INTERVIEW: Jason Segel And Mark Duplass Of "Jeff, Who Lives At Home"
Their new indie film, “Jeff, Who Lives At Home,” is an existential dramatic comedy that follows the film’s pot-smoking protagonist, Jeff, played by Jason Segel, after he finally slogs from the uninspired confines of his mother (Susan Sarandon)’s basement in search of wood glue. Along the way, a series of signs from the universe redirect the course of his odyssey to his self-involved brother, Pat, played by Ed Helms of “The Office,” and his potentially adulterous wife (Judy Greer).
In anticipation of the film’s March 16 release, Paramount—who bought the film from Indian Paintbrush Productions—hosted an exclusive Q&A in which Duplass and Segel playfully answered questions from college student-journalists from across the nation. Questions ranged from those about the effect of improvisation and dark humor in “Jeff, Who Lives At Home,” to genuine inquiries on how Segel plays Sarandon’s son while crushing on her.
On Jeff in “Jeff, Who Lives At Home”
Jeff is a 30-year-old is in the pursuit of inspiration, driven by a childish fascination with M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.” Segel admits, though, that he drew inspiration from his own search for motivation and signs of upcoming success, as a stoned 20-year-old himself.
“As opposed to Jeff where he was waiting for a sign, I was waiting to be cast,” says Segel. “I guess now there is a parallel to that because you’re considering someone casting you as a sign that you’re worthy. I think I related back to this time where you’re kind of bopping around and you have a sense that your destiny is do something. Mine was to be an actor, but I was kind of waiting for the world to present that opportunity to me.”
But when asked what initially drove Segel to the part, Duplass begged to differ.
“The answer is perfect writing,” he answered cheekily.
“Yes, there you go,” Segel agreed. “Well said.”
On Movies vs. Television
Segel, best known for his role as Marshall in the hit sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” disclosed that he prefers working on movies than television. You might ask why, seeing as the endearingly optimistic Marshall has nothing on the dirty, air-guitar playing Sydney Fife in “I Love You, Man” or the mopey Peter Bretter in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
“I think I like working on the movies better because it’s such a concentrated amount of time,” he said. “Your job for like three months is to focus on a character and then you get to leave it behind; whereas when you do something for eight years, it becomes a little bit more like going to school.”
But worry not, cultish “How I Met Your Mother” enthusiasts. Segel clarified that he enjoys working on both movies and television. However, he cautions journalists to refrain from asking him who the show’s title “mother” is. That, and questions on whether Amy Adams or Miss Piggy is the bigger diva on set are extremely prohibited.
“Finally after months of press, I was like I’m an adult, Miss Piggy is a puppet, please quit asking me this question,” Segel said with a laugh. Seriously though, don’t ask him either of those things.
On Creative Inspiration & Taking the Director’s Seat
While Mr. Nice Guy Segel may object to silly recurring queries, he admits a borderline plagiaristic love rooted in Broadcast News, where nuanced relationships reveal themselves in abundance. He explains, “It’s that you can have a love triangle where one of the people isn’t clearly the wrong choice. You can have a complicated love triangle where no one is the bad guy; there is no villain because that’s what life is like. It’s not complicated.”
Though Segel employs such an established creative vision through his role as Actor/Writer/Producer, he clarified that this may not necessarily apply to a future as Director, too.
“I think to do anything creatively you have to have a real sense of confidence and I think to some extent arrogance, even if it’s false,” explains Segel earnestly. “And when I start writing a script, I think no one could write this better than me. Even if I’m wrong, I do believe that,” he says. “I have yet to feel about directing like no one could direct this better than me. I don’t see a point of me doing it just for the sake of saying I’ve directed. That seems like pride based and it’s not really how I operate.”
As opposed to Broadcast News, the quirky Duplass brothers’ love of what they refer to as the iconic “loveable loser person personalities” is anchored in documentaries, in which the protagonist is frequently an unlikely hero—much like Jeff.
