Interview: Jason Segel on Jeff, Who Lives at Home
The Forgetting Sarah Marshall star talks about his new slacker comedy and future plans
Jason Segel may well look back on 2012 as his year. Already the 32-year-old actor-writer has seen The Muppets, his nostalgia-tinged feature film revival of the beloved TV show, gross $158m around the world. Even better, the film’s signature tune ‘Man or Muppet’, which he sings in the movie, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. ‘It’s the first Muppet Oscar,’ he grins. ‘I was very proud of that. It was the perfect culmination of what we were trying to achieve.’
To come, he has The Five-Year Engagement, a rom-com that’s already being touted as this year’s Bridesmaids – but first, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, a low-key comedy from directors Mark and Jay Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair), in which he stars in the title role – a dope-smoking slacker who puts his faith in signs from the universe. ‘He reminded me a lot on first read of Chauncey Gardiner,’ says Segel, referring to Peter Sellers’ sage-like Being There character. ‘He’s a watcher, Jeff. The challenge of that part was to do nothing. My whole job was just to listen.’
Raised in California, the son of a lawyer, Segel admits he saw some personal parallels in a figure that just seems to go with the flow. ‘I was very much like Jeff in my early 20s. I was waiting to be cast. That was my equivalent of a sign. I was waiting for someone to cast me. And I’d think, “Fate will take care of it – I’m meant to be an actor.” And then all of a sudden I realised if I keep waiting, I’m going to wait forever. So then I started writing, and that changed everything.’
It was comedy king Judd Apatow who first encouraged him to write. They met when Segel was just 17, shortly after he’d staged an eye-catching version of Edward Albee’s play The Zoo Story at his high school. After casting Segel in cult TV comedy shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, not to mention in his hit film Knocked Up, Apatow gave him the gig writing and starring in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. A huge hit, grossing $105m and spawning spin-off Get Him to the Greek, it nevertheless left Segel with a dilemma.
‘It would’ve been really easy after Sarah Marshall to start churning out R-rated comedies,’ he says. ‘Instead, I jumped to Muppets and Jeff, Who Lives At Home. I like the idea that you can do a little bit of everything.’ Next month’s The Five-Year Engagement, which pairs Segel with Emily Blunt, is a case in point. ‘The movie is about that things [in a relationship] change, and over five years, how a dynamic changes,’ he says. ‘It’s about choosing a partner-in-crime for life, rather than the moment of just now.’
Having also reprised his Knocked Up role in forthcoming sequel-of-sorts This is 40, Segel has still had time to make TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother, in which he plays easy-going optimist Marshall Eriksen. After eight seasons on the show, his contract now up, he admits he’s unsure whether to continue. ‘We’ll see what happens. Eight years … it’s longer than any relationship I’ve had!’
Isn’t he exhausted? He nods. ‘I’m really tired. That’s my honest answer. I don’t really sleep very much. I write at night. I do movies, every little break I have. It might be time for a nap pretty soon.’
Jeff, Who Lives At Home is on general release from Fri 11 May. The Five-Year Engagement is released on Fri 22 Jun.