Up until recently, Jason Segel has been more of a familiar face than household name. As with fellow Apatow grad Seth Rogen, life is about to change for the likable Segel. You might remember him best as Rogen's friend Jason in Knocked Up (the guy who goes out clubbing with Rogen's Ben Stone the night the accidental pregnancy is conceived). Segel is also on the popular TV show How I Met Your Mother and got his start in the little scene but beloved Apatow shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.
Now that Apatow has gone from critically-acclaimed-but-financially-strapped to rolling in dough from 40-Year-Old-Virgin and Knocked Up, he's sharing the wealth. He helped Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg get their long-gestating coming-of-age comedy Superbad produced last year and now Jason Segel is getting that same chance as the writer and star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Segel stars as Peter Bretter, a composer stuck in a semi-dead end job composing for a CSI-style TV show. On the plus side, he's dating the show's sexy star, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). But his world comes crashing down when she leaves him for a trashy Brit rocker named Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Peter heads out to Hawaii for a vacation to forget his sorrows only to discover the worst nightmare imaginable - Sarah is already there with her new beau.
We've been tracking Forgetting Sarah Marshall here at reelz.com since the project began. We visited the set, saw the movie early and loved it and now got the chance to sit down for a romantic little interview in Segel's hotel room (WARNING: There is a brief spoiler in the beginning of this interview if you haven't already scene the scene in the trailer or heard about it. If you're worried, go see the movie first and then you'll appreciate the interview that much more. Trust me).
Jason Segel: Step into my office.
Jeff Otto, reelz.com: Do I get the bed or the chair?
JS: Um, take the chair.
JO: I was on the set in LA for the bar scene where Mila [Kunis] gets you to go up on stage to do the number from the Dracula musical. The one line I missed was where your character said you had turned down a gig to do the music in Hostel 2.
JS: Oh yeah (Laughs). I remember that. I did a weird turn. "You hear [the children] laughing; then you hear them screaming."
JO: How much of scenes like that will wind up on the extras for the DVD? It seems like there must be tons of alternate material for this one.
JS: You've seen those Apatow DVDs, man. They're intense. I have a hunch there will be a lot on there.
Hopefully not too much more of the nude scenes. I know they have this funny series of me right before the nude scenes [where I'm] just lamenting that I've decided to do this. They have a lot of clips of me just literally [going] "God, oh God!" They have plenty of footage of that.
JO: Was that scene your idea?
JS: Yeah, well when I wrote it, I thought it would be obscured, like Austin Powers-style. But yeah, it was my idea, but I just didn't picture it as accurately as it was. I thought it would be so fun. And it was terrifying. It still haunts me a little bit. It's you in a little booth feeling like some sort of pervert in there and then you sneak out and you want the scene to go quickly so you’re not revealed, you know, that it’s a little chubby.
JO: I’d be a little worried about an inappropriate disposition in front of Kristen Bell.
JS: I know (Laughs). Believe me, I thought I would be worried about that leading in... Nothing would happen... It was like a turtle retreating into its shell with a hawk passing by.
You know what it is? I think I drank a little bit too much whiskey.
JO: Was there a precise amount of penis shots you could get past the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America, which rates the movies)?
JS: No, you know, it wasn’t the MPAA. It was the bounds of good taste. Seriously, we experimented with all sorts of different levels. At one point we had more, then at one point we had a couple less. We had just one quick shot, I think. And it really was – I know it sounds ridiculous – but it was an exercise in finding just the right amount of penis.
JO: Well it brought the house down both times I saw the movie.
JS: It really is an amazing thing to watch the audience react to that. It’s like a mixture of shock and confusion and gasping and laughing.
JO: Well it’s really about the timing and the way you keep coming back to it. After you see it the first time, you kind of think, “Well they’ll never come back to that” and then each time you go back to it the laughs get bigger.
JS: Good man, good. (Laughs)
JO: Tell me about the character of Sarah Marshall. You’ve said this is based on a lot of your own past relationships, so are there specific women from your life that make up this woman?
JS: It really is an amalgam.
JO: Have you dated someone more famous than you and had to play that background part?
JS: No, you know, I’ve been kind of lucky in that I’ve been mildly successful over the past few years and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really cool actresses. And it’s always so fascinating to go out with someone you’ve seen on television or admired before. But I’ve found I have a hard time dropping my sense of awe and then it’s not really a date or relationship. I feel like some sort of creepy fan.
