Have you ever seen a famous actor in a restaurant? He or she is dining with family and friends, and you want to give a signal of recognition or admiration without being rude and intruding on his or her meal. There is etiquette to the approach: act casually, give a memorable anecdote of something you liked of theirs (the more specific and less obvious, the better) and make it brief. Another choice move when trying to approach a celebrity you admire is to wait for a time or place where they aren’t occupied with others, like a bathroom.
As a Toronto native who covered our local film festival back in September, I actually bumped into an actor as I was leaving the bathroom at the Scotiabank Theatre. It was Mark Duplass, the star, writer, director and creator of Togetherness. He was in town promoting the comedy Adult Beginners, which he executive produced with his brother, Jay. He was walking in, I was walking out and it wasn’t until he passed me that I figured out who it was. Nervously, I crept back into the room and washed my hands for a prolonged period, wondering which of his films I should compliment. He flushed and walked up to the sink. As he dried his hands, I engaged him briefly, told him I really enjoyed The One I Love (which had just wrapped up a too-brief stay in Toronto) and wished him a nice stay in town. He seemed cordial and appreciative.
It is very possible that Duplass walks into a lot of public bathrooms and doesn’t get noticed. It is also possible that Duplass has tried the same thing I did as he worked his way into the contemporary indie film scene, waiting for people he admired in bathrooms so he could make a first impression. The latter thought didn’t really hit me until “Insanity,” the third (and best) episode of Togetherness. The installment focuses on Duplass’s Brett and Steve Zissis’ Alex and their insignificant roles on the fringes of an illustrious show business. And, yes, it features a pivotal scene in a restroom, an awkward near-encounter between struggling actor Alex and established producer Larry (played by Peter Gallagher).
If Togetherness has a standout in its brief run so far, it is Zissis, although that is not due to a performance that is a league ahead of his co-stars. Instead, his lack of notoriety makes him more relatable and, strangely, tragic. Duplass, Lynskey and Peet are at the top of their game, but their roles also remind us of other characters they have played that reside in the same neighborhood of personality. Zissis is mostly a blank slate, and his combined look of terror and awe as he stood on the red carpet – at a premiere and after-party that Alex and Tina sneak onto, as she wants him to mingle and push his career forward – seems genuine.
The awkwardness of trying to meet someone you have only admired from a distance spawns some of the show’s biggest, most uncomfortable laughs to date. Tina, who has made it her second job to help Alex get in shape, is just excited to be at an open bar and surrounded by major talents. She tries to push Alex toward Larry, although he cannot suffice a better icebreaker than raving to the producer about the plump, organic strawberries on a dessert table. Anyone who has ever tried to lean in and say something suave, only to decide on a much less memorable one-liner, will squirm in pain at Alex’s stiffness.
Meanwhile, in another area of the after-party, Brett wants to apologize to the director he pissed off in “Handcuffs.” Duplass’s Mark follows the same itinerary that this writer did when meeting Duplass at the film festival: wait until the man is alone, introduce yourself quickly, make a compliment and get out. However, the director, looking like a hybrid of Aaron Paul and Bradley Whitford, is much harder to read, moving from threatening Brett to cackling in laughter at how said threat was a joke. Brett does not feel comfortable surrounding by such extreme personalities (and extreme fluctuations of personality).