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Forgetting Sarah Marshall - Jason Segel Interview

by Rick Duran, Senior Editor

Jason Segel is the latest Freaks and Geeks alum given the chance to headline his own film, under the watchful eye of producer Judd Apatow.  Audiences are most familiar with Segel from his role as Seth Rogen’s roommate in Knocked Up, and his weekly role on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. This time, Segel leads an all-star cast in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which he also wrote the screenplay for. 

The Frat Pack Tribute had a chance to sit down with Segel during the film’s press day roundtable session, including hilarious discussions about Dracula, Muppets and penises. You read that right.

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(About Russell Brand) What was it like working with him? I heard that you had a different character in mind, more like a Hugh Grant type.
Jason Segel: I did, yeah.  The original script had a, uh, like a proper British author.  Almost like a… I picture him like the Great Gatsby.  You know? And in walked Russell for the first audition, dressed almost like he is today, with more eyeliner and this swagger.  And the guy had the audacity to look at me and say, (in a mock British accent) “You’ll have to forgive me, mate.  I’ve only had a chance to take a cursory glance at your little script. Perhaps you should tell me what it is that you require.”  And instantly, I knew I was rewriting this movie for Russell Brand.  There’s no way you don’t use that guy when he walks into your room, you know? So it was actually, um, truly truly fortuitous. It opened up the movie in that now he was a rock star.  So not only did he have the woman of my dreams, he also had the career of my dreams as a character. You know? He was, he was literally the man that I wish I had become, now dating my girlfriend.  Of course she would want him over me.  It almost seems impossible to get her back.

I have to ask you because I’m asking everybody.
JS: Yes

What and where would be your escape of choice after a breakup?
JS: Ooh, well mine was Hawaii.  It really was, yeah. I always go to Hawaii, I’ve gone there since I was a little kid; I just love it. 

Different places?
JS: Uh, I used to go to the Grand Wailea in Maui.  But now I think I’ll be going back to Turtle Bay every year. I have, uh, very fond memories of that establishment.

I hope you won’t keep having breakups to go there every time
JS: I hoping every three months I’ll initiate a breakup so I can take a vacation. (laughter)

Isn’t it kind of torturous to go to Hawaii after a breakup, because you are surrounded by so many couples. Why would you go there and torture yourself?
JS: I’m (pauses) to be honest with you, I’m pretty big on the self abuse. I think it leads to the best comedy, yeah.  There’s nothing like, yeah, which is why I set the movie there, but I think misery in paradise is just a funny pairing. You know?  I remember early on in the writing process, picturing a Me crying in front of the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen, and all those ideas started to lend themselves to Hawaii being the place.

 Have you really picked up several rebound flings immediately after a breakup?
JS: (Takes a look at himself) I can. (laughter) Uh… uh, no, you know I don’t know. Sometimes, I think you go a little bit nuts after you’ve been in a long term relationship.  Peter has been with Sarah Marshall for five and a half years.  So I think kind of the first thing you do is try to cleanse yourself of all the love feelings, just to replace them with regret and dirty feelings. 

So how autobiographical were those scenes and encounters?
JS: They were (pauses) Well, the whole movie is kind of an amalgam of strange relationships and breakups and weird encounters with women.  So some were more, um, more realistic than others.  Some of them came from like, things in Nick’s life and things in Judd’s life; we’re a pretty collaborative group so it’s sort of like once you get riffing on the idea that you’re gonna do a sex tier montage, you’d be surprised how many stories come out of a room of comedians. (laughs) Hey, you know?

Will we be seeing any Angry Peter Bretter blogs?
JS: Maybe… You just might… on Monday. (laughs) Yeah

