and he’s not baked into power. He clearly, in his twenties and thirties, could not have been a total dick. You have to convince people of your ideas and charm, and it’s definitely more of an American perspective. So that was my first take on him and they loved it.

I mean, the description of Jeff Bezos that you gave is not really what most people would expect from his public persona. Do you think that it actually was genuine or do you think it’s a very practiced ability to connect with people in order to get where he has gotten?

I think it’s genuine. It might have been partially just because he was in a brand new world.

He was kind of an outsider in the Hollywood world.

He was, yeah, and it is insane to go in those rooms, especially the Golden Globes. I mean, it is bonkers. Even more so than the Oscars, because the Oscars you’re in a stadium all facing one way. The Golden Globes is a pretty small area with tables and everyone’s mingling and everyone’s drunk and the amount of gargantuan famous people that are just, you know, standing in line to pee, it’s insane. I mean, like, Oprah’s there too. It’s really bonkers, so I think maybe that had to do with it. But I don’t know, he was just, like, easy to talk to, you know?

I think with your character Jesse, you’re able to bring this kind of warmth and humor to it that may not have been there in the original conception of the character. Was that something that was on your mind, too: the humor of it and trying to find places to make it funny? Because the show can be really funny even though it’s so dark at the same time.

Yeah, it has that hard edge but it’s the way that people operate, like, they’re aware that these people are insane. Or that an insanity has gripped them and the way that they’re operating. And I enjoyed the shit out of that and I definitely was interested in enhancing it. Even with the tennis scene, they were like, “Can you play tennis?” And I was like, yeah I grew up playing tennis, and we started talking about [how] I needed to play tennis worse. Because this guy did not grow up playing tennis. He sees it as a semi-highfalutin sport that he needs to get good at.

And then in Episode 7, we get this very bizarre look into his apparent home life in this deserted mansion full of screens and a basketball hoop. That must have been a fun space to explore.

Yeah, we legit were in a weird-ass house out in the middle of Wales. I thought all of it was kind of fascinating, just the loneliness of his situation. Wanting intimacy, not knowing how to do it, and also just accepting who he really is. But yes, playing basketball in, like, a great room or a banquet hall? Clearly mead was drunk in this place a hundred years ago.

And he just, like, threw up a basketball hoop.

Mmhm. It probably cost him like $3,000 to get that shipped over.

<div class="inline-image__credit">HBO</div>

The relationship between Jesse and Harper is such a central part of this whole season, and it’s a very complicated relationship. How did you track it and view it over time? Because as we are getting toward the end of the season he’s basically ghosting her and stopped responding to her, even though she needs him more than ever.

I thought about it mostly as a love affair where I’m cheating on my son with this daughter figure. That’s how I viewed Jesse’s entire arc—going to the U.K. to create a relationship with my son to get him back. I think he thought he would go and things would just progress towards a positive place, but I think he wasn’t aware of the damage that had been done. And at least for the first several episodes, the relationship actually gets worse the more that he’s there. And so he takes an interest in Harper, both as the daughter figure—there’s so much about Harper that appeals to him. She’s the kid he wanted, she’s a lot like him, she comes from nothing. And so she has to operate entirely on charisma and gutsy calls. And I did want it to get as personal as possible towards the end and reveal his immaturity and his petulance around his inability to create intimacy and good relationships in his life. And I think he loves her and, like she says, wants to draft off of her. I mean, he will never experience the meteoric rise that he already experienced. There’s only probably 100 people in the history of civilization that have gone from a postman’s son to a billionaire, that level of growth. So to be able to draft off of that potential for Harper is so exciting to him. But to also come to terms with the fact that it will never be his.

I have some of those things now as a middle-aged filmmaker who came from nowhere. And I tell people this, and I don’t know if they believe it, but when we premiered our first film The Puffy Chair at Sundance in 2005 and it got a standing ovation—and it was a $15,000 movie, legit, shot by me, every image came into this crappy camcorder, and it sold and got written up and stuff. That was more than I ever thought I would ever achieve in my life. I was just like, “I’m good, I can quit now.” I don’t feel that way anymore, but I never dreamed I would be where I am now, getting to make art for a living. So I can relate to that too, and some of the frustration of trying to reinvent myself as I go and keep growing and changing. It’s hard.

Jay Duplass on ‘Transparent’ Without Jeffrey Tambor and His Most Devastating Role Yet

Well, I would love to talk about reinvention, because you recently did this New Yorker interview where you talked a lot about your “conscious uncoupling” from your brother Mark, who you are still working with in a lot of ways, but not in that really close writer-director way that you were for so long. Can you talk about what that has been like to be in that relationship, both as a brother and such a close partner for so long and then making the decision to break away?

