I sat down with actor/writer/producer Jason Segel today at the Austin Film Festival to discuss his colorful career. Since I was holding a microphone instead of pen and paper, I didn’t get great notes on the talk or exact quotes, but these are few of the winning anecdotes from an artist who is as affable, humble and approachable as fans of his imagine him to be. (All quotes are paraphrases based on my memory.)
- Not the cool dude. When auditioning for “Freaks and Geeks,” Segel was worried that he and a young James Franco might be trying out for the same part. When they were told they both got hired, Segel somewhat perplexed told Franco on the way to their cars that, “I guess I’ll play the awkward guy and you’ll play the cool guy.” To which Franco cooly responded, “Uh, yea.”
- Segel loves the ethos surrounding “The Muppets,” a franchise which he helped reboot — “A bunch of weirdos make a family.”
- The Muppet to which he best relates: Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear.
- When doing a table read of “The Muppets” script, Kermit appeared out of a trunk about 20 minutes into the reading and an unsuspecting Segel burst into tears.
- Segel didn’t originally write the Dracula puppet musical for the end of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” He wrote it after “Freaks and Geeks” got cancelled and before making “Sarah Marshall.” Judd Apatow had instructed Segel to write his own material. So, after finishing that musical around midnight one night, Segel called Apatow and asked if he could come show him something. Apatow relented and Segel showed up to screen the Dracula love story. Segel intended it as an earnest artistic expression. When it ended, Apatow looked at Segel and said, “You can never show this to anyone.”
- The first thing Segel, who suffers from night terrors, wrote was a screenplay entitled “Nightmares Beware,” about a kid who battles his nightmares. He has since turned the idea into a series of children’s books.
- Segel loved musicals as a child and when he attended his older (much cooler, alpha male) brother’s camps, he jumped up at the chance to perform a talent and sang “Castle on a Cloud,” a song usually performed by a young girl, in its entirety.
- Two informative pieces for Segel as an artist: the documentary “Beauty is Embarrassing,” which encouraged him to identify himself as an artist and own it, and the Christopher Vogler book “The Writer’s Journey,” which helped him understand story structure.
- Being in the moment. Segel said that as they filmed the dancing scene for “The Muppets,” a large billboard of Jim Henson installed at a museum was overlooking the shot, by complete coincidence. Here was in the middle of a scenario you could never dream to imagine — a young man remaking one of his most beloved childhood movies — and all he could think about was, “What am I going to do next.” Segel said that hindsight has allowed him to realize he needs to be more present and appreciative of the moment.
- His advice to a young writer looking to write autobiographical material: I write about one of the hardest, most embarrassing moments in your life and set it on a tropical island.
After his chat, I talked to Segel about his final day of shooting “How I Met Your Mother” and what he learned from “Freaks and Geeks” creator and 2016 Austin Film Festival Extraordinary Contribution to Film awardee Paul Feig.