What were you thinking when you decided to write yourself a full frontal nude scene?
JS: Well, I had a naked breakup. (laughter)  And while it was happening, it was basically exactly as in the movie.  Um, I thought this woman was coming over to have sex with me, cuz she was my girlfriend and girlfriends and boyfriends have sex.  And so… I was naked when she arrived.  She walked in the door and I literally did, (mimics a swagger) “Hey baby!” (laughter) And she looked me in my face and said, “We need to talk.” And instantly I knew it was happening, you know.  And the problem, the sickness, is that I knew that I should be experiencing this viscerally. This is two human beings having an actual moment, and all I kept thinking is, “This is the funniest thing that has ever happened to anybody!” (laughter)  Honest to God, yeah.  I like, “I can’t wait till she walks out the door, so that I can start laughing and call my friends.”  Uh and so, I wrote the scene in and at first, I pictured that it would kind be Austin Powers-y obscuring, you know, cleverly.  And then I was driving with Nick [Stoller] in Hawaii in a van, location scouting. I turned to him and said, “Question, man, what if I… what if I show it?”  And he thought it was the worst idea he’s ever heard. (laughter)  Immediately put the kibosh on it.  But it turns out, male nudity enthusiast Judd Apatow (laughter) had had the same idea back on his end in L.A. separately.  And so that literally the next time we talked, we both brought it up.  Like, “What if I do nudity?” (mocking Apatow’s voice) “That’s so funny, that’s what I was thinking!”  (pauses) Which I thought was weird. (laughter) But then we went to Universal and pitched it to them.  And in the most bizarre meeting you’ll ever have in your life, you find out the specifics of what is R and, uh, NC-17.  Flaccidity is the dividing line.  So thenonce I knew that I could do it, I thought I should just, might as well go for it.  You know?  Cuz I knew that we weren’t gonna do it in a gratuitous way.  It wasn’t going to be a dumb joke where all of a sudden, for no reason you see my penis.  That scene is so vulnerable as written, you know. And it’s so… such a raw moment that I think to add the nudity, which is why the reaction when you see it in a theater is the way it is.  It’s this mixture of like, shock and gasping and confusion. Like is this even allowed?  And laughter; and I think it’s because we managed to do it in a way that wasn’t a one note joke.  It wasn’t hacky.  It was this very complicated moment, where the guy has just literally been told that his life is ending as far as he’s concerned.  And that is a naked moment so you know it’s a metaphor. 

I think it makes you feel sorry for your character.  You like, “Aw poor guy.” A lot of women feel that way.
JS: He’s saddled with that penis. (laughs)

But I mean it’s funny, but it’s sad.
JS: Yeah, thank you. 

Was Judd able to use the Dewey Cox flaccid penis as a testing point to sell you the first time?
JS: I’m not gonna lie to you; I was a little bit annoyed when I found out about the Dewey Cox penis. Because I was like, I’m gonna be the dude. I want to be the first guy to do it in a long time. And uh, but I’m glad it all worked out.  I think there is some differentiation when it’s the main dude showing it, as opposed to a weird stunt penis. 

On a different note of characters or objects that stand upright on their own
JS: (laughs) Well done, sir!

With this week’s big announcement of the Muppet movie, I want to know…
JS: Yeahhh

Did you know in advance that on Saturday Night Live that Seth Rogen, Bill Hader and Andy Samberg were going to do that Muppet skit?
JS: No, it’s so funny because all these guys know that I’ve had a fascination with puppets for a long time; Seth especially.  Seth and I were writing partners for a long time just very very close.  He actually texted me after the Saturday Night Live, he said, “I thought of you the whole time I did the Muppet sketch.”  But uh, I um… I don’t know, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be writing that Muppet movie.  And maybe it’s a particularity for me, but aww, Kermit is the man!  Kermit’s the original Jimmy Stewart, the original Tom Hanks, you know, he’s like the everyman when you’re ten years old.  And so uh, they designed the puppets for the movie, Henson Company did, and then from there I found out they never, they don’t control the Muppets anymore; Disney has them.  And uh, they hadn’t really been doing much with the Muppets.  And so I went to Disney and I took this meeting.  And uh, “So what’s this all about, kid?” That’s how executives talk, I don’t know if you’ve met any.  And I’m like, “I would like to write the new Muppet movie.”  And there was a weird spattering of laughter, and then uncomfortable silence.  Like, “Really? That’s why you’re here?”  And I gave them the pitch and they really loved it, and they bought it in the room.  Then I brought Stoller on to write it with me because he’s just the best creative partner you could hope for. 

Will it be all the Muppets? Or will you have people…
JS: Oh yeah, Muppets and humans.  It’s like the early 80s Muppet movies, yeah. 

The more recent ones they’ve done, like Muppets in Space, Muppet Christmas Carol
JS: Yeah yeah, Muppets in the Old West

Where do you think they’ve gone wrong and what are the “must” elements?
JS: Yeah, it’s that they’re… I don’t want to point any fingers, but a new approach has been taken that they, the Muppets, were some sort of novelty act.  But the original movies, the Muppets were all treated like they were actors in the movie and the movie was written as though they were proper characters.  And they were also filled with these brilliant performances, like Charles Grodin in The Great Muppet Caper in unbelievable.  And nowadays, it’s just someone walking through.  Like, “Hey, was that Tom Selleck?”  You know? It’s just, that doesn’t interest me.  We’re bringing it back to the old, the Muppets putting on a show and working together and like, I don’t know, there’s such a sense of hope that comes from the old Muppet movies.  I just remember watching and thinking I can do anything. 

