Bleary-eyed and bedraggled, Jason Segel entered a room in Manhattan's Parker Meridien hotel last Sunday for the final interview of a five-day, six-city media blitz in support of his new buddy comedy, "I Love You, Man," opening Friday. In the film, directed and co-written by John Hamburg, Segel plays a freewheeling layabout who teaches a wimpy metrosexual (Paul Rudd) how to become a bona fide dude.
Segel, like Rudd, Seth Rogen and, to some extent, James Franco, comes from what he calls the Judd Apatow "factory for comedy." In Apatow's 1999-2000 teen series, "Freaks and Geeks," Segel played Nick Andopolis, the wannabe rock drummer. Apatow produced " Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which Segal starred in and wrote. And it was while shooting Apatow's 2007 hit comedy, "Knocked Up," that Segel first acted with Rudd.
Though laid-back and affable in person (he uses "bro" as a greeting), Segel may be hiding a Type A personality. He worked 20-hour days to shoot "I Love You, Man" while also starring in the CBS sitcom " How I Met Your Mother." He's co-writing two more scripts, one for Apatow called "The Five Year Engagement," and another for the Muppets. And next month he leaves for London to shoot "Gulliver's Travels" with Jack Black. Keeping a much-needed mug of coffee close at hand, Segel spoke to Newsday's Rafer Guzmán.
You started out as a television actor. Was it always your goal to be a movie actor?
I don't really differentiate between TV and movie acting, except that the schedule and life of a movie actor is much nicer. The TV schedule is great, but it makes it impossible to do more than one movie a year. You should theoretically have a couple months off after you finish shooting a movie, but I usually finish a movie the day before I start doing "How I Met Your Mother."
During "Freaks and Geeks," did you ever think: This guy Apatow might be good to know in the future?
I thought he was a good guy to know because I like him a lot. I'm surprised and honored and thrilled that he turned out to be the most loyal man I've ever met. He's looked after us. I didn't go to college so I could do "Freaks and Geeks," and some people got plucked out of high school to do it. And I think when the show got canceled, he may have felt a sense of responsibility for these kids who didn't have college educations! But he should certainly be guilt-free - he's been so kind to all of us.
Your "Freaks and Geeks" character, Nick, was a Rush fan. And this new character is also a Rush fan. Coincidence?
As a matter of fact, in John's original script, he had me drum " The Spirit of Radio." And Paul and I both looked at him, like: You know I did this in "Freaks and Geeks"? This exact scene? He claims it was a total coincidence, but I think it was one of those memories that was in his subconscious.
How much of this movie is improvised?
There are some scenes that are entirely improvised. For example, our first man date - there was no scripted dialogue. We went to the restaurant, and John set up something called simultaneous overs, so you don't have to re-create things later. He set up these shots and said, "All right, for the next few hours your job is to just act like you are enjoying each other's company and getting to know each other." And they just kept bringing us out fish tacos and fake beer.
Actors like you and Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen - is there some particular quality you guys share that creates a camaraderie on screen?
What it might be is a pridelessness about working with each other. It's sort of like a great basketball team: You have to be willing to be the guy that throws the pass. Paul Rudd was excited to come do a part in "Sarah Marshall," and in the next movie he's the lead. I played a small part in "Knocked Up," then was the lead in "Sarah Marshall," and now I'm a supporting actor in this. If any one of us became too egotistical, they'd be knocked down so quickly - they'd be thrown off the Apatow Wheel of Talent.