The End of the Tour Interview – Jason Segel

by | Jun 12, 2023 | Interviews | 0 comments

(This interview with Jason Segel was originally posted on nicktiffany.com on August 5, 2014)

So, first of all, the movie is fantastic. Thanks for making it. I’ve been recommending it since I saw it at Sundance and have been telling everyone this is the one to see.

Jason Segel: Awesome! Thank you.

So tell us a little bit about onboarding the project and how you got involved.

JS: Well, my experience with it is I got sent the script and I don’t quite know what happened before that, but I’m self-aware enough to know that it probably wasn’t that a David Foster Wallace script came across the director’s desk and someone said, “Get Jason Segel!” But, it came to me and my agent said that James was interested in me doing the part and I was really, I had really put out into the ether and said to myself – making a declaration to yourself is a big starting point – that I wanted to change the kind of stuff I was doing. So, they sent me this and I sat down with James and honestly, I asked him, “Why me?” And he said, “Because going back to Freaks and Geeks, I think I see a sadness even in your comedy.” And one of the things that’s really important about this movie is that David Foster Wallace is really funny when you read his writing. It’s easy for that to be lost given that you know what happened and the sort of gravity of people’s feelings towards him. There’s sort of a tendency to deify your idols. And I think one of the things that’s really important, James was saying about this movie is that it not be that. It’s not a cradle-to-grave biopic. It’s about four days. And the particular conversation that needs to be interesting and fun and weighty all at once. So, we talked about it for awhile and decided we had a common view of it and next thing I knew I was on it.

Me and my friends were talking after Robin Williams died and there’s now this gap of we need more comedians to step in and do serious roles because they bring something entirely different. You think you could do that?

JS: Well, I think the best version of comedy requires the same skill – which is a capacity for honesty. The comedies that I love the most are not frivolous, premise-based comedies. They’re movies where people are digging deep – Annie Hall, Broadcast News, Being There, Harold and Maude. These movies are comedies to me, I suppose, but they also address some serious issues. So, I think it’s just taking a similar skill set and, honestly, for me, I can only speak for myself but this movie is just reflective of me getting older and thinking about it. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a very accurate portrayal of what I was thinking about at 24-years old. Things have less consequence, and now, I don’t feel that way at 34, which is when I shot this movie. I’m 35 now. I was thinking much more, the TV show had just come to an end and I was growing. I was feeling a strain between the comedies that I was making and what I was interested in. They were no longer in line with each other. And I was at this moment, where I felt like I needed to figure out how to feel scared again.

With your acting, you find a really nice balance between sadness and reality. You have real emotions. It’s very much like a self-reflective process and David Foster Wallace is very acutely aware of how he wants to be perceived. When you were getting into character did you think a lot about your own career and your own life and how you want to be seen?

JS: I did. That’s a really good question because it makes me think something I hadn’t thought before, which is, one of the things – my style of acting and the actors that I have really admired – provide a surrogate experience for the people. There’s different types of acting, right?, and what I have the potential to be good at and that I’ve been good at in the past is that essentially for the next hour and a half, I’m you. There’s other types of acting that are more “wishful moment” like “super ripped guy” – you’re not watching that thinking, “That’s me!” I’m not at least. Some people are. There’s different types of performers and I think David Foster Wallace’s writing is very much a surrogate experience in the same way that Sallinger is. Like for the next number of pages of this book, you’re me and I’m you. So, I related to that idea and I think that’s why those things come across is because it is a collaboration between us – you, the viewer, and me, the performer, David Foster Wallace, the writer. We’re all in this together. Let’s have a conversation about how we feel the same way about this subject, versus watch me tell you how to feel.

So, as far as I’m concerned James Ponsolt is becoming a new, unsung American auteur. He’s fantastic. I talked with him a couple years ago and he’s just the most humble, gracious dude, too. Can you talk a little about your experience working with him and kind of a directorial/actor relationship?

JS: I feel the same way you do. I got very lucky and I caught James at the beginning of what’s going to be a very interesting, sprawling career. I feel like I got very lucky when you look at what he’s done with his actors in every movie, and it all points to James. Much like Judd Apatow did for me when I was 18-years old, James believed in me in a way no one else ever has. I think that speaks to both Judd and James and not because of their relationship to me but because of their ability to bring things out in people that they don’t even know that they’re capable of. James said, “I think you can do this” and now the movie is done and some people might watch the movie and say, “I always knew he could do that.” Well, they weren’t asking me to do that. James is the one who walked out on the plan, without a safety net, and said, “I’m choosing Jason Segel to play David Foster Wallace.” That’s brave! I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to make that decision.