Can you talk about some of the songs in this movie, because you did a lot of work, and you actually were writing a Dracula musical for real?
JS: I was, that was such an embarrassing side note, but yeah.  The Dracula concept, the puppet Dracula musical, was not initially for this movie.  It was for when I was out of work.  It was gonna be my career comeback. (laughs) I had this notion of this Dracula puppet musical that would just somehow launch me into stardom.  And at one point, I played it for Judd and Nick, and they thought… they laughed so hard.  And I was offended.  “This is not a joke, guys.”  And they said, “Jason, I think maybe you should start viewing it as a joke because you could do something with it.” (laughs) And so they were right, there it is; the strangest end to a romantic comedy of all-time.

Was that line improvised, the part about, “I didn’t know it was a comedy”
JS: Nope, that was absolutely legitimate, yeah.  That came from a conversation with Nick.

That song, the one that Russell sings, that rather embarrassing “I’m inside you”
JS: “Inside of You.” That was a fun one to write as well. 

Was that new?
JS: That was a new one.  Everything else was new for that.  That and “We Gotta Do Something” also.  “Inside of You,” I was walking with Nick, um, at night time a little bit sauced from the pool bar.  And we, I was trying to write a song for that Luau scene.  I was trying to think what is the worst song that your girlfriend’s new boyfriend can sing in front of you? Yeah and for some reason, what kept popping into my mind was “Crash into Me,” the Dave Matthews song.  And I thought that, cuz I’ve always thought that song was a bit ridiculous in how thinly-veiled innuendo that it is. (laughs) It’s like, I mean it’s basically pornography.  And so, I uh, I wanted… it’s a bit of a parody from that notion of “inside of you,” there’s the one or two people who would view it as a romantic song.  And then everyone knows it’s just so blatant.  Inside of you, I could cross this desert plain? It’s just the weirdest lyrics of all-time.

Third Eye Blind have a “Deep Inside of You” song
JS: Do they?

I heard it when I was in high school and like, this has to be a joke
JS: Yeah, totally!

I definitely took it that way
JS: Of course; and Russell’s performance was just unbelievable, he just knocks it out of the park, man.  That… that weird crab dance that he does? (laughter) What the hell, man? 

Are you back at work on How I Met Your Mother?
JS: I am, yeah, for about two weeks now, we’re back.  We’ve got about six or seven more to do this season, so we shall see.

So what’s going on in terms of leading up to a finale?
JS: You know, they’re so crunched for scripts right now.  They legitimately didn’t write during the writer’s strike.  I think, I think that the studio or network were surprised that they weren’t like secretly writing.  They assumed the strike would be over and scripts would be available.  No, they weren’t writing, they weren’t allowed to.  So um, they’re hustling to get scripts done, we get the scripts a day before we shoot. 

One of the great things about the show is there’s sort of a gimmick to each episode. 
JS: Sure

They’re mind-bending or so.  Even of just the two weeks that you’ve done, what can we look forward to?
JS: Yeah, well, we have a celebrity guest star, Britney Spears has been on, which is interesting.  I didn’t get to work with her, but I hear she was delightful. (Looks away) (laughter) I don’t know, I don’t know why you guys are laughing. (laughs) No, I’m serious! She was lovely. (Turns away again) (laughter) Um, so we’ve had that and we’ve done a bit more with the time-bending.  And uh, then perhaps a little hint of we might have encountered the wife sometime recently.

I guess there’s never been a huge stunt guest star. Bob Barker was related to the show.
JS: Yeah

So how does that work?
JS: She was a big fan of the show apparently.  And uh, she called and asked if she could be on it.  I bet she didn’t call personally, probably one of her representatives.  But yeah, so next thing we knew, she was on and there were helicopters and you had to wear a wristband.  And I said, “I’m not wearing a wristband.  I’ve worked here for three years. You know who I am. I’m the tall one. I’m not wearing a wristband.” 

Will you be shooting I Love You, Man at the same as you do the show?
JS: My life is going to be crazy at the moment.  I’m doing the tv show. We’re shooting I Love You, Man, this Paul Rudd movie for DreamWorks.  I’m doing the press for this and I’m writing Five-Year Engagement and the Muppet movie.  I don’t have much time.  But it’s good; I’m not good with too much time on my hands.

