Andre Dellamorte goes to the set of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL

     October 2, 2007

Written by Andre Dellamorte

There is much talk about films shooting out of the country to save money, but for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, not only were they shooting the film in America, not only in Los Angeles, the day they invited me (and a handful of journos) to the set, they were shooting on Sunset Boulevard.

Since there is no greater Hollywood Street, we were ushered into a bar (next to a leather shop called Rough Trade) that had been transformed into a Hawaiian paradise. The film had already shot for a while in Hawaii, but returned for interiors in the Continental US. The day of the visit they were shooting star and screenwriter Jason Segel (of How I met Your Mother, Knocked Up and Freaks and Geeks fame) as he was chatting with Mila Kunis about how horribly things were going with his ex, Sarah Marshall (played by Kristen Bell), right before they broke up.

The premise of the film is that Peter (Segel) has become something of an accessory to his more famous girlfriend. He’s a composer and she’s an actress, and when her show Scene of the Crime takes off, he feels emasculated. So they break up, and he heads to Hawaii to forget her, when it turns out that she’s also gone to Hawaii with her new rock star boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand, in what will surely be a career-defining performance). It’s there he meets Kunis’s Rachael, who has relationship problems of her own.

It’s just Segel and Kunis on set – along with a smattering of extras – but between set-ups the amenable director Nick Stoller agrees to show us some footage from Scene of the Crime (with a great Billy Baldwin doing some Caruso-esque non-sequiturs), and footage of Brand, Bill Hader, and Jonah Hill doing some business (not to mention unshown Jack McBrayer and Kristen Wiig, who reportedly killed in their bits, but Kunis will have some more to say about that). I felt bad when I started in with Stoller as I was bluntly curious how someone with little behind the camera experience got his shot. But he was within the Apatow family, having worked on Undeclared and Fun with Dick and Jane, and he pitched it. With that out of the way, a look at the footage, and hearing the punch-lines he was getting, it was hard not to root for him.

Watching Stoller work, you could tell he’d been on a couple of Apatow sets as the approach was similar. He would let Jason go, and occasionally throw him ideas. Segel riffed on his role as “manny” in Marshall’s life, on turning down the chance to score Hostel 2 (see, he would have gone a different direction than expected), and how much he loves Tony Roma’s Onion Loaf. Kunis kept feeding him the lines, and showed a great ability to pull a Margaret Dumont (or that is to say, not lose it) when Segel would summon some business that killed (a Bentley Farnsworth name check will always guarantee a laugh. From me.)

As the set-ups switched and lunch was readied, I got a chance to sit with both Kunis and Segel with Jeremy Smith (aka Mr. Beaks) from Chud at the table. Basically the two of us offered all the Q’s, so I was pretty happy how it turned out, and not just because of the flirty vibe. Check it. First up was Mila.

We were on the set of Knocked Up, and it seems that there’s a lot of playing. It feels really loose. Does it feel like coming to work?

Mila Kunis: No it does not feel like coming to work at all. I’m a little hungry. Other than that.

We apologize.

Kunis: No it’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s awesome, it’s probably the best gig you can ask for. Half the time I don’t know what we’re doing or what we’re shooting. Half the stuff is for DVD, half the stuff is for the movie. And everybody’s worked together for such a long time. And they know what they’re doing, and I trust them.

So you just roll with it?

Kunis: Yeah. It’s fun.

Does it change your process?

Kunis: My process? You know Bobby and I talk about our processes…. No, it doesn’t effect my process, it’s a romantic comedy, and just a really great group of people, and they’ve done this a million times. So it’s a great cast, great crew.

Do you feel like you’re being brought in to the family, as it were?

Kunis: Exactly! It’s like being in Junior High, not being the cool kid yet, cause you’re about to go into to high school, and you get there and the cool kids are like “Come on in!” Jason’s been working with Judd (Apatow) for ten years now, you know? It’s really fun.

Did you know Jason before?

Kunis: No

Cause often when people are brought on to these projects, it’s like being brought in to the fold.

Kunis: I honestly don’t know. I know I’ve met with Judd and Shauna (Robertson, Apatow’s producing partner) for other projects before. And I know I really wanted to work with them, but you never know. And then this came along and I was like “Hell yeah!” Jason is rad. I’m just going with it.

Well, this is the team to be with right now.

