INTERVIEW: Jason Segel talks his phenomenal work in ‘The End of the Tour’

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Jason-SegelFor a good portion of the year, I’ve been raving about Jason Segel‘s transformative performance in The End of the Tour, doing my part to drum up some Oscar buzz for a worthy bit of work. Well, someone was listening (or at least listening to others bang that drum as well), because Segel is going to be in the running for Best Supporting Actor this year. A few weeks ago, I got the chance to sit down with him in New York City for about 20 minutes to have a chat about all of it, from the experiences in the movie to what he looks for as an actor, all the way to just going back and forth about life. Below you’ll find the highlights/most relevant bits, but I have to say that he was an absolute pleasure to interview and I could have talked to him for hours. The End of the Tour, directed by James Ponsoldt and co-starring Jesse Eisenberg, is on Blu-Ray/DVD now, and you can find my review here if you need more proof of how great he is. Enjoy…

On hearing me tell him that he made me cry during The Rainbow Connection sequence in The Muppets

Jason Segel – Yes! That was the goal. (Laughs) Oh my god that’s so good. Yeah, that Rainbow Connection at the end of that movie was a killer. I’d heard this cover of Rainbow Connection where the drums came in where I had them come in the movie, and it becomes this soaring anthem. I was like “we’re stealing that!” (Laughs)

Talking about what made him want to take the role on

JS – Well, it’s interesting. I guess I arrived at a point in my life where, yeah, I was at that point sort of…had done a lot of work over a decade and paid my dues sort of, in a way. I came to a point where I had a blank canvas in front of me and I had time for the first time. So I started to think about “well, why did you get into this in the first place?” Because, you’re told at the beginning that it’s impossible and you’ll never make it, so you don’t get into it to pay your rent. That’s not why you got started, you know? I guess, because you feel like you might have some, you want to express where you are in your life artistically. I’d reached a point where I’d tried to evaluate where I was in my life at 34, what was I thinking about, what did I want to put on screen now, because I suddenly had time to think about it, and when I read the script, he has a line “I have to face the reality now, I’m 34 years old, alone in a room with a piece of paper”, and I was like “Yes! That is how I feel” It really all started with that one line.

On how priorities change as we age

JS – I think that you spend your 20’s trying to get quote unquote “There”, and I think a lot of people’s experiences is that sometime in your 30’s, they realize there’s no “There” there. “There” just keeps moving, so you need to figure out how to get good with the “just sitting there”.

I think everyone battles this idea, because it’s the truth, that they’re a fraud and that they’re tricking everybody. The reality is that we’re just guessing, and some people are more confident in their guessing than others, but no one knows.

Talking about the imposing nature of Infinite Jest and David Foster Wallace

JS – Yeah! Totally. Well, it’s an interesting thing that’s explored in the movie. We sort of need to deify our idol, especially if they’re doing the same thing as you, because it explains or lets you off the hook as to why you’re not doing it. “Oh, they’re an other…it can’t just be that they worked harder, are smarter, and more talented!” (Laughs)

There’s a thing that David Foster Wallace said that just informs all of this thinking. He said that your whole life you have this other you, this other voice, and it’s the voice at the end of the night that either tells you that you’ve done a good job or it tells you that you’re nothing, and it seems to be about making friends with that voice.

(From when we were geeking out a bit about Wallace’s book Consider the Lobster and the essay Big Red Son)

JS – Totally! Isn’t that a great essay? That essay has a line that’s stuck with me, and I’m paraphrasing, where he says “he’s the only man I’d ever met with a long sleeved Hawaiian shirt”. It’s the best line!

On how effectively he and co-star Jesse Eisenberg portray conversation and how brilliantly he conveys emotion to you

JS – Well that’s great! That’s the goal, right? I think as an audience member you need to want to be in the back of that car. Totally. Thank you so much!

What his acting style is like and how he got into the mindset of Wallace

JS – Yeah, well I think you want to offer, for me, that acting style that I’ve always liked, David Foster Wallace’s writing experience as well, is you want to offer a surrogate experience, so that the viewer can know “that’s me” or “that’s who I’m following”.

I think that it’s a guy who, those things he’s able to compartmentalize, and he places his value on being a good guy, so while he’s being lauded for this amazing book and this amazing brain, he has this other secret, that “I don’t feel so good”. I actually think they’re separate things, they can exist side by side. You see it a lot with talent, just like absolute geniuses who struggle for some reason.

On how comedic actors can struggle to be taken seriously in dramas when they first cross over genres

JS – Totally. I think they’re all similar in that the same challenge is how honest you’re willing to be on screen. That’s the underlying challenge of all of them. I think for all of it, even if it doesn’t need to line up exactly with who you are, you’re trying to find a commonality and work around that.

If he’s getting more dramatic offers now that The End of the Tour is a success

JS – It’s only just starting now, getting new material. It’s also why I haven’t acted since The End of the Tour. I felt like I need the next thing I do to be reflective of having done this, and I had to let it come out and let people catch up a little bit.

On if he might one day direct in addition to the writing he often does

JS – If I found material where I thought no one could direct it better than me then I would do it, but right now I feel like I know people who can direct better than me, and I would rather the thing be good than direct out of pride. Someday, if I find a little piece of material where I find that I have a unique point of view on this…after working with someone like James Ponsoldt, I sort of feel like there are people for who this is an actual talent!

(Quickly following up on if perhaps he might adapt one of his kids books for the screen as a potential directorial vehicle at some point in the future)

JS – Yeah, maybe. Totally, I’ve thought about that actually.

Thanks again man. This all means the world to me. It’s great to hear, thank you so much!

There you have the best bits of my talk with Segel. The End of the Tour is out now and available to own (my most recent Blu-Ray/DVD column right here specifically highlights it), so be sure to pick it up ASAP.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!