Support the news

After Playing David Foster Wallace, Writing Children's Books, What's Next For Jason Segel?11:41
Download

Play
Actor, author and screenwriter Jason Segel in WBUR's studios. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Actor, author and screenwriter Jason Segel in WBUR's studios. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
This article is more than 4 years old.

"My whole career is based on me walking this fine line between having, like, childlike wonder and being really creepy. And so the book is like a culmination of all of my skills."

That's what Jason Segel told us last year about his first book for children, "Nightmares!"

Since then, Segel has not only published the second book in the "Nightmares!" trilogy, but he delivered a critically-acclaimed performance as David Foster Wallace in the movie, "The End of the Tour," which came out this summer.

So, where do these latest projects fall on the part-childlike, part-creepy line? And what's next?

Jason Segel will be talking about "Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic" at Harvard Book Store Wednesday night.

Guest

Jason Segel, actor, author, screenwriter. His new book is "Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic." His latest film was "The End of the Tour." He tweets @jasonsegel.

Interview Highlights

On playing the celebrated author David Foster Wallace in "The End of the Tour"

Jason Segel: "It was just the best experience. ... It's somewhere between a U-turn or a pivot. I don't know if I'm returning to something. I suppose what I'm returning to is when you're young, you sort of have the naivety of youth and you're making very bold choices. I look back even at the Dracula puppet musical at the end of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which seems fun, especially now that it's been on the air, that's like a very bold move. No one was thinking, 'Yeah, great idea, Segel.' Someone literally said to me in a meeting about it, 'You know, it's your movie' and threw their hands up."

On taking on the professional risk in playing such a celebrated person

JS: "I had this moment where a lot of things in my career naturally came to an end... and I was left with some time to think finally and reevaluate where I was at this point in my life. ... I think I resisted calling what I do art for various reason — maybe even just that I was a high school athlete and calling yourself an artist always felt funny to me. But, in that evaluation period, I thought, you know, someone who is an artist needs to be doing things that are reflective of where they are at a given moment. And when I read the script, there's a line David Foster Wallace says 'I have to face the reality that I'm 34 years old, alone in a room with a piece of paper.' And it was exactly how I felt at the time and I just had to do the movie."

"Also I'm self-aware enough to know that when a David Foster Wallace script comes across someone's desk the first reaction isn't to slam down a glass of scotch and say 'Get Jason Segel on the phone. Stat.' But I think that there were some ways in which I was actually surprisingly well-suited to do this. We were the same age, and David Foster Wallace was a dude and he was funny. He was dealing with some very complicated feelings and I was too. But yeah, there was a huge fall-flat-on-your-face factor."

"I think that there were some ways in which I was actually surprisingly well-suited to do this. We were the same age, and David Foster Wallace was a dude and he was funny. He was dealing with some very complicated feelings and I was too. But yeah, there was a huge fall-flat-on-your-face factor."

On his fear in taking on the role of David Foster Wallace 

JS: "Here's what's scary. You have all these voices, external voices, saying he's the wrong guy to play the part. The reality is I have no way to react to the hypothetical bad performance I haven't given yet. The important voice though is the internal voice telling you, you can't do it. And what really occurred to me is that you know you sit around privately at night or at dinner parties with your close friends saying 'If I were only given this kind of material.' The reality is when you're given that kind of material, you will now have to face the chance that you're wrong. That's what I was most afraid of — of facing the reality that I wasn't as good as I thought I was."

On fear and his series of books "Nightmares!"

JS: "I have not achieved anything that didn't involve doing something scary to get there. And that's sort of what we talk about in the books. This culture has really changed for kids and it's no surprise. I mean, you watch a political debate and you have people telling other people their faces are ugly. So it's no surprise kids are afraid of being made fun of and I think that that could be a really paralyzing fear — that if I try something I'm going to get mocked by my classmates. The books are sort of saying, you know what, do the things that you're afraid of because the reward on the other side is that you have achieved something and that's where your dreams are. It's been something I've been really proud to champion to kids."

"To go back to 'The End of the Tour,' I was really scared at the possibility that I wasn't going to be a good enough actor to do this part and that fear is what made me do everything possible to make sure that when I arrived on set I was ready. I left no stone unturned because I thought I'm going to walk right into this fear, and when the movie is done I'm not going to give myself the opportunity to say, 'Well, if I had just gotten that dialect coach,' or 'If I had just read that one extra essay.' No, I'm going to do everything that I could do because I'm so afraid. I think fear could be a real motivator if you learn that it's OK."

On how he prepared to play David Foster Wallace, including his humor

JS: "There's a Charlie Rose interview right from this time where I got to see him, see how he moved and talked. There's sort of a real, ever-present visceral discomfort in that interview that was really helpful in how I built the character. But really, it was reading 'Infinite Jest.' ...'Infinite Jest,' while being fiction, is I think the most personal thing I've ever read. I think David Foster Wallace is every one of those characters and is basically a man saying, 'Hey, I seem to be the one with the vocabulary so let me do the talking. I feel really uncomfortable and dissatisfied and sort of lonely and does anyone else want to join in this discussion with me.' That's how I felt when I read that book. Like a distress beacon."

"I think hopefully ... we hit on some really universal issues in a fun way, which is what David Foster Wallace did in his writing."

"He was a 34-year-old guy. ... The movie is about this four day, five day interview between David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter who has set out to cover David Foster Wallace on the 'Infinite Jest' book tour. So they're on a road trip essentially in real life. In these recordings, you'll hear them talking about some of this heavy stuff, but then ... do you remember Hanson's 'MMMBop.' At one point that comes on the radio and David Foster Wallace does like a 10-minute dissertation on Hanson and their role in pop culture. So that sort of stuff was really important going into the movie. In reality, I think the only way the movie works is if you want to be in the back of that car. If you're sitting listening to your parents say smart things to each other, it's going to be a boring movie. I think hopefully ... we hit on some really universal issues in a fun way, which is what David Foster Wallace did in his writing."

More

The Boston Globe: Jason Segel Plays David Foster Wallace In ‘The End Of The Tour’

  • "'I’m self-aware enough that when I read the script, I thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I’m going to get this part.'" The actor speaking is Jason Segel, sitcom star of TV’s "How I Met Your Mother" and sensitive bro-dude of such big-screen comedies as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” I Love You, Man,” and, uh, “Sex Tape.”

This segment aired on October 7, 2015.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news