The popularity of the NFL and fantasy football has never been higher, and FX’ “THE LEAGUE" attempts to capture the essence of the fantasy football player and all that it entails, albeit in a somewhat dysfunctional way. The sitcom, which airs at 10:30pm ET on Thursdays and is currently in its fourth season, revolves around six friends, their everyday lives and their fantasy football league -- and the lengths they will go to win the league. MARK DUPLASS plays Pete Eckhart in the show, and the New Orleans native recently talked about his childhood love of the blocking tight end and his real-life commitment to the fantasy football lifestyle.
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
Duplass: To me, that’s like asking me, like, favorite movie of all-time. I could go by category easier. My favorite all-time player is a little bit obscure but it’s HOBY BRENNER. He was just the solid workhorse, the completely unsung hero of the NFL. The current favorite for me is probably WES WELKER just because he doesn’t get all the credit in the world but he is the kind of guy that makes the team go around.
Q: What was your favorite team growing up?
Duplass: Always the Saints. In fact, when I was growing up it was during our terrible years where we went 3-13 for about five years in a row. I don’t know if you remember "The Bagheads" -- I think it played into my love of underdogs everywhere, which is what I like making in my movies.
Q: What sports event would you most like to attend?
Duplass: This sounds crazy but I have never attended a college hockey game. I’ve been to see the Kings but I hear this lore of just like there’s this special quality to the teams when they’re in college. We’re heading up to Maine for Christmas and I’m going to check out (the Univ. of Maine hockey team).
Q: Are you involved in a real fantasy league?
Duplass: We have an eight-team league with the whole cast and crew of "The League" that we play off-camera. We actually all play together. It’s not our teams that are represented on-camera but we have our separate league. The league is just called "The League of The League." My team is called "The Cob Eaters" and if you watch Episode Three of this season, you’ll get the reference. I only started when we started "The League" because I’m pretty much a workaholic and I do a lot of different things, so I don’t have a lot of time. I also know I have an addictive personality, so I’ve stayed away from it because it would suck up all my time. But then I was like, “You know what, I really need to start playing this so I can seem somewhat educated on what I’m talking about on the show.”
Q: Do the writers try to incorporate current NFL injuries and storylines into episodes?
Duplass: We improvise every line of dialogue on the show because there are no scripts. It’s just an outline and then improvise everything from there. In terms of how we handle the season is we make what we feel are solid guesses and then we shoot a couple of versions. For instance, there are those players that tend to just get injured halfway through the season. What we do is we shoot the backs of everybody’s heads and then if we got it wrong we loop it and we fill in what’s really happening based on what’s going on. It’s a lot of work but it pays off to stay up-to-date.
Q: Is there a “fantasy football quality control person” who monitors the football dialogue to ensure authenticity?
Duplass: The knowledge comes from (co-Creator, Exec Producer, Director & Writer) JEFF SCHAFFER, who is up there with (ESPN's) MATTHEW BERRY in terms of fantasy football knowledge and prowess. That said, he has never won our league, which is the most hilarious thing.
Q: The show has featured many high-profile players and owners, including ROBERT GRIFFIN III, JASON WITTEN and JERRY JONES. Are they now clamoring to be on the show or does the show have to reach out to them?
Duplass: The first season was a lot of groveling and begging, and a lot of NFL players saying, “Who the hell are you?” Then the show kind of picked up steam and now it’s really wild to see the players who love the show and want to come on. This season in particular we’ve actually had an embarrassment of riches and we haven’t even been able to accommodate all the people that want to come on.
Q: Has anybody ever declined to appear on the show?
Duplass: Oh yeah, of course they have! I won’t use their names but let’s make no mistake about it. Those who come on this show know that they will be ridiculed and embarrassed and made fun of, and that is why this show is funny. Some of those players are smart enough to know that they should stay away.
Q: Among the players and owners who have appeared on the show, who was most natural in front of the camera and who struggled?
Duplass: FELIX JONES is goddamn natural. He and Ruxin (NICK KROLL's character) started lighting into each other and he was better than a lot of us in terms of just digging into Ruxin because Ruxin’s hard to beat in a verbal duel. That was really, really impressive. Most of the people that have come have been really good. I think what it is, if you want to do it and you’re excited to do it, you’ll probably be good at it.
Q: Is there any NFL personality you want to be on the show?
Duplass: I would love to just see what BILL BELICHICK is like and see how he would react if someone was making fun of him. In particular, these coaches with these huge egos who are so powerful and everybody always listens to them because they’re the bosses, I would like to put them in our bar and see what happens to them.
Q: Are there any legal issues involved with the NFL and does the show work with the league in any way?
Duplass: There are legal issues and most of these probably won’t be that interesting to your readers. But let’s say the NFL knows who we are and we know who they are and we have a nice and healthy, copasetic relationship. But the NFL is very smart and very protective of their brand and it’s family-oriented, and "The League" is not a family-oriented show. So we are integrated but we are not so integrated.