NPR

Jason Segel Explains The Mysteries Of Guydom

"It's very tricky for men to make friends with strangers," says actor and writer Jason Segel. "I think women have it a lot easier. You guys can, like, walk into a women's restroom and come out with a new best friend. But for men, it's just — it's not the same thing."

Of course in his recent movie I Love You, Man, Segel's character Sydney Fife does do almost that. He strikes up a conversation with Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) at a real-estate open house, placing a bet about — of all things — whether a guy who's touring the property needs to pass gas. And from there, the womanizing Fife and the sensitive, woman-attuned Klaven become best friends, unlikely as it seems.

Segel tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross that unlike some of his buddy-comedy roles — the needy Peter Bretter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall comes to mind — "[Fife's] got this attitude that I don't possess in life, which is this is who I am, take it or leave it. Which is what really drew me to playing that part."

Fresh Air talks to Segel about why the so-called "bromance" movie has recently become so popular, about how he mortified his brother at summer camp and his mother at a movie screening, and about his work on I Love You, Man and other comedies — learning, among other things, the story behind his full-frontal appearance in the opening scenes of Sarah Marshall.

"That was taken from the pages of real life," Segel acknowledges. "I once got dumped while I was naked, but she asked me to put clothes on during this real breakup — my real life breakup."

It was a tough moment, Segel says: "Picking out an outfit for the second half of a breakup is like the hardest outfit you'll ever pick out in your life."

Segel got his start as the teen-drummer wannabe in the TV series Freaks & Geeks and currently co-stars in the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

This interview was originally broadcast in March 2009.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, actor Jason Segel, got his start with Seth Rogan and James Franco in the Judd Apatow high school series "Freaks and Geeks." Segel was in Apatow's film "Knocked Up," then wrote himself a starring role in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," a romantic comedy that includes a Dracula musical performed with puppets. He's not done with puppets. He signed on to write the screenplay for a Muppets movie.

He also co-stars in the CBS series "How I Met Your Mother." Last spring, Segel starred opposite Paul Rudd in the bromance "I Love You, Man," which is now out on DVD. Paul Rudd plays a real estate agent in L.A. who's just proposed to his girlfriend. As they plan the wedding, he realizes he has no close friend to serve as his best man. So he starts looking for a man-friend.

That's where Jason Segel enters the picture, as the ultimate dude with his own man-cave, no apparent means of support and with a penchant for hanging out, talking endlessly about sex, avoiding long-term relationships, getting high and playing heavy-metal guitar.

This is a new world for the mild-mannered Paul Rudd character, but as he becomes a little more adventurous, it begins to complicate things with his fiancée, especially after he takes to heart Segel's question: Why are you even getting married?

(Soundbite of film, "I Love You, Man")

Mr. PAUL RUDD (Actor): (As Peter Klaven) Zooey walked out on me because I asked her why we were getting married.

Mr. JASON SEGEL (Actor): (As Sydney Fife) Why would you ask her that? That conversation was between you and me. You can't have that talk with her. I just - look, I assumed you understood that.

Mr. RUDD: (As Peter) God, I am so sick of your ridiculous rules. I like it that I can share things with Zooey. I like that if I can't sleep at night, she's there to talk to. I - do you know the best night I've had in the last five years is a night that Zooey and I split a bottle of wine, we made a summer salad and watched "Chocolat" together?

Mr. SEGEL: (As Sydney) You mean "Chocolate"?

Mr. RUDD: (As Peter) "Chocolat."

Mr. SEGEL: (As Sydney) "Chocolate," with Johnny Depp.

Mr. RUDD: (As Peter) "Chocolat."

Mr. SEGEL: (As Sydney) You're not (bleep) French, Pete. It's called "Chocolate."

Mr. RUDD: (As Peter) Chocolate's got an E on it.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Sydney) That was your favorite night?

Mr. RUDD: (As Peter) Yes.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Sydney) Your best night in five years is watching "Chocolate" with Johnny Depp? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Mr. RUDD: (As Peter) Well, the combination of wine and summer salad and "Chocolat," yeah.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Sydney) You should be embarrassed.

GROSS: Jason Segel, welcome to FRESH AIR. Describe your character, Sydney Fife, in "I Love You, Man."

Mr. SEGEL: Sure. Sydney was a late bloomer, and so he's kind of terrified of monogamy, and you know, he's a bit of a womanizer and really values his guy friends.

He's a little bit mysterious. I don't want to give too much away, but he - you know, he's got this attitude that I don't possess in life, which is this is who I am, take it or leave it, which is what really drew me to playing that part.

