Jason Segel isn’t a typical Hollywood leading man—especially not for a romantic comedy. But then again Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the movie in which the 28-year-old has his first leading role, is not your typical romantic comedy.
“We found that there’s a unique recipe in writing the male characters as though they were the typical female character and doing the same for the women—writing them as though they’re the typical male character,” says Segel of the film’s atypical formula. “It creates an interesting dynamic because we’re all pretty similar, and so if you skew the bend a tiny bit, you get a kind of new perspective on relationships.”
Inspired by the likes of Albert Brooks and Woody Allen before him, Segel wrote a script that turns convention on its head. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, out in theaters now, follows Segel’s character Peter from a (very naked) break-up to the shores of Hawaii, where he attempts to forget his ex but encounters her at every turn.
Like his “Freaks and Geeks” co-star Seth Rogen, Segel is proving that it takes more than good looks to win the girl… and an audience. “[Director] Nick Stoller, Judd Apatow and I have a Venn diagram and one of the areas we collide on is that I’m funny playing a really obsessive boyfriend. It’s because there was a period in my life where I was very much like that,” Segel explains. “I think Judd thought that the way my emotions sway was something to be mocked.”
If buzz and hype are any indication, audiences just might agree.
Segel, who currently stars in CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother” and previously worked with Stoller and Apatow on the series “Undeclared”, shared his experience with MM just days before the movie’s release.
Mallory Potosky (MM): The humor in Forgetting Sarah Marshall is very similar to “Undeclared” and “Freaks and Geeks.” Why do you think that people are ready for this kind of humor on the big screen even though those shows didn’t last very long on television?
Jason Segel (JS): I think that the reason those shows didn’t last on television is that you have so much network and advertising pressure to try to portray things in a way that pleases them. I know that in “Freaks and Geeks,” which I thought was one of the best shows ever, NBC kept telling us it was too sad and there needed to be more victories. So I think that the movie medium is better for us in that you can put your point of view out there without having so many cooks in the kitchen.
MM: How long did it take you to write the screenplay and get it into production?
JS: It was about a year-and-a-half process overall, from beginning to end.
MM: How did you come about getting it into production? Was it something that you had planned on pursuing or was it something that Judd read and then asked to produce?
JS: Judd had come to me and said that the only way I was ever going to play a leading man is if I wrote my own material. (laughs) So I set to work on writing and, shortly after The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he came up to me and said, “Listen, I think I’ve got a little juice to get movies made now, so if you have anything, let me know.” I told him about Forgetting Sarah Marshall, because I just about had the first act done, and he really liked the idea.
Like you said, the dynamic was right in our wheelhouse. So I started writing, finished it out and the next thing I knew Judd just really championed it through. It came right at a point where we had done The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, so the studio kind of decided that Judd knew what he was doing and it’s better not to interfere with a guy who was on a roll like that. So he used his power to help me get my movie made, which was really the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done.
MM: Did you always want to be a lead character in a movie? Was that your goal or did you have aspirations to write also?
JS: I’ve been writing since I was younger. I wrote my first script when I was 21 or 22, something like that, but I’ve been writing for about 10 years. My idols are guys like Albert Brooks and Woody Allen who write their own material and craft it and perform in it, so I feel very lucky.
MM: How did you feel when you were on set for the first day and everyone was reciting your lines—you saw them coming to life?
JS: It was so exciting for me. Someone asked me, “Was it a thrill to see great actors reading your material?” The truth is, it was a thrill to see such great actors changing my material and improving it. I got really blessed with an amazing cast.
MM: Nick Stoller said that there was a good deal of improvisation on the set. Did you write with that in mind—thinking that you would have a certain cast of characters, maybe who you’d worked with before?
JS: Well, I’d hoped that I would get some of this group of like-minded collaborators who did Virgin and Knocked Up to come and do parts of the movie. To be honest, I think it had very little to do with me and much more to do with the fact that it was shot in Hawaii.
MM: You said you look to Woody Allen and Albert Brooks for inspiration. Did you look to any movies in particular that inspired you, or any television shows that inspired you, for this movie?
JS: The template of Broadcast News inspired me a bit. I thought that the way they set up the love triangle was maybe one of my favorite dynamics I’ve ever seen in a movie, so I wanted to do something similar to that. I like the idea of having people caught up in the middle of attraction and not knowing which way to lean.