Jason Segel shows off (his talent and his body) in 'Sarah Marshall'
Nothing’s left to the imagination, at least when it comes to Jason Segel’s anatomy, in the new comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Just a few minutes in, when the title character, played by Kristen Bell, is breaking up with Segel’s character, Peter Bretter, there he is, in all his glory, stark naked, fully frontal, getting the bad news.
Segel, who was Nick on “Freaks and Geeks,” Eric on “Undeclared,” and now is Marshall on “How I Met Your Mother,” credits his show-all scene to Judd Apatow, who produced those shows as well as “Sarah Marshall.”
“Judd has been slowly undressing me on camera for 10 years,” says the soft-spoken, laid-back, very dry Segel during a publicity stop in Boston. “It started on ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ He had me in little Speedo underwear. On ‘Undeclared,’ there was just a towel. In ‘Knocked Up,’ I was naked but covering myself. And now he’s achieved his goal.”
But Segel, who also wrote “Sarah Marshall,” admits that it was his idea to put the raunchy and very funny sight gag in the film.
“I actually did have a naked breakup,” he says. “I got dumped while I was naked, and literally, while I was trying to experience this moment between two people, all I was thinking was, ‘This is hilarious, and at some point, I will put this in a movie.’ I wasn’t listening to a word she said. I was just thinking, ‘Leave, so I can write this down.’ ”
It was in his native Los Angeles, where Segel was stuck taking a boring art history class in high school, that he crossed paths with acting.
“I would sneak in to the drama room and take a play off the shelf, and read it during that class to keep myself entertained,” he recalls. “I read Edward Albee’s ‘The Zoo Story,’ and I just loved it; that monologue seemed like such a challenge.”
It was a challenge he took. He got permission from the head of the acting department to put on a production of the two-character play with a pal. The teacher was so impressed, he asked him to come to a mock audition class he was holding. Little did Segel know he was being set up.
“I went, and it was him and this woman, and they kept giving me pages to read,” he says. “A week later, my parents sat me down and told me the woman was the president of casting at Paramount Pictures. It was really a secret audition, and they had been talking to my parents all week. Then they said to me, ‘If you want to get started, they want to get you agents and managers and get you going.’”
That led to small parts here and there, and finally to an audition for “Freaks and Geeks.”
“I was reticent to go because of the title,” he says. “It sounded like a Nickelodeon show, and I didn’t know who Judd Apataow was at the time. But my agent said Judd was a guy you at least want to go in and read for.”
Apatow was so impressed with Segel’s improvisation skills, he gave him the part. He also told Segel that if he could improvise so well, he could also learn to write, then began to teach him the basics: outlining a script, turning an outline into a beat sheet, taking the outline to script form.
He sold an early one – a kids adventure movie that never got made – wrote a few more, then hit pay dirt with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the story of a nice guy who loses his girlfriend to a rock star (British comic Russell Brand), then tries to get her back but meets someone new (Mila Kunis) in the process.
“The script was purchased almost immediately,” says a still-surprised Segel. “I was at a Laker game with Judd on a Thursday. This was shortly after ‘40 Year Old Virgin’ had come out. Judd said to me, ‘I’m pretty sure I can get movies made now. If you’re still writing, you should write something for yourself.’ I told him I had been writing this thing called ‘Sarah Marshall’ and had finished the first act. He liked the idea and said, ‘Well then what happens?’ So we started riffing on it, and by the fourth quarter, we were laughing and going back and forth. He said, ‘Tomorrow, send me your first act and an outline for the rest of the movie.’ So I went home and busted my ass that night. On Friday I sent him all my stuff. On Monday, the contracts arrived from Universal. That was the new power of Judd Apatow.”
But it’s only the beginning for Segel as a leading man and, he hopes, as a successful scriptwriter. When he finds any downtime from “How I Met Your Mother,” he manages to get some work done on a script for a new Muppet movie. He met people from the Henson Company when they made some Muppet-like characters for a Dracula musical sequence in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
“While I was on a tour of the Henson studios, I noticed that none of the original Muppets was there,” he says. “I asked them why and they said, ‘We don’t own it anymore, Disney does.’ So I went to Disney with this little bit of newfound juice that I have and I said, ‘Listen, guys, I want to write a new Muppet movie. I want to bring the Muppets back to their old glory.’
“I’m not a big fan of Muppets underwater, or Muppets in the old West,” he adds. “I like the old Muppet movies where it was about putting on a show, and helping each other, and friendship.”
He stops and smiles and says, “I’m halfway through the script.”
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” opens April 18.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.