I mean, the best way to describe it is it’s been a long evolutionary process of just trying to stay true to who I am and what is emerging, what desires show themselves. I think it’s like a weird mysticism—and this is going to sound highfalutin and stuff—but being an artist is a mystical experience on some level if you’re doing it right. And by mysticism I just mean that it’s a process of letting things be revealed to you as opposed to deciding what you think you want, because that constantly changes. There’s a lot of heartbreak in realizing that we probably weren’t going to be the Coen brothers together. But there’s also a lot of positivity in becoming who I’m becoming, and a lot of excitement and a lot of mystery to it. And just trying to stay true to it and just trying to be loving through the whole experience and support each other in the best way possible.

I mean, it just sounds like this murky therapy experience, but that’s kind of what it's been because we’ve been pretty rigorous about being good to each other throughout the whole process. I think a lot of my art has been about this balance. I think the whole TV show Togetherness was about keeping this balance between being a good brother, being a good friend, being a good dad, being a good husband, and being true to yourself. And how, when you work really, really hard at both of those things you’re kind of like a millimeter away from drowning at any time. To me, that’s the balance of my life as I see it and it’s a tricky place to be and it needs constant reevaluation.

Togetherness was the last big project that you did fully together, right?

Yes, that’s the last project, I would say, where Mark and I were like arm in arm as two immigrant brothers. Not that we’re immigrants, but that’s how we operate—just in it, full-on together the entire time. And it was hard. I mean, all of our love and energy for each other, and for art in general, was going into that show. So you kind of lose your friendship and your brotherhood. You don’t lose it, but you don’t want to hang out any more than you already are, just together all the time. And there’s so much pressure on it as well, so it’s a very unusual thing, where you feel like you’re taking your history and your brotherhood and your love for each other and putting it into art, and that’s a super complicated thing to do.

I think about it a lot, because our grandfather started a dry cleaners in New Orleans in 1939. That’s our family business, and that’s why our dad was able to go to college, and that was the original immigrant Duplass experience. He created this dry cleaners with his two brothers. And they all lived in row houses a block away from the dry cleaners—these tiny shotgun houses in New Orleans—and they all loved each other so much and they fucking hated each other. And they would like, punch each other in the face. But they had to make this dry cleaners work because that was how they could get frickin’ food. And they ended up not liking each other at all later in life. And I think I felt that coming.

That’s what you were trying to avoid.

Trying to avoid that. And so a big part of it was talking about, are we going to stay together but be free to do our own thing is just, like, let’s prioritize our brotherhood over filmmaking world-domination, or whatever our little immigrant brains were cooking back there.

Do you feel like you were able to navigate that and find a way to be close and be brothers and not have as much worry as you did before?

Yeah, I mean it’s huge now. It’s taken years and years, but my goal is, I want to help Mark to fulfill his dreams, he’s trying to help me fulfill my dreams, and that usually just comes from supporting each other in terms of what we’re doing creatively. In terms of us hanging out, it just pretty much manifests as hiking because we both love hiking and it is a very primal thing. Because we go on day hikes together, but we also go on really big, challenging backcountry trips together and it just feels like we’re playing in the woods together like we used to do as kids.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Frederick M. Brown/Getty</div>
Frederick M. Brown/Getty

I wondered if any of the tension came out of the fact that he was always the actor and you were not the actor. And then you became an actor in a big way, mainly on Transparent. Did that lead to any competition that wasn’t there before, when you really had your own defined roles?

I don’t know if there was competition with us as actors. For me, it was specifically because he was an actor, his schedule is very packed all the time and all I wanted to do was be a Coen brother. So when Mark started really taking off as an actor, I found myself just waiting for a year for a window when Mark could write or direct something with me. And I was like, this is getting weird.

You felt like you’re just waiting around.

I’m just waiting. And I think once I started acting, for me at least, it was more of like, oh shit, this is great. Because number one, I have stuff to do. And number two, this is a form of creativity that I don’t have to check in with Mark on. I can just go with my instincts. It’s all me and that feels really good. It gave me a taste of what Mark was having all along. So there’s definitely subconscious jealousy and competitiveness with us, it’s not very manifest though. I don’t feel that much competitiveness with Mark as an actor. I just want to have a good life and feel like I can be myself. And I’m sure if my acting career went to shit and he just started winning Oscars, it would be super hard.

That might change things?

That would change things. And we both have that fear of, if one of us gets crazy successful or just starts making colossal, incredible art, it’s scary because it’s like, “Well, that was the person with the special sauce this whole time.”

Listen to the episode now and subscribe to ‘The Last Laugh’ on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.

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