Jason Segel is such a charming, funny and genuinely nice guy that it’s easy to like him, as a person and as an actor. The fact that he has the talent to back all that up makes it impossible not to be a fan. In the new raunchy comedy Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz as the inappropriately foul-mouthed and ruthless middle school teacher Elizabeth Halsey, Segel plays happy-go-lucky gym teacher Russell Gettis. Unfazed by rejection, he keeps flirting with and pursuing Elizabeth, even though she has told him that it’s never going to happen because he’s just not rich enough for her.
At the film’s press day, Jason Segel spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview, in which he talked about working non-stop while juggling films with his television series How I Met Your Mother, his relationship with Rush since shooting I Love You, Man, how much fun he had working opposite Cameron Diaz for Bad Teacher, and the tremendous respect he has for Justin Timberlake. He also talked about what attracted him to Jeff Who Lives at Home (he’s seen the film and says it’s fantastic), The Muppets being a dream project, how great the Freaks & Geeks / Undeclared reunion was at PaleyFest earlier this year, how much he’s been enjoying shooting The Five-Year Engagement with Nic Stoller, and that he’d really like to eat a Reuben, once he’s done playing a leading man for that film. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JASON SEGEL: Unfortunately, I still haven’t had a break. I did Bad Teacher while I was doing the TV show. Bad Teacher was only a nine-day shoot for me, so that was nice. But then, I went straight from that into a movie in New Orleans that I shot (Jeff Who Lives At Home), and then back to the TV show. And then, I did Muppets while I was doing the TV show, which was seven-day weeks. And then, the day we wrapped the TV show, I flew out to Michigan to start the movie I’m doing now – The Five-Year Engagement. So, I haven’t had time to do anything fun. I’d like to take a vacation and see my friends. Also, I’m on this leading man diet right now because I have to be the sexy guy in this movie. I’d really like to eat a Reuben. I think the day we wrap, I’m going to have a serious Reuben.
After I Love You, Man, are you now on the VIP list for all Rush concerts?
SEGEL: Well, we also did a tour video for Rush that they showed during the tour, so they’re very nice to us. It’s a great relationship.
SEGEL: There are a lot of Rush fans, and Rush will be the first to admit that they’re almost exclusively middle-aged men. It’s guys in their 40’s, who go to the concerts together. It’s really funny to see. They’re just an amazing band. When you hear them play now, it’s still as good as the album you had when you were a kid. It’s amazing.
Having directed the short Jason Segel & Paul Rudd Meet Rush, do you have any other plans to direct?
SEGEL: I didn’t direct the short. (I Love You, Man director) John Hamburg directed the short. While I feel capable of directing, when I play a part, when I’m acting, there’s a part of me – true or not – that believes nobody could play this part better than me. And, when I’m writing something – true or not – there’s a part of me that thinks nobody could write it better than I could. When I think about directing something, that part of me doesn’t click in. I think I’d be capable of doing it, but I know three or four people, who are my friends, who could do it better. I could do it just for an ego boost, to say I’ve directed, but I’d rather the product be awesome and use one of my friends who knows what they’re doing. Jake Kasdan is born to direct. Nicholas Stoller is a director. It’s what he does, and who he is inside. I don’t have that feeling of, “This is what I do.” I feel like I could, but I don’t have that burning passion for it.
How much fun was it to work opposite Cameron Diaz, who is not only beautiful, but who also seems to be pretty fearless when it comes to this kind of comedy? Does that make it easier to try things without worrying about offending someone?
SEGEL: Absolutely! First of all, she’s so nice and gracious and kind, which I knew going in. I’ve never heard a bad word said about Cameron. Everyone just exalts on how nice and down-to-earth and humble she is, which is all true. She’s certainly beautiful, but she can do anything, which is really amazing. To be a woman in this business in not easy, and to have stayed on top and have been one of Hollywood’s leading ladies for this amount of time, is really, really impressive. I don’t know when The Mask was, but it’s been a good long time, and since that movie, she’s been on top. That’s pretty impressive.
How did you guys craft your amazing chemistry?
SEGEL: For me, when you’re involved in a cast like this, there’s a mutual admiration society element to it, especially when you’re off camera, sitting back in awe, watching great comedians do their thing. That’s always when I feel the luckiest and when I feel that I’ve tricked everyone. You’re sitting around watching people that are actually amazing at what you profess to do. It’s a very humbling experience.
Amongst all this mayhem that is going on in the story, was it a nice appeal to you to be the voice of reason?
SEGEL: It was really fun. To some extent, I’m the straight man. In a small way, I’m the eyes of the audiences. I’m the one who pops in and calls Elizabeth on her B.S., which is what the audience wants to do, at points. I’m the character who gets to voice that opinion. That was really fun. I got to come in and observe, and try to get a couple of zingers in there. It was very easy to act against Cameron.
Was it difficult to find a balance between making this guy unfazed by rejection, but not having him come across as a doormat?