It sort of reminded me of my friend, Russell Brand, who I did "Sarah Marshall" with.

GROSS: Oh, he's terrific in your film, yeah.

Mr. SEGEL: Oh, thank you. Well, he has that quality in real life as well, of this is who I am, you know, accept it. And I've never had that. I'm the kind of guy who, like, stays up till midnight thinking I wish I hadn't said that thing to that guy, I hope I didn't hurt his feelings.

And then I'll call the next day and apologize, and they'll have no idea what I'm talking about. That's sort of how I'm bent, and it was nice to sort of play the opposite.

GROSS: Do you agree with the film's basic premise that it's sometimes easier to find a girlfriend than to find a good platonic male friend?

Mr. SEGEL: No, I do. You know, I was sort of surprised this movie hadn't been made before. But as you get older, it's very tricky for men to make friends with strangers.

You know, normally I guess your friends are sort of grandfathered in. They're friends of other friends, or you know, your girlfriend's friends, one way or another, and to try to make friends with a stranger is tricky for grown men.

I think women have it a lot easier. You guys can, like, walk into a woman's restroom and come out with a new best friend. But for men, it's just, it's not the same thing.

GROSS: Do you still have old friends, like friends from your high school days, and…

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah. My best friend in the world is a guy called Brian Lind, who I met when I was 12 years old, and he lived with me for the past couple of years, and then six months ago he moved to New York to go to med school.

And I just gave him kind of a bro goodbye. I said, all right, man, go get them out there, I'm proud of you. And he left, and I woke up at 2:00 in the morning, out of a dream, crying hysterically, and I had to call my mother to calm me down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's funny.

Mr. SEGEL: It was horrible.

GROSS: You know, these bromance movies, where it's about the platonic relationship between two or more men…

Mr. SEGEL: Sure.

GROSS: …why do you think they're so popular now?

Mr. SEGEL: Boy, I don't know. You know, I think maybe these kind of buddy movies are allowing men to open up a little bit about, you know, it's okay to let this guard down and let the machismo down and just be who you are.

GROSS: Yeah, but so many of the bromance movies are so much about the machismo. Like, your character is really macho in his own way, is a real womanizer, and -you know, living in what used to be called the classic bachelor pad, like living in this, like, mass of, you know, boy stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: These are the guys who can't really grow up.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah. My character certainly is stunted, and that's what I learn from Paul Rudd's character. I think the slight difference in the way our movie turns it on its head is you never hear in the movie, you don't see Paul Rudd and I sitting around, like, talking dirty talk.

It's - we have very emotional discussions, and I try to delve into why he wants to marry his wife, and I think sometimes conversations like that are what get cut out of the buddy movie because it seems too sentimental.

In our movie, we actually do the opposite, and we expose that we know the secret, that it's really women who do the locker-room talk more than men do.

I've never been around guys who sit around and talk about, you know, their girlfriend this or their girlfriend that, but I have met friends of my ex-girlfriend who clearly know everything about my anatomy, and you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: It's like you women, I think, are some dirty talkers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jason Segel, and he stars with Paul Rudd in the new film "I Love You, Man."

Let's talk a little bit about a film that you wrote and star in, and that's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which I missed in the movies, but I watched it on DVD - it's out on DVD - and it's really good and it's really funny.

Mr. SEGEL: Oh, thanks.

GROSS: Let's hear what I know is your most famous scene in the movie, and this is from the beginning of the film. And like you play a guy who writes music for a crime scene kind of TV show.

Mr. SEGEL: Exactly. It's basically a "CSI" spoof. I was a guest star on "CSI" for a while, and I just always found how serious, how serious it all is very funny. You know?

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mr. SEGEL: So yeah, I play a guy who composes the music and is sort of just dying inside because he wants to be a proper musician, and his girlfriend is the star of the show.

And so one day she comes over to the house, and I think she's there to have sex with me. So I'm waiting there naked for her, and she proceeds to dump me while I'm naked.

GROSS: Yeah, well, let me explain it a little bit more. She told you that she's coming over, and you didn't expect her that quickly. So you jump into the shower, and you come out with a towel wrapped around you, surprised to find her there. And as she tells you the news, the towel drops.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: And we get to see you full top to bottom from front and behind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: Yes.

GROSS: Fully naked.

Mr. SEGEL: You're welcome.

GROSS: Yes, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So here's the scene.

(Soundbite of film, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall")

Ms. KRISTEN BELL (Actor): (As Sarah Marshall) Peter, as you know, I love you very much.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Peter Bretter) Are you breaking up with me?

