Fresh from his starring role in “The Muppets,” Jason Segel plays another man-child who can’t seem to grow up in “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
Segel plays the title character, a thirtysomething slacker, who can’t seem to conform to society’s—and especially his older brother’s—expectations by getting a job and moving out of his mother’s Baton Rouge, La., basement.
Jeff spends his days watching the sci-fi movie “Signs,” smoking pot and generally ignoring the simple household chores his exasperated mother (played by Oscar winner Susan Sarandon) assigns him. His life takes a dramatic turn when he one day leaves the house to go on a shopping errand.
The film was co-written and co-directed by sibling filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass, both New Orleans natives, whose previous film, “Cyrus,” also was a comedic character study.
“Jeff” also stars “The Hangover’s” Ed Helms and “The Descendants’” Judy Greer.
Best known for his work in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Bad Teacher,” the 6-foot-4-inch tall Segel recently talked about his new movie and what it was like to play a loveable loser.
Q: Could you relate to this character?
Segel: Yes. I remember a period in my life when I was out of work, and I was sitting there waiting for someone to cast me. It very much was like Jeff. From (ages) 21 to 25, it was a crazy out-of-work period. It was before I really started writing. I remember very much just sitting there thinking like I’m going to wait for the sign that I’m worthy of being an actor.
Q: What was the sign?
Segel: It hasn’t happened yet. No, it really hasn’t. Some day.
Q: There’s a scene where you jump off a bridge. How did you psyche yourself up to do it?
Segel: It felt crazy. I did something smart. I told everybody that I was going to do the jump so that when it came time, I couldn’t not do it because I’d told everyone I was going to do it. So I had to. I had family visiting and I couldn’t let them down.
Q: You’re funny here on a whole other level than you are on your TV series, “How I Met Your Mother.” What does it take to be funny?
Segel: I was just born hilarious, but beyond that, this movie was a no-brainer for me. I read the script and it was just very clear what my job was. It was to show up and be regular. It was just so well written. There was no need to like talk about what the character’s motivation was or anything like that. It was nice work.
Q: What does it take to get someone off the couch and out of their comfort zone?
Segel: I’m still trying to figure that out.
Q: What did you like about your slacker character?
Segel: He won’t compromise. He is very, very pure.
Q: The directors seemed to have a good time squeezing you into small places in this film. What was most uncomfortable for you—being crammed into a Porsche or hiding behind the candy machine?
Segel: My favorite small moment was wearing the little coat (in the scene at a restaurant). That was my favorite moment. It reminded me of Peter Sellers so much. Not to in any way compare myself, but it was like my little moment of getting to do a little physical comedy, a big guy in a little coat. I had a really good time that day.
Q: What was it like working in Baton Rouge?
Segel: I’m afraid we faked New Orleans for Baton Rouge. I had way too good a time in New Orleans, though. The movie takes place in one day, and yet I gained 25 pounds while (shooting) there. We shot as much as we could chronologically. As many themes as we have, the movie is really about a guy who gains 25 pounds over one day. (He laughs.) I walk through a doorway and I’m 10 pounds heavier on the other side. It’s remarkable.
Q: What’s harder, doing the serious scenes, the funny scenes or improvising?
Segel: I don’t like it when I see somebody trying to be funny. To me the whole goal, whether it’s comedy or drama, is just being natural, being really irregular. That’s my goal. If it ends up being funny, it’s because we happen to be funny naturally. I didn’t think about if it was a dramatic scene or a comedic scene.
Q: What was your preparation process like?
Segel: My job was to show up and really understand what the scenes were about and know what the point of them was, and then just be completely open to whatever was going to happen. The only preparation you had to do was really understand what the point of what you were doing was. Beyond that, you had to be ready to just be like painfully honest.
Q: Mark and Jay chose to shoot a lot of the film in very tight close ups. How does that affect the way you do a character when you realize you’re going to have a dermatological exam and appear 40-feet high on a movie screen?
Segel: It never felt like (the Duplasses were saying) “here’s your close up.” There was never the moment of “now it’s time to act. We’re going in tight on you.” I was just supposed to act the whole time. Honestly, it was the best experience ever. They never made us recreate a moment of magic. Everything got to be genuine.
Q: There’s a scene where you slap someone on the face. Have you ever actually slapped someone in real life?
Segel: No, I’ve never slapped anyone. I’m a gentle giant.
Q: Are you coming back for “The Muppets” sequel?
Segel: No. My goal was to bring the Muppets back (to the movies), and I think I achieved that. It took half a decade of my life, and I just want to take a minute to concentrate on more human-related projects.