Jason Segel is not renowned for being a serious, dramatic actor. This is the man who has provided us with nearly ten years of comedic entertainment as Marshall in How I Met Your Mother. He also revived the Muppets franchise, starring alongside Amy Adams in The Muppets, and who can forget his appearance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he (literally) bared all?
Segel is branching out though, playing the late author David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour, which documents the last 12 years of Wallace’s life before he committed suicide. The movie starts just after the release of his work Infinite Jest, and his interview with Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky, played in the movie by Jesse Eisenberg. The movie has just come out on DVD and VOD, and Segel’s performance praised, with the NY times declaring the role a “career U-turn” for the actor. Segel explains that taking his first serious role has helped him to decide the direction of his future career.
“It really has informed me about how I want to handle the rest of my career,” he tells The Daily Beast. “I think one of the things that is important and is easy to forget when you get caught up in the business side of Hollywood is that you started out because you had something that you wanted to express.”
“There was a line in the script that I thought was exhilarating: ‘I have to face the reality that I’m 34 years old alone in a room with a piece of paper,’” Segel says. “When I read that line I felt like, yes, that’s exactly where I am right now.”
With How I Met Your Mother coming to an end, Segel needed to decide what to do next, but turning to serious drama was a scary prospect.
“A lot of things were coming to an end of their own and I felt really scared, if I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve been saying, ‘You should be doing all of this other kinds of material,’” he says. “And then that material, this script arrives at your doorstep. The big scary thing that nobody talks about is that you might find out you’re wrong, you know? And then what?”
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall is really reflective of where I was at when I was 24, but you can’t be doing the same thing at 34,” he says. “You have to reevaluate where you are, and that happened really naturally at the end of the TV show.”
Segel freely admits he knows that he wasn’t people’s first choice for this movie, which is very deep and introspective, examining the relationship between Wallace and Lipsky and their respective insecurities and dreams. Segel’s casting has been called a stunt, and the internet (especially fans of Wallace) didn’t take kindly to the idea at all. But Segel worked hard, and it looks as though all his effort has resulted in a strong performance, one which should silence the critics, at least.
“I think with this in particular I’m also very self-aware,” he says. “I knew that I wasn’t going to be people’s first choice for something like this. And I also know what that means in the Internet world. In a world where things are either a serious win or a major fail, I sort of had an idea of how people would react.”
“What I told myself was, really, what do I actually have control over?” he continues. “Doing the prep as hard as I can. I can’t have a response to the hypothetical bad performance I haven’t given yet.”
Segel also adds that he’s worked hard to make the performance as organic as possible, “Because the other temptation of trying to do something outside your comfort zone is that it looks like, ‘Watch me try acting!’ That kind of vibe. I guess you call that a vanity project, you know?”