Kunis: Is it ever? Awesome. You’ve got to appreciate things around you.

So, most of your scenes are opposite Jason, who wrote the screenplay, so when you variate, does he ever get pissed?

Kunis: We don’t even go by the dialogue, haven’t you been watching? You kind of have to stick to the outline of the scene, and all of them, Judd and Jason and Seth (Rogen, who does not appear to be in the movie) go on these tantrums and rants, and Kristen (Bell) and I just sit there, cause that’s not where we come from. We don’t come from improv and we’re not that good at it, but that takes some skills. So you just go with and add your five cents where you can. And it’s like that every take.

Is that the challenge? To not laugh.

Kunis: It’s a challenge, a challenge I failed at many times. I like to laugh apparently. Apparently I laugh at everything, but I’m going to go with my character laughing at it. Russell Brand is hysterical. Oh my god, he’s brilliant.

One of my friends described him as being from another planet.

Kunis: Absolutely. He’s like a whole other species of person. But I don’t get any cameos. Nothing. I accidentally walked on to set with (Billy) Baldwin. I’m like “What are you doing here?” He said “I’m in the movie.” Oh wait I did get a cameo. Bill Hader.

Is it a cameo or a smaller role?

Kunis: Good call. I’m guessing a smaller role. He plays Jason’s brother, the script has gone through so many changes And he is great in it. It’s a great cameo, or supporting role.

It’s got to be good to be doing this finally, you had That 70’s Show, and Family Guy, which you’re probably best known for now, so you’re probably doing a film

Me: And American Psycho 2

Kunis: Oh shut up, you. You! What was the question?

Oh, no it’s just you’re doing a big feature film now, it’s got to be good for the career.

Kunis: Yeah. Maybe. It’s so hard for me to explain. You could do a huge movie and it would do nothing for you. You could do the smallest independent movie and all of a sudden you skyrocket. To go by the fact that this isn’t an independent movie you just never know. But I’ve never worked on a production like this, and I’ve actually had food. (laughs)and you know, all the amenities you’d expect. It’s a blessing; it’s great. Do I think it’s going to help any part of my career? I don’t fucking care. It makes no difference to me. I did That 70’s. I don’t need to work for the sake of working. I really appreciate my private life. I don’t know if fame is something people particularly understand. When they want it, and then when you have it, you don’t want it so much and so this movie’s good. That’s the only thing I pray for, that people enjoy it and laugh.

That’s an interesting luxury to have.

Kunis: It’s an insane luxury, and lucky. It’s insane at 23 I don’t have to work. So I don’t have to do movies like American Psycho 2, which I did when was 16! So it is, I like independent films, but when this came along, I got worried about a big production. It’s been amazing. I’ve been enjoying my trailer and being picked up in the morning.

Did you have to audition for this?

Kunis: This was a different process. I was doing another film in Canada, and I was called to do a table read, and because Judd was involved I said “of course” Nine months ago, very different script. And then they called me four or five months later, and the table read was just to see if it could be made, and then we met and hung out, but at that point, it was a completely different movie.

Can you think of one improv that by far and away the best?

Kunis: I can tell you exactly. Jack McBrayer’s in this and he has a line. He plays Kenneth the Page on 30 Rock. And he plays one of the young married couples…

At this point Kunis is ushered out and doesn’t ruin Jack’s joke. And Jason comes in. But for the interview….

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Segel: How’s it going, dudes?

Pretty good, how are you?

Segel: Pretty good. Cause I work every day and it’s been almost three months now. We’ve got two weeks left.

What time were you here?

Segel: This morning wasn’t too bad, it was at 7. That isn’t too bad. Usually it’s a 5:45 pick up.

No one should be up that early.

Segel: No, and I’m not a good sleeper. Cause I’m think about stuff, or doing a rewrite, so I’m up until 2 every night. I don’t know how I’ve been doing it, but I’ll manage. Luckily my character is also a wreck.

Is it harder to be funny in the morning?

Segel: You know it’s weird because sometimes you can get a loopy kind of rhythm, that might not make sense or be applicable to what you’re shooting, but funny stuff comes out out of sheer exhaustion.