Ms. BELL: (As Marshall) Pete, are you…

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) I just need a minute.

Ms. BELL: (As Marshall) Okay.

(Soundbite of crying)

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) Please don't go.

Ms. BELL: (As Marshall) Why don't you just put on some clothes, and we can sit down and discuss this.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) No, I can't do anything right now.

Ms. BELL: (As Marshall) I'm so sorry, Pete.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) I'm in love with you.

Ms. BELL: (As Marshall) Why don't you just put some clothes on, okay?

Mr. SEGEL: (As Bretter) I'm not going to go put clothes on. I know what that means. If I put clothes on, it's over.

GROSS: Okay, that's my guest, Jason Segel, with Kristen Bell, from his film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Now…

Mr. SEGEL: That was taken from the pages of real life. I once got dumped while I was naked, but she asked me to put clothes on during this real breakup, my real-life breakup, and - as opposed to in the movie when I say no, I did go to put clothes on.

So she waited for me while I went back into my room to get dressed. Let me just tell you, Terry.

GROSS: Yeah?

Mr. SEGEL: Picking out an outfit for the second half of a breakup is like the hardest outfit you'll ever pick out in your life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: I came out, I came out in a blue buttoned up shirt and khaki pants, like I was going to private school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So did it seem funny to you at the time, or is it just in retrospect it's - these things take…

Mr. SEGEL: You know what? I think maybe this is the mind of a writer, I guess, but it was - while this breakup is happening, which was probably the most significant moment of my life to date, you know, when that happened, and I'm naked, and the whole time I'm thinking this is really, really funny. I'm going to use this in a movie someday, and slowly her voice became like the teacher from Charlie Brown, you know, just wha-wha-wha, wha-wha-wha, while I was slowly constructing the scene in my mind.

GROSS: Oh, so what did she say? What did the real ex-girlfriend say when she saw the movie?

Mr. SEGEL: Amazingly, amazingly, we don't speak anymore.

GROSS: Oh, shocking. Right, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: I should've seen that coming.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So like, you're 6'4", I think?

Mr. SEGEL: I am 6'4".

GROSS: So when you're naked, there's a lot of you to see, and it makes it even funnier because you have, like, such - there's such a big body there that's, like, dwarfing your girlfriend.

Mr. SEGEL: I know. Well, you know, part of what I thought could be great, and I think it did turn out really well, is, you know, I know it's a comedy, and so everything has to be funny, but I didn't want that breakup scene to be funny. I didn't want it to be played for laughs, you know? Because I think it was a really important part of the movie, this - that the breakup be as painful as possible.

So I thought the backdrop of me being naked gave me the opportunity to play the scene totally seriously because every time you cut back to me naked, you're going to get a laugh, you know?

And the other thing I thought was, I wanted it to be a guy literally at his most vulnerable. And so, you know, I think naked is about as vulnerable as it gets.

And the final thing is I hate romantic comedies for the reason that you always know how it's going to end. The guy's going to end up with the girl, like hey, probably that girl who's been really nice to him the whole movie works at the cookie shop, you know?

You can tell what's about to happen, and so I've always been reticent to go, and I thought as a viewer, if in the very first scene of the movie your lead actor is suddenly full-frontal, you know, naked, you're forced to sort of throw out your expectations and sit back and say I don't know what's going to happen in this movie, you know?

So I think it sort of set the stage to lose any preconceptions about what the movie might be like.

GROSS: I don't know how to put this in a way discrete enough so that we could discuss it on the radio, but so here you are, in like six minutes into the film, and you're there, like, stark naked.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: And we see you in every angle.

Mr. SEGEL: Sure.

GROSS: And so, like, what did you do to make sure that your privates would look good?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: Sure. No, I absolutely understand the question, and I will try to word it equally as carefully.

GROSS: Thank you.

Mr. SEGEL: Well, I found out in the meetings leading up to the movie about the scene - because, believe me, there was a lot of talk about whether or not I should even do it.

So all of the sudden, I'm sitting with Universal executives and Judd Apatow, and we're talking about what it's going to be like when I'm naked, and they told me that you can only get an R rating if it is completely flaccid. That's the only way that you maintain your R rating.

So it was very important that that be the case, that it be completely like that. It was very important for me personally that it not be completely flaccid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: You know, there was a real mental battle going on between personal pride and maintaining our R rating. So I found that the right level seemed to be to think about the most beautiful girl in high school, and that sort of got things going a little bit, and then I would think about how she would never go out with me. And so that kept it at just about the right level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's really funny. So what rating did you get?