I remember at one point, and I don’t want to say who it is, but I went out on a date... This is so f***ing weird, I can’t believe I’m telling you this story. I went on a date with this woman who is a fair amount older than I was – enough so that I had had fantasies about her when I was young, like when I was going through puberty... She wasn’t that much older, but it’s like, you’re 13 and she’s 18.
JO: So kind of like where Katie Holmes said she used to have posters of Tom Cruise on the wall when she was a young teen - kind of cute and kind of creepy.
JS: It was vaguely like that. And she knew that I was really fascinated with puppets. So somehow, on like the second date, I end up back at this woman’s house and she’s like, “So how’s it going with the puppets?” And this was when I was writing the Dracula musical. So I go, “It’s good. Actually I have one in my car in the trunk.” And she’s like, “Oh my God, bring it in and do a puppet show,” which is weird because I don’t do puppet shows.
So I bring the puppet in and I’m doing this dumb stand-up act with the puppet like old Charlie McCarthy stuff and all of the sudden she leans in and kisses me. And I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I’m kissing this woman that I’ve fantasized about.” I was so caught up in the mental disbelief of it that I forgot to make the puppet die. So I’m kissing her and the puppet is [watching]. It was at that point that I realized, “[I’m] a weird dude.”
JO: A puppet threesome.
JS: Yeah exactly. It could get worse. (Laughs)
JO: There seems to be undeniable similarities between Nick from Freaks and Geeks, Eric from Undeclared and Peter from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. Judd, Nick [Stoller] and I have always united on our love of desperate and lonely unrequited love. It's just a funny area. Everyone has felt it before and implicitly you have sympathy for the person who is feeling that way... You can get pretty damn creepy if the audience sympathizes with you. So that's what we like playing with, toeing that line...
I think this is a pretty genuine portrayal of a guy who's really messed up after a break-up. It's a guy whose world just suddenly came crashing down on him. And that's a pretty desperate way to feel for sure.
JO: All in all, how much Peter Bretter is there in Jason Segel?
JS: Peter Bretter is pretty damn close. It's the closest to me I've ever played a character. My goal was to be really honest when I did that performance... I was so nervous - it was my first time as a lead and I didn't want to push too hard... I just tried to go out and be myself and be painfully honest about it...
JO: Since there is so much improv work going on in a movie like this, is that frustrating to the writer side of you?
JS: No, no. Someone said it must be an honor to hear your words read by such great actors. My response was "It's an honor to hear your words improved by such great actors." I can only write for Russell as well as I know him and I knew him for a month at that point... He can improv things about [his real life] that I could never even write. Like when he says, "I couldn't even have a sip of wine. The next thing you know by the end of the night I'll be rimming waiters for their tips to get me hands on a rock." (Laughs) I can't write that.
JO: On that note, tell me about the whole Russell Brand experience, because he's not too well known here in America yet, but I'd say he's about to break out here after this role.
JS: I will say he is a comic genius... He reminds me of Peter Sellers or something. I don't even know how to describe it. He's in the same lineage as Sacha Baron Cohen and those guys... Everything that comes out of his mouth makes me laugh.
JO: Tell me about I Love You, Man.
JS: I Love You, Man re-teams me and Paul Rudd and Rashida Jones (Karen on TV's The Office). I'm very excited. It's being directed by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly, Undeclared). It's a movie about plutonic male friendship and love.
JO: So sensitive guys again.
JS: Yeah, but I'm playing a new character. You don't quite know what to make of me in this movie until the end. It's about a guy, played by Paul Rudd, who sets out in the months before his wedding to make a best friend to be his best man... I am the object of his [best man] desire and you slowly start to wonder throughout this friendship if I'm a good guy or a bad guy, which is fun.
JO: Are you writing on it?
JS: No, thank goodness. But I'll be working on that, [How I Met Your Mother], doing press for this and writing those two scripts.
JO: What's the other script besides Muppet Movie? (Check out Segel's full Muppet Movie Interview right here)
JS: The Five-Year Engagement, which I'm doing with Stoller. He's directing and I'm going to star in it and it's for Judd at Universal.
JO: Is that one based on real life?
JS: No, not this one. I've never been engaged. It's basically another romantic comedy and this time it explores a functional couple who get engaged and it follows them kind of like Annie Hall over the five years of their engagement - through the ups and downs and twists and turns.