For Jason Segel, 2011 was a busy year spent co-writing and starring in “The Muppets,” appearing in the raunchy comedy “Bad Teacher,” and reprising his role as Marshall in “How I Met Your Mother.”
This year looks to offer even more from Segel, where he’ll be reuniting with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoll in “The Five-Year Engagement” and Judd Apatow in “This is 40.” Yet it’s his most recent film “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” that may provide his most dramatic role thus far.
While Segel has played burnout slackers before, he said the writing-directing team of Mark and Jay Duplass offered him something a bit more compelling. In an interview with Segel and Mark Duplass, Segel said to The Oracle that the role of Jeff had solid character foundations that still allowed him to improvise.
“So then when you got to the improving, it was so simple because the character is, I mean I know there’s a lot of complexity to him, but what I loved was that it was so simple, at least in my mind,” Segel said. “You just show up and be really regular, and so I think that’s what really drew me to it. Then the story, I think, is – it’s just unbelievable.”
Segel said part of the reason he admired the Duplass brothers’ script was experiencing a directionless period similar to Jeff’s during an “unpleasant out-of-work period, from like 22 to 25 where I was just waiting around,” which he felt the Duplass brothers nailed.
The story, which shows the character of Jeff and his meteoric rise from the basement of his mom’s house to a more fulfilling life, offers a tale of finding one’s destiny. Jeff aids his brother Pat (Ed Helms) in finding out if his wife is having an affair, all while Jeff is awakened to the emptiness of his own life.
For the Duplass brothers, whose previous films “Cyrus” and “The Puffy Chair” have displayed a similar penchant for heartfelt quirk, Mark Duplass said worrying about the budget and making a good movie outweighed any problems in the process of making the film with his brother.
“This is the largest budget we had ever worked with before, so you always feel a certain sense of responsibility to make the movie good out of the more money people are putting into it,” he said. “But in terms of me and Jay and our working relationship, our general feeling is that making a movie is really hard and making an entertaining film is almost impossible. So we just feel like there’s strength in numbers by having two of us and whatever conflicts might arise between us are quickly dwarfed by the Herculean task of trying to make a feature film that doesn’t suck.”
The pair also discussed their influences, including Segel’s love for the James Brooks film “Broadcast News” and Duplass’ claim that documentaries chronicling “loveable loser person personalities” like Mark Borchardt in the 1999 film “American Movie” have the most impact on his work.
“I’m constantly drawn to people who, despite the fact that all the odds are stacked against them, are going for glory in their lives,” Duplass said. “It just inspires me and makes me laugh too, particularly when they are ill-equipped to achieve that glory like Jeff is.”
While the two jokingly discussed plans for Segel to direct “Jeff, Who Lives at Home 2: This Time It’s Personal,” Duplass said the creative process on the film was a wholly collaborative one, especially with Segel being an actor-writer like Duplass, who acts on FX’s fantasy football sitcom “The League.”
“Well, for my end in terms of the collaboration, we brought the full script to Jason once it was done, so the collaborative process really began for us on set as we employ improvisation,” Duplass said. “And the way that improvisation works is less in terms of going on runs at the end of shooting to get jokes, but every single line of dialogue. Every single moment is improvised to a certain extent.”
An example of this improvisation, Duplass said, would be the movie’s opening monologue delivered by Jeff.
“That monologue draws a parallel between our film and the film ‘Signs’ by M. Night (Shyamalan) and so that’s the benefit of having somebody like Jason, who is also a writer and understands that structural brain,” he said. “So the take you see in the film is actually I’d say about 50 percent different from what was in the script because we kind of crafted this thing in the moment and that’s 100 percent the spirit of collaboration.”
Jeff seems to be another entry into Segel’s pantheon of memorable characters that range from Peter in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to Gary in “The Muppets,” along with his performance as free-spirited Sydney Fife in “I Love You, Man.” When asked what it would be like if all these characters met, Segel said he’s certain Jeff would remain pretty true to his character.
“If those characters met each other, I – you know, I never really thought about it and I think that Sydney Fife would think that my character from ‘Sarah Marshall’ was a bit of a wet blanket and I think they’d – I think Jeff would just watch,” he said. “I think Jeff would just be watching the interaction.”
“He would be fascinated and he’d be taking notes the whole time,” Duplass said. “Yes.”
“Jeff, Who Lives At Home” is now playing at AMC Woodlands Square 20.