Mr. SEGEL: We got the R rating, pulled off the R rating.

GROSS: What did your mother say about the scene?

Mr. SEGEL: Oh, man. I still regret this moment. I thought it would be a funny joke not to tell my mother I had done it and have her find out at the first showing of the movie. So I walked…

GROSS: You didn't tell her? Is that what you're saying, you did not tell her?

Mr. SEGEL: Yes, I did not tell her that I had done it. And I walk her into the first screening, and all of the sudden I walk out and I drop my towel and I'm naked, and I look over at my father, and my father's laughing hysterically.

Even my little sister, who is laughing hysterically, and then I turn and I looked at my mom, and she was staring at me with a tear streaming down her face.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: And she said: Why didn't you tell me? And I said: I thought it would be a funny joke not to tell you. And then she said: This is not a funny joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: That was the last we spoke of it.

GROSS: My guest is actor Jason Segel. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is actor Jason Segel. He co-stars in the CBS series "How I Met Your Mother," co-starred with Paul Rudd in "I Love You, Man," and got his start on the TV series "Freaks and Geeks."

When we left off, we were talking about the romantic comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which he wrote and starred in.

The character that you play in it, the main character, is working on a rock opera with puppets about Dracula and eternal love.

Mr. SEGEL: Yes.

GROSS: And I've read that you were actually or are actually working on a similar musical, yes?

Mr. SEGEL: I am, yeah. Well, the way that - that wasn't written for the movie, that Dracula musical. Sadly, I had a really bad out-of-work period from like 21 to 25. I couldn't figure out what I was going to do with my life because I didn't have a college education, and I thought I was going to have to, like, live with my parents for the rest of my life.

Looking back, I was such an arrogant kid, I thought the two options for me were either movie star or live with my parents. Get a real job like never entered my mind.

But - so I thought the way that I could jump-start my career was to write a Dracula musical to be done with puppets, but I was writing it without a sense of irony. It wasn't a comedy. It was going to be like a slow, labored drama.

So anyway, I finally finished a few of the songs, and I took it to Judd Apatow to play for him. He was the first person I played it for. And the first song starts and about halfway through he pushes stop on the CD player, and he looks at me, and he goes, Jayce, just take my advice, you can't ever play this for anyone - ever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: And thank God I didn't because I would've looked like a crazy person, and I got to save it for the movie.

GROSS: Well, you know, in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," your character doesn't realize that the Dracula musical he's writing is really a comedy.

Mr. SEGEL: Yep, straight from the pages of real life.

GROSS: Right, okay. How did you realize it, because of Judd Apatow?

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah, yeah, basically, you know…

GROSS: But he didn't say it was funny. He just said never let anybody hear this.

Mr. SEGEL: No, he said never let anyone hear it. And I'll tell you how it ended up happening. Judd has the same feelings about romantic comedy as I do, specifically how hard it is to come up with an original ending, you know?

And so we were sitting around brainstorming, what could be an original ending for a romantic comedy? And I looked at him half-joking, and I said, well, we could always use my Dracula musical.

And he looked at me, and it was, like, you know, Judd Apatow is a comedy genius, and you just saw like ding. You saw this look in his eyes like oh my God, that's weird enough that it might work.

So I just rewrote it that night, that my character's been secretly working on a Dracula opera, and that's how that happened.

GROSS: Well, I want to play a scene that relates to this, and this is a scene where you're at a bar with a girl who you hope is becoming your new girlfriend.

Mr. SEGEL: Yes.

GROSS: And she has asked the band - she knows you're working on this Dracula rock opera. So she's asked the band to call you onstage and invite you to perform an excerpt of the Dracula musical. And you go very reluctantly to the stage and with great discomfort start to play one of the songs. And at this point you still think it's a serious musical, and it's not until she laughs…

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: …that you realize, oh, it's a comedy. So here's that scene in which you're playing an excerpt of your Dracula rock opera.

(Soundbite of film, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEGEL: (Singing) It's getting kind of hard to believe things are going to get better. I've been drowning too long to believe that the tide's going turn. And I've been living too hard to believe things are going to get easier. I'm still trying to shake off the pain in the lessons I've learned.

And if I see Van Helsing, I swear to the Lord, I will slay him. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Take it from me, but I swear I won't let it be so. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Blood will run down his face when he is decapitated.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: (Singing) (Unintelligible) let this world know how much I love you. Die, die, die. I can't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: I'm such a weirdo.