The way he works with actors, the way he worked with me, is he forced me to identify the parts of myself that felt the way David Foster Wallace felt over these four days. He talked to me a lot about my career and a lot about my personal life and a lot about my failures, a lot about my successes, and just said, “You’re in a really similar moment to where David Foster Wallace was here – alone, 34 years old, in a room with a piece of paper with a big – what now?” That was kind of all it took for me.

I honestly think, I couldn’t see this role with anyone else. I never read David Foster Wallace before this movie and then I bought the book. Do you think it’s weird? You’re playing this reclusive writer suddenly forced out in the literary world into the public eye and now, you’re this comic actor on this tour and we’ve all got recorders on you and we’re like, “You’re brilliant” and you just take it in stride.

JS: There is some art imitating life to it. What was really helpful to me having experience with tours and knowing that this was at the end of a four day tour is – you know, I’m a different guy on this tour than I am on the Muppets tour. Neither of them is a façade, they’re just reflective of what you’re talking about every day over and over again for hours and hours. It was helpful because I knew David Foster Wallace what was talking about all day for the past few months – let alone what he had been writing for the past few years of these four days where these themes that are in “Infinite Jest”. So, I was able to read “Infinite Jest” and zero in on what was on this guy’s mind right now. That was really helpful.

As for my relationship with this, one of the things I took from the movie is – I have a choice about how I feel during this press tour. I just get to decide when I wake up in the morning if this is going to be a really fun conversation between four dudes or something that is terrifying and a pain in the ass. And I feel like that’s what David Foster Wallace was dealing with in this movie. David Lipsky keeps accusing David Foster Wallace of being a fraud – of putting on a façade, not understanding that yes, maybe there is some façade but the façade is for me – I have to do this stuff and I’m deciding how I feel. It’s not for you. I’m not trying to trick you, I’m trying to trick myself if I have to trick anybody.

One thing that I enjoyed about the character of David Foster Wallace and what he thought about celebrity and what it was to be that, is that it was tough for him to meet a lot of new people, especially being on his own. What’s your experience having done so many tours and meeting so many different people so quickly and then going away? How do you deal with that?

JS: It’s a really interesting thing. I really like people. I really like meeting people and talking with people. In today’s internet world, I don’t particularly love taking a selfie with somebody because I don’t know where that’s gonna go. I don’t know who it’s for. So I generally say, when someone says, “Can I take a picture with you?” my answer is usually, “I’d rather not take a picture, but can I shake your hand?” Which to me is offering a more personal interaction, right?

It is very interesting to see in today’s world to see, what I think is a more personal interaction, some people have a look of disappointment and you realize it’s because they’re not gonna walk away with proof. And I think that is a very interesting phenomenon. I am offering you a choice between actually having a conversation or having a de-personalized experience with proof and some percentage of people would choose the proof. There’s something sad about that. Occasionally, people will say, “My friends would never believe me.” It just seems like such a strange lie.

When you’re getting into this character, I’m assuming that you poured over David Foster Wallace’s work, where there any particular ideas or passages that stood out to you most and really not only affected the character, but affected you personally?

JS: There are two particular things. One is, he wrote about depression so beautifully in “Infinite Jest”, where a girl has a failed suicide attempt and is taken into the hospital – I’m paraphrasing – and the doctors says, “Why did you want to hurt yourself?” And she shakes her head knowing he’ll never be able to treat her and says, “You think I was trying to hurt myself. I was trying to end the pain.” Which I thought was such an interesting distinction and we talk about in the movie, what could be so horrifying that jumping out of a burning building seems like an escape from it? It really illuminates someone who has a vocabulary to express things what we are all feeling, but don’t know how to express. Because I read that thinking, yes. That is it. There are times I wish I could have said that. That that is what came out of my mouth instead of, “You don’t get it.”

