Jay Duplass and Finn Wittrock Talk About ‘Landline’ and Playing Romantic Rivals

In the romantic comedy “Landline,” Jenny Slate plays Dana Jacobs,  a woman in 1995 New York who finds herself caught between two very different men played by Jay Duplass and Finn Wittrock. Duplass, who plays middle brother Josh Pfefferman on “Transparent” and has produced numerous film and TV projects, including HBO’s upcoming “Room 104” alongside his brother Mark, plays Slate’s dependable fiancé Ben. Their relationship in a funk, she embarks on an affair with the more fun loving Nate, played by Wittrock, who is best known for his roles on “American Horror Story” and films such as “The Big Short” and “La La Land.”

Although the play rivals in “Landline,” Duplass and Wittrock proved that was all just acting when they both sat down with Entertainment Voice in West Hollywood. The guys opened up about portraying characters in a love triangle, working with Slate, and how dating has changed since 1995.

What attracted each of you to this project? 

Duplass: Great script. Great creators. Great previous movie [“Obvious Child”]. Great actors.

Wittrock: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Duplass: There was no reason to say no. Not even a question.

Wittrock: Yeah, great previous movie. That really helps, you know?

Duplass: That’ll do it. Yeah.

Director Gillian Robespierre has described the set of “Landline” as being a loose, free environment, and you guys all had great chemistry, almost like a real family. What was unique about this set to you guys?

Wittrock: I loved the sort of spontaneity. [There was] a lot of improv, a lot of ad-libbing. On some sets, it’s like, ‘Stand here on this line, and then stand here on this line and sit here on this line.’ It was very free and we were kind of creating it as we went, which makes every take exciting and new. You never feel like you’re repeating yourself.

Duplass: I guess I come from this world, so it was pretty normal for me, but I think Jenny is so exceptionally funny and fresh and new every time, that it just took it to a whole other level.

Usually in a film like this where there’s a love triangle — a woman with two men — one of the guys is obviously wrong for her, but in this case both of your characters are decent guys. Did you relate to them at all?

Duplass: I did. I’ve normally played more playboy-ish guys, so for me it was just nice to play a kind of committed boyfriend/fiancé, which is more similar to how I am in life. It was kind of nice for me to play something kind of close to home.

Wittrock: Before I even read the script and saw that he was a three-dimensional character, I was thinking, playing the other guy, is this how women have felt for many years? There’s always the nice girl, and then, like, the sexy temptress, you know? That’s kind of what we did. It was a gender reversal.

Duplass: And much more scaled back.

Wittrock: And, thanks to a great director/writer team, really were three-dimensional real people. We kind of broke up that paradigm.

Duplass: I really loved the sadness around your character. I thought it  was weirdly vulnerable and disarming. You just got a window into this guy where it’s like, “Man, he’s having a hard time.”

Wittrock: For a while, I think, life was great. He could just sort of sleep with whomever he wanted to, and that started to become a pattern that he just kind of can’t get out of. He actually wants what Jay’s character has.

What do you think happens to him afterwards?

Wittrock: I think he has a string of similarly bad relationships… I hate to say it, but I think he’s a pretty lonely guy. I think he had some serious issues with relationships and believing in their validity. Hopefully he finds the right girl, who’s actually single and whips him into shape, like a dominatrix [laughs].

What was it like working with Jenny? You both had great chemistry with her.

Wittrock: She’s pretty fun. You never know where’s she’s going to go next. It’s kind of a fun, surprising path to go down. You can be, like, “Where are we going this take?

Duplass: Yeah. You have this feeling that anything could happen in this moment, and that’s always a great feeling as an actor. I think, also, the thing about Jenny is she’s such a student of the human condition, you know what I mean? She just really observes how people behave and is not judgmental about it, so she just really loves exploring the possibilities, and that’s just such a treat as an actor.

How did you guys get into a mood to do a film that’s set in the nineties?

Wittrock: Coiffed my hair. Put on some big jacket.

Duplass: Pretty much [laughs]. Done deal. Gap jeans, baggy t-shirt and – What was the word we were using before?

Wittrock: Schlumpy?

Duplass: Frumpy. I would even say, hair-wise it might be floppy. Floppy might be a good adjective for the hair.

Wittrock: Like Kurt Cobain.

Was there any music from that era that you listened to?

Wittrock: I did listen to Nirvana, I think. I think Nate would jam it out to some Nirvana. Early Green Day.

Duplass: That’s good.

The film is called “Landline” and it set in the days before cell phones and social media. Do you guys feel that made dating more difficult or easier?

Wittrock: I think it was less immediate, right?

Duplass: Yeah.

Wittrock: You couldn’t swipe over someone if you didn’t like their face. You had to actually sit there through the whole date and see how things went. I feel like there’s a lot more ways to get out of things now, you know? It’s easier to just text and say, “I can’t make it.”

Duplass: And it was hard to get into stuff then too. I remember, because I was in college in the nineties, a big part of what you would do was you would force coincidence by figuring out where people would be walking through the quad. [Stands up to demonstrate]. So much just, like, waiting behind this column. And you don’t even have a phone, you’re just looking creepy. You’re just behind the column, looking creepy, and ready to pounce on someone. There was a lot of that. We had been talking about how it was interesting that there were just 12-hour periods where you wouldn’t communicate at all with your boyfriend or your girlfriend. There’s something actually really nice about that, you know?

You just had to be trusting.

Duplass: You had to be trusting. I mean, everything with social media now, there’s just, like, 40 things going on at all times now. Back then, it really was doing one thing at a time and moving from that one thing to the next thing. I do better in life when I am uni-tasking.

Wittrock: I think everyone does.

Duplass: Some people say multitasking is a myth. No one really multitasks.

Wittrock: Because you can’t do anything thoroughly.

Duplass: You can’t do anything thoroughly or well if you’re doing something else.

You both have done plenty of television and film. Do either of you have a preference? What do you like about each medium?

Wittrock: What’s nice about doing television is that you get to really sit in a character for a while. You get to park in it and really explore a bunch of different colors of it and really live in it. That said, I love movies. I love a two-hour story that can be told concisely in one sitting, and I love the adventure of making the film. It’s a little more wild west. There’s less of a structure to it, especially a movie like this, independent. It felt very collaborative, like we were all making it up as we went along. It depends what show you’re on, but somethings can be a little more structured. You have to get things done in a week.

Duplass: I love what Finn said about sitting with the character and really figuring somebody out. It’s pretty empowering and exciting. I also actually like the pace of television better. I like moving faster, because I find that, in my experience, on TV I still get a significant number of takes. It’s just a turnaround is shorter, so the momentum is more conducive to just being in the flow of creating moments. Sometimes on a movie you’ll be shooting a scene for three days and you’re, like, ‘I’m so done with this. I’ve experienced this, like, literally-‘

Wittrock: 48 hours ago.

Duplass: Yes! And I’ve moved on. The other thing, too, is that I’ve been on TV shows that were incredibly cinematic and unique, and I’ve been on movies that felt real robotic. So, it really depends on who the creator is and who’s directing that day.

Wittrock: And the style.

Duplass: And what the style is, yeah.

What’s next for you guys?

Wittrock: I’m going to do the next “American Crime Story: Versace.” I have a five-episode arc. It’s filming now. I’m in the thick of it now.

Another nineties project.

Wittrock: It is nineties, yeah. Very nineties. A little more fabulous [laughs].

Duplass: A lot!

Wittrock: It’s almost exactly the same time.

Duplass: My brother and I are releasing are next TV show, it’s going to be on HBO later this month, called “Room 104.”

Landline” opens July 21 in select theaters.