GROSS: That's Jason Segel in an excerpt of his film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which is on DVD. You know, in that die, die, die, I can't, you just kind of capture very succinctly there the downside of immortality…

Mr. SEGEL: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …in a vampire's face.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah. I think I understand why women never want to stay with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: Imagine I'm out of work, and I'm sitting there writing that song til all hours of the morning.

GROSS: So what are some of the, like, musicals or rock operas that have influenced you and made you want to write one of your own?

Mr. SEGEL: Oh man. Well, I used to see "Les Miserables" with my family every year when I was young, and I just loved it. I loved it, loved it so much to the point where when I was about seven years old or so, I was finally old enough to go to my brother's sleepaway camp.

And I was so excited because, you know, I really looked up to my brother, and my brother really didn't like me that much at this age. Like, I would embarrass him a lot. I wore a Superman cape under my clothes, for example.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you really?

Mr. SEGEL: I did, until I was way too old, until I was like 10 years old. But so anyway, I was going to finally get to go to camp with him, and he said, Jason, let me tell you something. This is my camp. I love it. You're not going to embarrass me, okay?

And I was petulant. I said, of course, I'm not going to embarrass you, Adam, geez. So first day at camp we're sitting there and the counselor gets up and he says, all right, we would like to welcome everybody back, and we'd also like to welcome the new campers. As a matter of fact, would anybody like to do an impromptu talent show?

And I see my brother look at me like you'd better not, kid. And little Jason Segel raises his hand, slowly makes his way up to the stage - in a Superman cape - and I get to the front, and he says, all right, what would you like to do? And I said, I'd like to sing. And I started singing…

(Singing) There is a castle on a cloud.

Mr. SEGEL: I sang the little girl's song from "Les Miserables" from beginning to end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: My brother was mortified.

GROSS: Jason Segel will be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Jason Segel. He co-stars in the CBS series "How I Met Your Mother." He co-starred with Paul Rudd in the bromance "I Love You, Man," which is now out on DVD. He got his start in "Freaks and Geeks," the short-lived TV high school series co-created by Judd Apatow. When we left off, we were talking about writing and starring in the romantic comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which was released last year.

You wrote a character that's played by Russell Brand in your film who's a pop star, who's deeply in love with himself and has also stolen your girlfriend.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah. Yes. You want to hear an amazing story...

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. SEGEL: ...about casting Russell Brand?

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. SEGEL: That part was originally written to be a young British author, like I pictured like a Hugh Grant type.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SEGEL: And so we're holding the auditions and people are coming in and doing these terrible fake British accents and wearing suits, you know, three piece tweed suits and everything. And so, about halfway through the day, we're just exhausted and we feel like we're never going to find somebody, and then in walks Russell Brand in his full regalia. He's wearing leather pants, he's wearing a shirt unbuttoned to his navel and just like - it must have been three pounds of necklaces...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: ...and his hair all teased. He's wearing eyeliner - I mean just totally wrong for the part. And he walks in and he has the nerve to look at me, the writer, and he said, you'll have to forgive me mate, I've only had a chance to take a cursory glance of your little script. Perhaps you should tell me what it is you require? And I literally went home that night and rewrote the movie for Russell Brand to be a British rock star. I couldn't imagine anyone to be more jealous of or intimidated by if they were dating your new girlfriend than Russell Brand.

GROSS: Now was he doing that because he genuinely hadn't read the script or was he doing that to show you the obnoxious character he could be?

Mr. SEGEL: I think that it was a mixture of both. He definitely hadn't read the script. He is in life, perhaps, the nicest guy I've ever met. But he just nailed this kind of - because, you know, I must say I stole my character in "I Love You, Man," the Sidney Fife character, directly from Russell. Russell has, like I said, that quality of just not caring what other people think or at least seeming like he doesn't. And I thought what an amazing quality to have in your girlfriend's new boyfriend, someone who like - it's not that he's jerk, he just doesn't even feel weird or bad that he's dating your girlfriend. You know, it just like not on his radar that that should be an awkward situation because it was very important to me for all the characters in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" that they not be stereotypes. I didn't want it to be a diatribe against a cheating ex-girlfriend for example. It would have been really easy to make her just a real villainous character.

And of course you want to hate your girlfriend's new boyfriend. But the thing that occurred to me is my ex-girlfriend is a pretty cool lady and so why would I assume that her new boyfriend is going to be a jerk. She's probably going to date another pretty cool guy, you know? And so I felt like that's what made the movie more complicated and real than just one of these, kind of, comedies that come and go and are filled with raunchy punch lines. I wanted to try to really explore what relationships are like.