That and then also, there is an SOS being sent out in “Infinite Jest” and he’s sort of worked through the themes by the time he gives the speech in “This is Water” years later at a commencement speech. Which is this idea that we’ve been told culturally that if we put our energy toward a few things; work as hard as you can, come home, have a beer or glass of wine, and watch some T.V.; that that is a good life and we should feel good and satisfied. But it’s no surprise that a lot of people don’t feel satisfied. They feel that a lot is missing. That is really coming out clear in “Infinite Jest”. It’s three-pronged – it’s entertainment, pleasure, and achievement. There’s this entertainment that’s so entertaining that it zombifies people and that’s what’s happening in “Infinite Jest”. So it’s those three themes – entertainment, pleasure, and achievement – and in all three story lines, people are left feeling vacant. I think it speaks to something that has come true. This is where we are now. There’s a whole generation of people who are confused as to why they don’t feel connected. All these things at our disposal are meant to make us feel more connected, like we were just talking about with the selfie. You’re never gonna look at that again and you’ve missed the two-minute interaction we could have had so that you could get your selfie.

I saw the Mona Lisa for the first time and I was so excited to see it. I walked into a room full of people – and it’s horrible. There are better pictures of the Mona Lisa that you can buy downstairs, you know what I mean? It was such a weird experience and I was really struck by it because nobody was experiencing the museum. It was really odd. The other phenomena was the selfie-stick so people could take their picture with the Mona Lisa. For who? Who is it for? Your friends are gonna believe, you saw the Mona Lisa.

I’ve never experienced a personality that gets everything so right. He says things in a way that nobody’s ever said it before, which I’m sure that was intimidating to tackle, but then when you realize – this guy’s sitting there all alone with two dogs and he understands the world probably better than anybody. It’s kind of discouraging.

JS: Well, I think it’s somebody who has a keen radar for nuances that we might tend to overlook. I think the real pull though – you guys write – you know, writing is lonely. You write an article and it takes a day or two days or a week. I write a script and it takes three months. To write Infinite Jest must take several years. That is so many nights of, “No, I can’t meet you for dinner” or “No I can’t do that fun thing.” I think that is the real pull in a person like David Foster Wallace. The world is so visceral for I think for him and at the same time he’s forced to isolate himself for years at a time. It makes for a tricky personality, I think.

I think a lot of what we talked about echoes how people though they don’t like to talk about it. It is sad and uncomfortable but a lot of people feel that same way. But we put on a façade and seek validation as well. This kind of movie gets people talking – is there anything you’d like to come across from this film in terms of that conversation?

JS: I think the conversation is really important. I think what has happened in the movie industry is there’s no the big tentpole movies. The middle section of movies has moved to television and then there’s the art house film. It’s role is really important – to have a communal experience in the movie theater and go spawn discussion with the people you saw it with. It’s really important because T.V. you watch alone with your immediate people that live with you. One, I hope it gets people reading David Foster Wallace but I think the point of the movie is about connection and discussion and all those things. I think David Foster Wallace’s humor is what makes the stuff palatable. In other hands, it’s why you turn to watching a superhero movie. You just don’t want to deal with that shit. David Foster Wallace packages it in a way that’s entertaining enough so that you’re open to having a discussion about it and it doesn’t feel so scary. David Foster Wallace talks a lot about reading and its importance. And one of the things about television – which is fine in doses, as he says in the movie – is that it is a very passive activity. You sit there and like junk food, it tastes good but it’s not going to nourish you. A movie like you sort of reminds you that you are capable and are smart and have thoughts and things to say. Discussion about reality tv is hard to listen to. I sit and I hear people talking about reality T.V. and they’re like, “Can you believe that Joann did that?” And I’m like, “There are better uses of your time, I’m tellin’ ya!”

One of the other interesting things is watching Jesse Eisenberg’s character as he attempts to appear intelligent in front of the girls and the way that we, as audience members, change to impress people.

JS: That’s what I think is cool about the movie. It’s fun if you know who David Foster Wallace is or David Lipsky, but like you said, you don’t have to have read them for these themes to be true because they’re universal. These are things that you start to butt up against as you go out into the world and you get this sense that, “Wait a minute, maybe the things I’ve been told aren’t necessarily true.” In your 20s, you kind of labor under the delusion that it’s just cuz I haven’t gotten there yet and once I get there, I’ll feel differently. I think when you hit your 30s, you get this sneaking suspicion that there is no “there.” That this illusion that you’re gonna arrive at some destination that doesn’t exist; you have to make friends with now.

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