Technically, Mark Duplass of the Duplass Brothers and Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali have worked together. Both men provided their voice over talents to the 2017 Amazon Prime series Comrade Detective, which employed a large English-speaking cast to dub a purposefully shot (and fictional) ‘80s Romanian TV show. nThat’s obviously a technicality, of course, because Duplass and Ali weren’t even in the room together when they recorded their lines. And as the former explains it to Metro, the opportunity for them to finally work together, face to face, presented itself with the second season of he and his brother Jay’s HBO anthology series Room 104, which premieres on Friday.
A quick recap: Room 104 is about a single room in an average, nondescript hotel room somewhere in America, and all the many different kinds of people who stay in it. Sometimes the stories it tells are purely comedic or dramatic, sometimes it tells tales of surreal horror and science fiction-esque complexity. In either case, Room 104 has afforded the Duplass Brothers the chance to work with some pretty amazing people, including Ali.
Mark Duplass talks Room 104 season 2, fan theories and working with Mahershala Ali
“I’ve had a longstanding mutual admiration and friendship with Mahershala, but I'm super busy and he is super, super busy, so we've never been able to find the time to make anything together,” says Duplass. “Room 104 provided the perfect opportunity, so I told him, ‘Come up with a character you like and I’ll write you a story.’”
As he explains it, that’s exactly what happened. Ali came up with a idea for a character in a situation and gave it to Duplass, who in turn transformed it into a Room 104 episode.
“I wrote him a script overnight and sent it to him. He loved it, so I said, ‘Give me two days when you're free in this three month window and we’ll shoot it together in two days.’ He did. It was the prefect way for us to collaborate creatively together in a short time frame. Otherwise, I don’t think there would have been any time for us to set aside 12 weeks to make a much longer show or movie together. It's just not feasible right now.”
Ali’s episode, titled “Shark,” concerns his pool shark character’s efforts to convince his reluctant cousin, played by James Earl, to stay in the hustling game while they’re holed up in the titular hotel room. Needless to say, as the brief scene previewed in the season 2 trailer indicates, their familial conversation isn’t going to be all that friendly.
But that’s the nature of an anthology series like “Room 104,” in which every single episode is different and, fan theories notwithstanding, no connections aside from the room itself exist between them.
“We were pleasantly surprised that people were taking delight in guessing what was going on,” Duplass says of he and his brother’s reaction to all the theories. “I've never considered myself a maker of grand mysteries. I'm more of a people, feelings and faces kind of filmmaker. But to have people theorizing about it like they were was really fun for us. We’d hoped that people would get into the mythology we were building, but we certainly didn't expect it.”
Room 104 season 2 premieres Friday at 11:30 p.m. on HBO.