The scene in the movie that I'm the most proud of is, you know, this whole -the whole time, it's from my perspective. And you're really thinking, you know, what a jerk for cheating on him and she must be really self-centered and all that. And then, there's a scene about three quarters of the way through the movie where I say to her, it's our first time we've had to talk since we broke up, and I say, I just wish you had tried harder. And she just flips the script and she says, you think I didn't try? How dare you? I tried everything I could.

I went to relationship counseling. I made you dinners. You wouldn't get out of your sweat pants. You know, you sat on the couch for a week straight once. Why? I couldn't drown with you anymore. And I felt like it's those kind of moments that hopefully made the movie interesting.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jason Segel and he's now starring with Paul Rudd in the new movie "I Love You, Man." He is also on TV in the series "How I Met Your Mother." I want to play a scene from the first series that you were on...

Mr. SEGEL: Oh, sure.

GROSS: ...and this might have been like your real acting debut. This is in "Freaks and Geeks" the now cult TV series that - did it make it through a whole season or was it cut before the season was over?

Mr. SEGEL: No, we got canceled - 13 episodes and we could tell it was going to happen. On TV shows, you have this thing called the craft service table, which is like a set up of food, you know. And we got there for the first episode and there was like a lavish deli spread and all sorts of like, beverages. And by about episode 10, it was just like a box of Corn Pops and some creamer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: We could see that the budget was being reduced, so yeah, we knew it was coming.

GROSS: Well, briefly describe your character and then I want to play a scene.

Mr. SEGEL: Sure. This is my favorite character I've ever played, I think. His name is Nick Andopolis and he is just a really open-hearted, really, really loving and caring, not-so-bright stoner who's father is in the Army and is incredibly tough on him. And he's constantly under the threat that if he doesn't do well enough in school, he's going to be sent off to join the Army, which he's terrified about. And I love Linda Cardellini's character, Lindsay Weir. She's the object of my affection and I become somewhat obsessed with her in a very sweet but creepy way.

GROSS: Well, she's in the scene we're about to hear. And in this scene you play drums. And your real aspiration is to be drummer in a rock band.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: And your father thinks that the drums are distracting you from schoolwork. So, he's ordered you to get the drums out of the basement and warned you, as you just said, that if your grades don't improve, you'll have to go into the Army. So, this scene is right after you've auditioned with a band and it went really badly.

Mr. SEGEL: Horribly, hilariously badly.

GROSS: Exactly, so here you are talking with your friend Lindsay, who's played by Linda Cardellini, and she's really smart and does well in school. So, here you are talking with her about the audition.

(Soundbite of television show, "Freaks and Geeks")

Mr. JASON SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) Sometimes I go down in my basement, and I put on a live album. I can see myself on the stage. Do you understand what I mean? I can see it. And I'm playing a ten minute solo and I'm on one of those hydraulic rises, you know? They make the drum kit go way up high. Like I'm Peter Criss or something. Oh man. I'm not going to be that guy. I'm never going to be that guy. I'll be lucky if I get to be the guy who pushes the button and makes the riser go up, but I'm not even going to be that guy. I'm not even going to be that guy because I can't even keep a C plus average, man.

Ms. LINDA CARDELLINI (Actress) (as Lindsay Weir): Oh, Nick I can - I can help you get your grades up.

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) He's going to make me join the Army. Oh man, I'm going to have to join the Army. I'm going to be surrounded by a group of psychopaths like my brothers and like my dad.

Ms. CARDELLINI: (as Lindsay Weir) Nick, come on. That's not going to happen to you. I won't let it.

Mr. JASON SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) Oh my God. I'm done, man. I'm done.

GROSS: And at the end of that scene, you and she share your first kiss.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah, I actually just got a little emotional listening to that. That was one of the best times in my life. It's when I met Judd Apatow and it's when I met Seth Rogen and James Franco and Linda, and Martin Starr, all these guys, Busy Philipps. We were all so young and we were so naive that we kind of thought every experience would be like that - if that makes any sense.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SEGEL: And it isn't. Every experience isn't like that. It was a - it was a really beautiful, beautiful time.

GROSS: My guest is actor Jason Segel. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Jason Segel. Her wrote and directed the romantic comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which was released last year. When we left off, we were talking about getting started on the TV series "Freaks and Geeks." How did you get the part?