Tell us about the script

Segel: It’s sort of an amalgam of a lot of interesting and failed relationships I’ve had. I found dating to be a very interesting topic. It’s always so awkward. So it was very fun to write this. And I got very lucky, I was at a Laker game with Judd, and Judd said “if you’ve got any movie ideas, I can get them made now, so let me know” so I pitched him this idea around the second qurter, and by the fourth quarter we were riffing back and forth. And he said “do me a favor, write up an outline and send it to me tomorrow.” And I did, and that was on a Friday, and by Monday contracts were to Universal. So that’s the power of Judd Apatow.

Things have changed since Freaks and Geeks.

Segel: Man! It’s been hard to play up this underdog role when Judd is producing 25 movies at a time.

He says he’s expecting a backlash at any time now.

Segel: I’m just hoping it’s not this movie. One of us is going to be the iceberg that sinks the Titanic, and I’m just praying it’s not this one.

We were loving what we were seeing today.

Segel: You through a lot of improv against the wall and you see what sticks. It’s fun. Judd’s system has been honed over the last ten years and it really works. And then you hire talented, funny people, and you trust them and let them go, and with Mila, and Kristen and Russell Brand… People ask “is it a dream come true to hear your words read by an actor” and the truth is the dream come true is hearing my lines improved by other actors.

And watching the family grow. We were saying to Mila that she’s sort of part of the family now, and Kristen Bell

Segel: Yeah

Like Diane Keaton in the Godfather.

Segel: Yeah! This Russell Brand is going to be huge, he’s just unreal. We found Brand after a last minute casting issue. We needed to find this lead role, and so we opened it up to anyone to come in. It was originally written to be a British author, and then we said they don’t need to be British, they just need to be charming and good looking, and Russell walks in, and he looks kind of like Mick Jagger, big flowing hair. And the first words out of his mouth when he walked in were “You have to forgive me, I’ve only had a chance to take a cursory glance at your screenplay, perhaps you should tell me what it is you require?” (laughs) And Nick and I locked eyes and said “That’s the dude. We’re rewriting. That is the dude.” And so we rewrote to be this rock star, and he’s got this swagger. A swagger combined with a disconnection from reality. His opening line in the film is that he walks into one scene holding a sandal saying “I’ve lost me sandal. If you see the sandal, please send it to the room.“ And that’s just him improv-ing, it’s really funny.

You and the director seem to have a good shorthand

Segel: Yeah, we’ve been friends for ten years. He wrote my Undeclared episodes. So that’s where our joined love of tragedy was born.

Is this character an extention of the one in Undeclared?

Segel: He is a tiny bit. He’s a different kind of guy, he has a different center, but it’s the same subject matter. The same desperation, and feeling like you’re drowning.

Are there any collages then?

Segel: No, but there are some montages which serve the same function.

It would be great if David Krumoltz and Kyle Gass showed up, I watched the DVD of Tenacious D recently and saw that you guys had a re-union that was cut out of the movie.

Segel: Yeah, we did have a reunion and it was cut out of the movie but it was fun to shoot.

You were talking about listening to actors improve your lines, but have you found yourself getting precious at all?

Segel: No. This whole little fraternity is about collaboration, and that’s why it works. I do a part in Knocked Up, Jonah Hill came and did a little part in this, and he has Superbad. And Paul Rudd did a little part in this. It’s just this group where we all just trust in each other to work on this thing you wrote alone while in your apartment. I don’t get precious at all, I feel grateful.

How many more screenplays do have in you, is this something you’re going to keep pursuing?

Segel: Yeah, this is the third that I’ve written. I’ve got another set up now. And I want to write something else for Judd.

Do you want to step away from the acting side of it?

Segel: I like to write stuff for myself, and my friends. I don’t think I have to be the lead in stuff I’m writing, but it’s hard enough getting acting jobs, why not combine your goals?

How good are Judd’s Laker seats?

Segel: (laughs) I can’t tell you how good they are.

Do you get Nikes at the end?

Segel: I can’t tell you what you get at the end. (Segel smiles) I can’t talk about Judd’s Laker seats. I can’t, I’ll get in trouble.

Is Martin Starr working on a script?

Segel: I’m sure he’s working on one, yeah.


Segel: Thank you.

And then we had lunch, and saw two takes of Segel playing something from his musical about Dracula. Played to a click track, Segel played the role of Dracula, who has a twisted relationship with Van Helsing. It was hilarious, and sets up Forgetting Sarah Marshall as a film to keep an eye on when it comes out in the summer of 2008.

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