Is five years a big thing for you? Five-Year Engagement, he was with her for five years…
JS: Yeah!

Is that your personal cut-off point?
JS: After five years, I completely lose interest. (laughs) I uh, no, it’s just um, I guess it seems like the amount of time, the amount of time where you kind of reach the make it or break it moment.  Around five years is where you start deciding “Are we going to do this for real, or are we going to breakup?”  And so I think that’s why that amount of time plays such a pivotal role. 

When you shot the scene with Kristen, do you think…
JS:  Which scene?

Well, you know, the scene. Did you try to make her feel comfortable, or was it more about her making you feel comfortable?
JS: Oh, I was not worried at all about her comfort level.  I couldn’t have cared less. 

She said she had to look up at you. You’re taller…
JS: Yeah, but she’s pretty short. (laughter) Uh, I very terrified when I arrived to do that.  I thought that it was gonna be fun.  Leading up to it, I pictured showing up naked like, “Hey, action! Right guys? Action! Rolling?” And uh, I realized that I was about to be naked in front of everybody.  It was really terrifying.  And then Kristen said something that absolutely terrified me right before I went out.  She said, totally harmless comment, she said, “I think it’s so great that for once, a man is doing the nudity.”  I went back, and then I had this thought… about the difference between male nudity and female nudity.  That for men, they like all sorts of different types of women.  They like fat women, skinny women; women with big breasts and small breasts, brown hair and blonde hair.  There aren’t that many women out there who like, love a small penis.  (laughs) And so the judgment is very particular when you’re doing male nudity.  You’re just gonna be having your junk examined.  Um, so I was a bit terrified and acutely aware of the ratings issue.  So that I knew that I had to be flaccid, obviously.  But you don’t want, you don’t want to be… totally flaccid. (laughter) So it was a weird 10 minute balancing act.  (laughter) “Let’s work together here, buddy.”  (laughs)  That’s all I have to say on that.

I can’t even segue from this. After the success of Knocked Up last year, and a lot of the familiar faces in this one, and you’re working with Paul Rudd, is there a desire to keeping working with the same group of actors now that we’re growing towards them?
JS: Yeah, well I think we’re always excited to welcome someone new into the fold.  But the thing about this group that I feel so lucky is that we really a group of like-minded collaborators.  We read each other’s scripts and do each other’s table-reads.  And give each other notes do little cameos in each other’s movies. You know? Jonah doesn’t need to be coming in and doing a tiny part in my movie.  It was in Hawaii which I think probably had a lot to do with it, but we’re all really supportive of each other and we all have really figured out each other’s rhythms, our comic rhythms.  And we know how to best serve each other.  I remember a particular moment during Knocked Up, when Jay, I mean this was all improv’ed, Jay out of nowhere, and not as an intentional setup, said “Don’t worry, Ben. I will help you rear your child.”  And Jonah and I made eye contact, cuz we both knew what the next joke has to be, and Jonah looked at me and just very subtly went like this: (lifts chin and nudges index finger)  (laughter) “I got this one.” Having that relationship with the people you’re working with is really good, you know. 

On the Superbad DVD, there’s the table-read
JS: Years ago! We were babies, man!  Superbad must’ve been, I was like 20 when we read that, so eight years ago? Crazy

Was there ever a plan to actually go into production and you play that part?
JS: We were hoping, yeah, it was gonna… for a while it was going to be Seth and I, but we’re way too old to be playing high school students now. 

What about the cliff thing? Were you afraid of heights? You were actually hanging on a harness, were you terrified?
JS: It was the worst thing of all-time.  I don’t care if there’s a harness.  Whaaa harness? Are you kidding me? It’s still your body, you’re still afraid you’re gonna die.  It’s like someone putting a gigantic spider on you and you’re afraid of spiders.  “Don’t worry, he doesn’t usually bite.” (laughter) You know? That was terrifying.  Every, every scream in that is legitimate.  Honest to God, I was panicked.  And I also… there was one time, I’ve never… I’m a pretty nice guy, I don’t lose my temper.  And they had some like, camera glitch up top while I’m hanging from the wire and I get, “Just be a few minutes, Jas.”  And you just hear me do, “Fuck you! Fix the camera!” (laughs)

Time’s up
JS: Alright cool, that was fun, guys. Yeah. Aw, thank you very much.

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