Exclusive 1:1 Interview: Jason Segel talks The End Of The Tour & Roomies!
THE END OF THE TOUR, starring Jason Segel as brilliant author David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky, is getting major buzz, both for its fascinating story and its commanding lead performance from Segel. Based on a true story, the film follows Lipsky as he spends five days living with and interviewing Wallace during the end of his national book tour. Though the men only spend a short amount of time together, the film is a microcosm for exploring the ideas of fame, artistry, friendship, and the relationship between journalist and subject.
I had the opportunity to sit down with the film’s star, Jason Segel, who was just as kind and considerate as you would imagine. He was incredibly insightful and open about the expectations surrounding the film and his performance, as well as the role of arthouse films in the grand scheme of Hollywood. Not to mention, he also told me how much he enjoyed JoBlo’s original animated series ROOMIES! Check out the interview below and also Chris Bumbray’s review of THE END OF THE TOUR from Sundance!
It’s nice to meet you.
Jason Segel: It’s nice to meet you too. I was just watching something on JoBlo last night. They did the Christopher Walken/Al Pacino [Roomies], right? I watched it the other night. It was awesome!
I’m glad you liked it!
JS: It’s really funny! I was bored in a hotel room and I saw it. I clicked on it and it was great!
So is this your first time in Washington, D.C.?
JS: No, I’ve been here a bunch, actually. I was actually lucky enough to meet the President a few years ago for THE MUPPETS. I did a screening of MUPPETS at The White House for children of veterans. It was great.
That’s really cool! So, I saw THE END OF THE TOUR at Sundance this year and absolutely loved it. As an audience member, it seemed to receive one of the best receptions there. How was your experience at Sundance and how did it feel to be received so warmly by the crowd?
JS: Well, first of all, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a big relief, because you spend so much time nervous that people aren’t going to like your stuff. This was a little bit different for me, personally, in that when the movie ended shooting, it was the first time – and I think it was because I had been thinking about these themes – where I felt like, ‘Well, I’ve done everything I can and that’s going to have to be good enough. The reality is, this entire movie could be out of focus.’ :laughs: Do you know what I mean?
JS: ‘I have no idea. I haven’t been looking through the camera. But I know I did the very best I could and that’s going to have to be good enough.’ And there was some peace in that for the first time. Then you have enough intervening time where you start to get really terrified again.
:Laughs: You have that moment of enlightenment and then…
JS: And then literally the next day it’s like me, under the covers, with a peanut butter and banana sandwich trying not to cry. :laughs: But, I think the big question mark going into Sundance is, ‘Is this going to be interesting to people?’ And we were sitting in the crowd as it aired for the first time and you could feel people engaged. It was a giant relief. In terms of the response and the reception… my girlfriend said to me before I went, “I know it’s not your nature, but you’re not going to have the opportunity to enjoy this later, so make sure you enjoy it while it’s happening.” I kept that in my mind and tried to really enjoy it myself, and did as a result.
That’s a really beautiful thought. I’m glad you were able to enjoy it too. You’ve written a lot of movies that you have also starred in. Do you have that same fear for those projects as well?
JS: It’s interesting. A movie this size is very different than the other movies I have done. The sort of metrics of a larger studio movie have a lot to do with opening weekend and how it performs. And a movie like this, which is made for a very small budget, I think the criteria for success is different. What you’re hoping is that people really like it and maybe it moves people, and you’re also hoping a movie like this inspires interesting conversation. It was an entirely different set of worry. It was more about seeing, when people walk out of the theater, if they want to go to dinner and continue talking about it.
This is totally that kind of movie. I have been thinking about it since I saw it in January.
JS: Good! Yeah, I think so! It seems to me that there are now, kind of, two polarized types of movies, and both have value. One is the tent-pole kind of movie, which is a form of escapism and is a really important thing. If you’ve had a rough week, you go check in on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and that’s important. The middle area of movies, I think, has moved to television.
That’s a really good way of looking at it. I think you’re right about that middle area moving to television.
JS: Yeah, I think honestly what happened is that middle of area of movies… you’ve always wished you could do stuff during them and now you can. :laughs: You can pause it, maybe run to the restroom or have a conversation about it. That’s the middle area of movies that are pleasant. You can eat dinner and people are obsessed with their phones, so you can stay connected. Then there is this other area of movies that, I guess, used to be called the “arthouse film”, but a movie like this that you want to see with a group of people and then have a discussion about, which, to me, is a really important function of film also.
Definitely. So there’s a really fine line between imitation and interpretation of a character. How did you find that balance in [your performance]?
JS: I wanted to make sure I paid as much respect to the fact that David Foster Wallace was a real man, who people love in varying capacities. So accuracy was really, really important. You want to give people things to lock into, so that they’re able to forget, or let go of, that I’m Jason Segel with other associations and say, “Okay, it’s because of those few things that I am able to suspend disbelief and say that’s David Foster Wallace. For the next hour and a half, that’s what David Foster Wallace looks like and sounds like.” But then, I think, what’s really important… One, coming from comedy, is not to get anywhere close to impression or sketch. I think the best way to service playing someone real is to really focus in on the themes that they were trying to express and really understand them to the best of your ability so that they sound like your thoughts versus recitation.
Speaking of that, the monologues… I know a lot of the script was taken from the recordings, I was wondering how you remembered all of that by the letter and if there was any room for improvisation?
JS: Yeah, but I’m not smart enough to improvise David Foster Wallace’s thoughts. You know what I mean? :laughs: So you really had to go by the word because it was someone whose vocabulary was just so superior, and whose understanding of language was infinitely better than mine, so I only felt comfortable doing everything verbatim. Yeah, you just memorize and know it so well that then you can start thinking about what you’re actually saying. And then make it start looking like you’re thinking it as you say it.
Jesse’s character, David Lipsky, admired David Foster Wallace a lot and since he was also writing a book, he wanted to embody the same career as Wallace. In your career, have you met an actor that you felt that same way towards?
JS: Yes, I spent my 20s thinking, ‘If I could just be like that person.’ But then at some point someone said to me, ‘It is a real waste of time wanting to be like someone else because that person is already them and can do a better job at being them then you ever could. So the best chance you stand is being the best version of yourself.’ Once I wrapped my head around that, I was like, ‘Alright, think about the things that you are uniquely good at and start building on those things.”
Last question before they wrap me up. In the film, you and Jesse have great chemistry. In preparation for the film, did you both meet beforehand or did that work out the way it did in the film?
JS: Because of scheduling, we only met once before we started filming - just to meet each other. Then the next time we met each other was the scene where he arrives at my house. You can feel us sniffing each other out onscreen. I think it ended up really working, but we made great friends. It’s an interesting dynamic because you’re working both with and against each other. You need each other to make the scene great, but you also want to win the arguments.
And it’s interesting to see how their relationship transitions from the beginning to the end. It’s such a rise and fall. Thanks so much for talking to me. It was nice meeting you.
JS: It was nice meeting you too.