For the most part, the excellence of HBO”s “Togetherness” isn”t surprising. Co-creators Mark and Jay Duplass have a long track record with films they either wrote and directed themselves or supported in some way, Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet have lots of fine performances on their resumes, and even Mark Duplass himself has turned out to be an interesting and versatile actor as his career has evolved.
The one unknown is the man who is in many ways the reason the show exists: co-star and co-creator Steve Zissis, a longtime friend and collaborator of the brothers Duplass who hasn”t had many prominent roles outside of their films. As Alex, a talented but underemployed actor crashing on his best friend”s couch, Zissis gets to be funny, charming, and at times heartbreaking over the course of this eight-episode first season. (Four episodes have aired so far; HBO recently ordered a second season.)
I recently got on the phone with Zissis (pre-Super Bowl, so no talk of his worldless role in the Mindy Kaling/Matt Damon Nationwide ad) to discuss the origin of his friendship with the brothers, how the idea he and Jay took to HBO evolved into “Togetherness,” the challenges of having a “tweener” body type as an actor in Hollywood, and a lot more.
I know you grew up in New Orleans; did you know Mark and Jay back then or did you meet them later on?
Steve Zissis: To be honest, Jay, Mark and I all went to the same high school and we knew of each other, but we really didn't get close until after college when we started working together.
Was acting what you wanted to do back then?
Steve Zissis: Yeah. I was acting in the plays in my high school, and Mark was a year below me and he actually saw me play Jesus in “Godspell” my senior year. And we referenced that in the pilot a little bit, even though we say “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
So how did you wind up working together?
Steve Zissis: I was doing regional theater in New Orleans with a guy that was in Jay's class and Jay saw me do a couple plays because Jay was living in Austin; we took a play from New Orleans to Austin. Jay came out and saw us and that's how I got on his radar. And then later when Mark and Jay were filming “The Astronaut,” which was a movie that never got made because Mark and Jay were still trying to figure out how to make a good movie, I was on their radar so they had me audition. I got cast and that was really the unofficial beginning of our working relationship.