Mr. SEGEL: Well, I went in and I just auditioned. And the show was called "Freaks and Geeks" and I seemed to fit in to both of those categories.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: So, I guess I was a bit of a natural fit. I've been 6'4" since I was 12 and kids used to stand around me in a circle and one by one they would jump on my back while the rest chanted, ride the oaf, ride the oaf and so I think...

GROSS: Wow, that's sounds not only horrible but that it would hurt a lot.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah, physically.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SEGEL: Yeah, it was unpleasant. And I think that - I think that to some extent, that whole cast was made up of people who always felt like the underdog in their life. And Judd recognized those qualities in all of us and we were all - you know, look, experiences like that - ride the oaf, I mean - they're either going to turn you into a jerk or they're going to make you funny. And so, I went with funny and I think a lot of the people in the cast would, you know, would tell you they have their own versions of that same story.

And we all, sort of, became comedy dorks. And we united - we united on that. It was - let me tell you, I remember me, James Franco and Seth Rogen would go to my house every night and rehearse the scenes for the next day. I have never done that since. But we all just wanted it to be so good and Judd was so trusting in all of us. There's a scene in that show where I'm in the basement with Lindsay, Linda Cardellini's character, and I sing to her "Lady," the song "Lady."

And it's really weird and it's really creepy. And before the scene, Judd just came up to me and he said, listen Jayce, this scene needs to be really weird and really creepy and really funny and really sweet. Let's see what you got. That's amazing, you know, for someone to have that kind of faith in you and it was a little bit like when some parents are teaching their kids to swim, they say sometimes you just throw your kid in the pool and see if they can swim. That's a little bit what it felt like - all of the sudden we were required to do big comedy and we had very little experience.

GROSS: So, what did you do, I mean, what did you think about as you were doing that scene singing?

Mr. SEGEL: I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEGEL: I was just myself to be honest with you, I think. Judd once said to me after these shows got cancelled and I asked him, I went to him and I said, I don't know what to do and he said, I'll tell you. I can tell you what you do well is you are able to get really, really close to the creepy line while still being likable. And that's what you should focus on. I think for some reason, it just comes natural to me.

GROSS: Why don't we hear that scene in which you sing to Linda Cardellini's character Lindsay?

(Soundbite of serial, "Freaks and Geeks")

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) Lindsay, this song says all the things that I haven't been able to say you. It's a little corny, but I mean it.

(Soundbite of song, "Lady")

Mr. DENNIS DEYOUNG (Lead Singer, Styx): (Singing) Lady...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) Lady...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...when you're with me...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...when you're with me...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...I'm smiling...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...I'm smiling...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...give me...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...give me...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...all, all, all of your love...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) all, all, all of your love...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...your hands...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...your hands...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...build me up when I'm sinking...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...build me up when I'm sinking...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...touch me and my...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...touch me and my...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...troubles all fade...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...troubles all fade...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) Lady...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) See Lindsay...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...from the moment I saw you...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...nothing between you and me should ever be rushed.

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...standing...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) I made that mistake before.

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...all, all, all, all, alone.

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) ...but I'm not going to make it with you.

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...you gave...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) We've got time...

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) ...all the love that I needed...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) We've got all the time in the world. And you know why?

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) So shy, like a child who has grown. You're my...

Mr. SEGEL: (as Nick Andopolis) Because you're my lady of the morning. Love shines in your eyes.

Mr. DEYOUNG: (Singing) You're my lady of the morning. Love shines in your eyes.

GROSS: That's Jason Segel in an episode of the late great "Freaks and Geeks" which is on DVD, if you haven't seen it. So, where did you grow up?

SEGEL: I grew up in Los Angeles. I grew up in the Pacific Palisades of Los Angeles which is like a very nice, like pretty affluent area. I was very lucky. I had a really great childhood.

GROSS: Now, I read that you went to Catholic school, although you're Jewish, is that true?

SEGEL: Yeah, I was the only Jewish kid at this all-Christian school and that was a little weird. I remember this one moment where I sent out my bar mitzvah invitations to everybody and the principal came up and said, listen Jason everyone's really excited but I don't think that the kids know what a bar mitzvah is. I was wondering if maybe you wanted to explain at communion what a bar mitzvah is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEGEL: Now keep in mind, these kids are already jumping on my back and saying ride the oaf.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEGEL: So, 12-year-old Jason Segel walks to the front of communion and has to stand in front of these kids and go: On Saturday I become a man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEGEL: Nothing gets you beat up faster than the line: On Saturday I became a man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, that's so great. What were some of the other adventurous aspects of being the only Jewish kid at a Catholic school - Catholic or Christian? Like what...

