Mark Duplass on Putting Himself in ‘Room 104’s Final Season & Whether the Motel Door Is Shut for Good
As HBO gears up for its fourth and final season of Room 104, co-creator, director and writer Mark Duplass is changing the game by putting himself in front of the camera for the first time since the series debuted in 2017.
The wildly creative and offbeat anthology from Mark and brother Jay has been entertaining viewers since Room 104 first opened its door, and in Season 4 fans will be able to enjoy 12 more episodes. Delivering plenty of wacky plots, the season boasts a talented roster of performers including Dave Bautista, Melissa Fumero and Jillian Bell, among others.
Set within the walls of a single room at an American chain motel, each tells a unique tale surrounding the occupants of Room 104 across various genres ranging from romance and musical to straight-up horror. Among these intriguing stories is the Season 4 premiere episode, “The Murderer,” written and directed by Mark Duplass. The installment features him in the role of Graham Husker, a long-lost musician who agrees to an intimate performance for a small set of fans in Room 104 with some very specific rules and requests.
And have no fear if you’re not caught up on Room 104, Duplass is live-tweeting HBO’s non-stop series marathon ahead of Friday’s premiere. The stunt will take place over the course of 16 hours and is being called “Open The Door to @Mark Duplass’ Mind.” We chatted with the writer, director and actor about the show’s fate, what it was like performing in the premiere as well as what’s to come for his character Chip Black in Season 2 of The Morning Show.
Is Room 104‘s door locked forever or do you imagine there will be more episodes in the future?
Mark Duplass: In my heart, that lock is very much loose. I don’t feel creatively done with the show. Honestly, there’s a document on my computer with over a hundred different episode ideas that I still very much want to do. I think the nature of the show, partially because it’s an anthology, it’s turned into a place where I can partner with new filmmakers, new voices, giving leading roles to actors who never had it before and support them in their journey towards their first big story that they’re going to tell.
And what that has done is it’s not only been a nice part of the ecosystem in terms of bringing awareness to new voices in front of and behind the camera, but it’s also just made the show better and it’s kept us from, I hope, repeating ourselves.
You definitely have hit a creative flow when it comes to these episodes. What led you to put yourself in front of the camera this time around?
It is the first [episode] I’ve acted in. And I think from a logistical approach, I haven’t acted in any, because we always felt that I should reserve my acting presence just in case the day before an episode an actor falls out and we need somebody to jump in. I would always be there.
Then as we got through the final season, we thought, “All right, we didn’t need to pinch hit me. Let’s go ahead and do something.” And I originally conceived this as an episode idea for a musician friend of mine named Mark Kozelek, who’s in the Red House Painters, and I thought, “Oh great. I’ll write some songs for him. He can play them. It’d be so cool.” Eventually he was like, “I don’t know if this is right. I don’t really want to play something so close to home.”
And so I was just like, “All right, f**k it. Let me just go ahead and do this.” It was exciting, but also challenging because I had written it, I was acting and directing at the same time, then I’m trying to perform the music and I’m kind of a rusty musician. So there was so much going on that I basically had to just ask the entire creative team around me, Syd [Fleischmann], Mel [Eslyn], Julian [Wass], our DP Sean McElwee, just to say, “Hey guys … help direct me.” So while I retained the directing credit, I do see it realistically as much more of a family collaboration of the core creative team of the show.
What can you tease about your character Graham Husker? He’s definitely peculiar.
Yeah. I think that we’ve all heard different lores about these musicians who had one record and disappeared, like Searching for Sugar Man and things like that. I started it less about the musician himself, Graham Husker, and more with sort of the troubling aspect of what it means to be a fan of one of these people and how the fan boys tend to relish in the pain that created the music, the disappearance, the potential even death of who this person is to light up their fan boy life. I’ve always found that sycophantic and vampiric and just gross, but it’s also funny because that’s how life is.
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So when I thought about that and I said, “God, what would it be like if they actually met one of these people?” And then that sounds kind of dramatic and I didn’t want it to be too dramatic. I want it to have an aura of whimsy and fun to it. I said, “Oh my God, he should look like the antithesis of what one of these rock stars would look like … Bad, ill-fitting Target golf shirts and cargo shorts and dirty white sneakers.” And so that’s really where we started. The whole thing kind of wrote itself.