SEGEL: Oh yeah, he’s the opposite of a doormat. I hate to admit it, because I don’t like to repeat myself, but I did a similar thing in Knocked Up. To me, what’s funny about it is that he’s a guy who’s walking around with all the confidence in the world, and it’s completely unjustified. He’s a guy with just unflappable confidence, for no reason. That just makes me laugh. It’s his response to rejection that makes him not a doormat. If a girl said to the doormat, “Why would I be with you? You’re fat,” the doormat would be like, “Oh, you’re right. Sorry.” My guy would be like, “I know what my body looks like. I think I look good. Call it what you want.” I like that guy. He’s the oddly confident guy.
What was it like to work with Justin Timberlake? What do you think of him as a comedian, especially after all of his work on Saturday Night Live?
SEGEL: Boy, I just couldn’t have more respect for him. That guy can really do anything, which is a quality I really admire in people and I strive for myself. I could say a million things about how amazing he is in the movie and all that, but the thing I’m most excited about is that I think I might have a new friend on my hands. We’re about the same age, we both like the same kind of things, and we got along famously, so I’m really excited about the prospect of having a buddy.
Did you have a teacher that resonated with you, whether good or bad?
SEGEL: I would like to give a shout out to a teacher named Ted Welch, who was my high school drama coach, at Harvey Westlake in the Valley. He really changed my life. I got to be in a high school play, and then I started working with Jake [Kasdan] and did Freaks and Geeks, 13 or 14 years ago now. That’s crazy! Right before I left, he said, “Don’t forget the best actor in the world is stuck doing dinner theater somewhere, so don’t ever get arrogant thinking you’re entitled to this.” It stayed with me.
What made you want to get involved with Jeff Who Lives At Home? Was there something specific that struck you about it?
SEGEL: Well, I just loved the script so much, and I loved the character, and I had really fallen in love with the Duplass brothers’ style. I don’t think they like the name of the movement, the Mumblecore Movement, but out of all those type of movies, Hump Day is just unbelievable. It’s one of my favorite movies, so I really fell in love with the idea of trying that style because I choose movies based on if they scare me or not. I don’t like to know I can do something. That just doesn’t excite me. To feel a little scared is what I’m chasing these days. I was nervous to play that part because it really required some hardcore honesty, which I have gotten close to, but it’s always been with a layer of funny attached. That naked break-up scene is really, really honest, but I had the safety net of knowing that, any time I needed a laugh, you could cut to the wide shot. There was a built-in safety net. You could just cut wide and the audience was going to laugh because I was naked. It’s tough when all you’ve got is your acting. That was a scary idea to me, but I really, really like it. I can’t wait for it to come out.
SEGEL: I’ve seen the movie. It’s fantastic!
You’re currently filming The Five-Year Engagement with Nic Stoller, who you also worked with on Forgetting Sarah Marshall. How has the experience been this time?
SEGEL: It’s been great! Nic and I have been working together pretty non-stop since Sarah Marshall. We started writing Muppets together, right after Sarah Marshall, which we produced together, and then were writing The Five-Year Engagement at the same time. We’ve become a real partnership. It’s really nice.
What do you enjoy about collaborating with him? Is there something that makes your styles really click?
SEGEL: Yeah, well, first of all, it’s really helpful to have a writing partner, just really simply for the time element. He and I are both very busy, so to have somebody who can pick up the slack when you’re too busy, and vice versa, is amazing. But furthermore, we share a sensibility. We are the two least masculine men in Hollywood. We love to write about men having emotions and women’s point of view, and all that. It’s nice that we see eye-to-eye tonally.
Was getting to do The Muppets a dream project for you?
SEGEL: Well, it was very difficult to make. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into, logistically and technically. It’s tricky. You have to build elevated sets and there was all sorts of stuff that I didn’t foresee. But, it was truly a dream come true. I can’t say enough about those puppeteers as well. Part of their job is to be invisible. You’re not supposed to think about the puppeteers when, in reality, these guys are actors, musicians, comedians and contortionists, a lot of the time. I was just in awe. I cried when they brought out Kermit, for the first time and he started saying stuff I wrote. It was crazy! It’s been four years in the making, but will be coming up at Thanksgiving time. I think we’ll all be very happy.
The PaleyFest event for Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared was amazing, and it really felt like a real reunion. How was that experience for you? Was that your first time you had gotten to see some of the cast since you wrapped?
SEGEL: We stay in touch. It was great! To be honest, while I know that we were all contributors to that experience, and some more than others, as Paul Feig wrote the pilot – he’s a creator of that show – what really got me was seeing what Judd [Apatow] has done for all the people that he mentored. You could look up on that stage and everyone is doing well, to varying degrees, and there’s no getting around the fact that it’s because of Judd. For as much as I felt like it was honoring and exalting the shows and all of us, I was more taken aback by what an amazing mensch Judd is. It was really cool! I felt very lucky.
How do you feel about this coming season of How I Met Your Mother? Are you proud of the fact that the show has managed to tackle some serious subject matter while still being extremely funny?
SEGEL: I’m very excited about the next couple of years. Unfortunately, it’s hard to answer How I Met Your Mother questions because we don’t know, in advance, what’s going to happen, even episode to episode. But, they did such an amazing job writing for all of us this season, and started exploring some more emotional arcs. I think that, if we stick with more of the same, we’re going to be in good shape. We’re very lucky.