SEGEL: It was a, I think it was a Episcopalian.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SEGEL: I'm not a hundred percent sure what the differences are. Well, I'll tell you what was really weird, like I said I didn't really - I felt sort of out of place at this school. But I...

GROSS: Maybe because you were.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEGEL: Yes, exactly. See I'm - my father is Jewish and my mother is Christian. So...

GROSS: Oh, I see.

SEGEL: ...yeah, but I was raised Jewish. So, I'm at the school. And they don't really like me very much there and then after Christian school I would walk in the afternoons to Hebrew school. And then at Hebrew school…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEGEL: …they would tell me that I wasn't really Jewish because my mother is Christian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEGEL: So, all of the sudden I'm like this young kid who - I would've been happy to believe whoever would have been nice to me, you know. But it was this feeling of like, not really belonging or not really fitting in and…

GROSS: The world's mainstream religions don't want you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEGEL: Yeah and, you know what occurred to me - it's funny you say that - but what occurred to me is, this certainly isn't God. God doesn't want an 11 or 12-year-old kid to feel this way, you know. My belief in God is that God wants you, you know, God wants you to believe in him or it, whatever you would call it. And so, it actually helped me forge this feeling of - all right, you know what kid, it's you, it's you and God, and it's you and the world. It's - it gave me a bit of a feeling of solitude that I think came in handy during, like, my out of work periods, where when I decided the only way I was going to make it was if I started writing. It was actually, I'm very grateful that I got that feeling at such a young age because I felt like, you know what, it's - you better do it, it's going to be you.

GROSS: That's great, I mean, not everybody is able to find out what's useful from a difficult situation. So, it's lucky…

SEGEL: And I could have been very, you know, I came from a well-off family and my life had been pretty easy. So, I actually think maybe it helped me not have a sense of entitlement that I've seen in a lot of like…

GROSS: Mm hmm.

SEGEL: …my peers who grew up in that same, you know, community. There is some sense of, you know, like, oh, well I'm supposed to do well because of this or that. You got to earn it, you know? I think that's sort of - that period really helped me lose any sense of entitlement I might have had.

GROSS: Can I ask what kind of work your parents did?

SEGEL: Yeah, my father is a lawyer and my mom, my mom raised us.

GROSS: Mm hmm. So, when, how old were you when you knew you wanted to be an actor and how did you know? Well, it sounds like you knew all along, actually, with the Superman outfit and singing at your brother's summer camp.

SEGEL: Well, I think the seeds were there. My parents had put me into an acting class when I was about nine or 10 or so, because I was having such a hard time at that school making friends, that they wanted to send me some place that was not religiously affiliated at all, you know. So they sent me to this acting class, but it was more about not being shy than it was about acting.

I got started in a really weird way. I had just won a state championship playing basketball in California, and my brother was a great basketball player and I sort of wanted to play college ball, that's what I figured I would do. But I had this art history class that I found very boring and so, it was right next to the drama department and every day on the way to art history class I would reach in real quick to the drama department and grab a play. And I would read it during class. And I read one called "The Zoo Story" by Edward Albee. And there's a 40 minute monologue in it and I thought, I'd like to try this, just to see if I could do it, you know. It's a two-man play. So, I found a guy to do the play with me. And I asked the head of the drama department if he minded if I put on this play. And he said no, no problem. So, I did it and he came up to me after and he said, look, I think you're really good at this and you might want to consider becoming an actor. And I said, no, I'm going to play college basketball. I was kind of a jock at this point. And he said, well do me a favor, I'm teaching a mock audition class on Saturday, will you come and just see if you like it? So I said, sure.

So, I show up at this mock audition class. And I go in and it's him and this lady and they have me do like half an hour of reading, like, sides blind. And I did them and I left and they said, thank you very much. A week later, my parents sat me down and said, we've been talking to Paramount Pictures all week. He didn't want to tell you but that was the president of casting at Paramount and he had set up a fake audition for me.

GROSS: Oh, you're kidding.

Mr. SEGEL: And he didn't want me to be nervous. So, he just told me it was a mock audition class. And Paramount was in touch with my parents all week and the next thing I knew, I had a agent and manager and I started working my senior of high school. So, it was crazy, it sort of found me, you know.

GROSS: Jason Segel, it's been so much fun talking with you, thank you so much.

Mr. SEGEL: Thanks.

GROSS: Jason Segel's movie "I Love You Man," recently came out on DVD. You can also see his film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" on DVD. Segel co-stars in the CBS series "How I Met Your Mother." Our interview was recorded last March. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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