It may be redundant to ask if you have a favorite episode among this season’s batch, but are there any standouts you’re looking forward to sharing with fans?
Yeah, so many, and the truth is all of them. It really is true. I think there are certain episodes that I just know are going to be good. When I wrote “Star Time” for Karan Soni who has been a family creative member with us for years, even though it was his first time directing, I knew he had it. And you put Jillian Bell in that and you just know that’s going to work. So those are less surprising to me.
The ones that are super exciting are the big risky swings that turn out, I can just get an immense feeling of pride when they work. And that for me is the “Avalanche” episode with Dave Bautista. Are we really going to be able to make an episode work with just this one person and a bunch of dolls? But “The Last Man,” which is our second musical episode, is our most ambitious by far. They stand out, not because they’re the ones I’m most proud of or think are the best, but the ones that felt the most risky and could have just died. And when they turn out watchable, I get really excited.
What would your episode of Room 104 look like? What would Mark Duplass be up to in the motel?
Oh my God. It’d be a real boring episode. If I had an night in Room 104, it would probably look a lot like some sort of modern day meditation or monk retreat of all of my little things. It would be me reading the thousand page book that I don’t have the time or energy to read because I’m still a dad and a husband and a workaholic. And it would be laying down and listening to two and a half hour long extended versions of my favorite records. I just don’t have time to do those kinds of things. So I don’t know if I would get crazy in the room, so much as I would use it as a big relaxation chamber.
You mentioned that you had a running list of episode ideas. Were there any you had been saving for this final season? Did you include the ones you wanted to complete the most?
We definitely felt like we put our best foot forward. We had an inkling that this was going to be our last season as we were heading into it, and the truth is we felt like we were on borrowed time after Season 1, making a weird show like this.
We’re lucky HBO stuck with us so long. So I do feel like we got a really good chunk of the things that were very important to us out in this final season, but there are definitely tons of stories. And in particular, a few forms that we have not used that I’m not going to talk about now, because I still believe in my heart of hearts that this show will exist in some other form or some other network or some other something somewhere. I don’t believe the show is done yet.
Until it shows up somewhere else, how do you hope fans walk away from this experience of watching Room 104?
Oh God, there’s so many things. If I had to boil them down, the first thing is if you enjoyed the show, it means you enjoy showing up to something not knowing what you were going to get. And that means that you should show up unaware because it makes you such an active viewer and it makes it such a unique viewing experience. So go and watch the strange and obscure … Just go, jump in, blind.
Beyond that, I think it’s if there’s one consistent theme in the Room, it’s that when we’re traveling or when we’re in a hotel room, we’re all a slightly different version of ourselves. We’re either a little messier or we’re a little wilder or we let something loose in ourselves because we’re out of our comfort zone. I think the fans of the show either consciously or subconsciously are tuned to that and are tuned to the wish fulfillment of letting their little inner secret person out. Room 104′s allowed me to do that and it’s been very healthy for me.
You’ll be live tweeting the series leading up the Season 4 premiere for “Open The Door to @Mark Duplass’ Mind.” What made you want to engage with the fans and show in that way because it is a 16-hour commitment?
It’s just one of those things that I decided on a whim to do on a phone call and didn’t really think about what that was going to entail for me. So I have a little bit of regret on that decision, but I’m also secretly excited to sit down and watch all the way through what we did over the last three years, because the truth of the matter is I am intensely involved with these episodes and the making of them. And then when they’re done and they go out the door, I don’t watch them again. So I haven’t watched things since they were birthed. I’m looking forward to maybe discovering some latent through lines that I wasn’t even aware of myself and I’m looking at it as 16-hourlong therapy session.
Work on Season 2 of The Morning Show had begun before the pandemic shut things down. Is there anything you can tease about what’s to come in your character Chip’s story?
I wish I knew honestly. I know that we got shut down right at the start of production. I know that Kerry Ehrin, our showrunner, is rewriting as we speak in order to have the show reflect more accurately what is happening in our world right now. I don’t even know what that means in terms of pandemic, in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement. But I personally am very excited to see a white cis male, who used to have power, figure out what his place in the world is now because that’s one way to make the white male story interesting right now. So I’m curious to see what it’s going to be.
Room 104, Season 4 Premiere, Friday, July 24, 11/10c, HBO