“I’m constantly drawn to people who—despite the fact that all the odds are stacked against them—are going for glory in their lives,” says Duplass. “It just inspires me and makes me laugh, too, particularly when they are ill-equipped to achieve that glory like Jeff is.”
On the Duplass Brothers
Duplass and his brother Jay have teamed up on numerous indie, dark comedy pictures, including 2005’s “The Puffy Chair” and “Cyrus” in 2010. With the threat of sibling rivalry and the immense task of maintaining a shared creative vision, how do these two fashion movie magic?
According to Duplass, the mutual understanding that making an entertaining film is almost impossible anchors their working relationship’s harmony. “Whatever conflicts might arise between us are quickly dwarfed by the Herculean task of trying to make a feature film that doesn’t suck,” he said.
Perhaps a fascination with documentary filmmaking explains the Duplass Brothers’ focus on the human story, too. He says, “Jay and I are just obsessed with the performance. And if you work with us as an actor, you’ll quickly figure out that we don’t give a shit what the lighting looks like and we don’t give a shit whether the camera moves in this cool way.”
“And you have to make sure,” Duplass continued, “that you give all that love and attention to your actors so you can get the most important part of the story right, which is those human performance that hopefully make your movie unique.”
On Nailing the Scene
How do Segel and Duplass know when an actor has nailed the scene? For starters, they try not to.
“I hate when I can tell an actor knows he’s nailed a scene,” says Segel resentfully. “It’s my least favorite thing to like catch a little glimpse of when I’m watching a movie, to see someone be a little bit proud of themselves.”
Duplass agreed, adding that his basic rule of thumb is that if “you’re ever asking yourself the question of “do we have it?” you definitely don’t have it.”
Rather, according to Duplass, filmmaking requires a more confident and laid-back approach. “As soon as you stop drilling that question, you usually feel like you’ve got a sense of it,” he said. “At the end of the day, a lot of it’s just about trusting your gut.”
On Favorite Filming Moments
For Duplass, the real fun came out of this being his first film with a car scene, not to mention a speeding Porsche with Segel swinging out of the sun roof.
For Segel, the thrill came out of finally writing a movie which he did not have a role in writing or producing. “I got to just be invited to the party without having to prepare all the food and decorations,” he said. “And so my job was to show up and have a good time at the party. I really enjoyed that element of it.”
“Yes” Duplass agreed. “You showed up, you ate all the fucking humus and you left before doing the dishes. It was perfect.”
“I drank a fair amount of the booze too…” said Segel.
Speaking of humus and booze… Segel admits to gaining 25 pounds during filming.
“To me, in addition to all of the complicated themes, it’s also the very subtle story of a man who gains 25 pounds over one day,” Segel disclosed.
“It’s the Benjamin Button of weight gain.”
On Susan Sarandon
Duplass was the first to admit his star struck-ness upon meeting Academy Award nominated Sarandon, who he bashfully calls a “screen legend slash goddess who, make no mistake, is smoking hot.”
“She was very humble in saying, ‘You know I haven’t done this a lot before, I know that you guys have and I’m interested in exploring.’ And kind of placed herself in a position, as crazy as this sounds, [where she learned] from us bit about the comedic improvisation process,” gushed Duplass.
He continued to describe his fascination with Sarndon’s humility, especially with regards to improvisation, which was heavily used throughout the film’s production which was, as Duplass calls it, “100 percent the spirit of collaboration.”
While Duplass was preoccupied with not embarrassing himself or offending Sarandon with his “juvenile film making tactics,” Segel focused his attention on, essentially, trying to keep it in his pants. “I’ve had a crush on Susan Sarandon for such a long time,” says Segel, “and just to suppress that I was wildly attracted to the woman playing my mom was easily the hardest part of the movie for me.”
“That’s a whole other movie,” says Duplass. “There’s a whole bunch of takes that are just useless because it’s basically Jason salivating.”
“Jeff, Who Lives At Home” opens March 16 to select theaters.
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