JASON SEGEL on 'FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
June 27, 2007 (Introduction updated April 2008)
In the self-described "romantic disaster comedy" Forgetting Sarah Marshall, struggling musician Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) finds himself in a world of emotional torment after getting dumped by his actress girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Constantly reminded of her, Peter decides to escape to Hawaii for a much-needed vacation, only to find that Sarah and her new boyfriend, rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), are staying at the same hotel. The entire getaway becomes a string of awkward encounters, but Peter finds solace with a girl named Rachel (Mila Kunis), an employee of the hotel with whom he seems to click.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall continues a series of beloved hit comedies produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson that includes The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad. Jason Segel of TV's How I Met Your Mother and Apatow's short-lived Freaks and Geeks serves double duty as star and screenwriter of the film, which features cameos by several Apatow regulars like Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Bill Hader.
While the movie was shot mostly on location in Hawaii, some of it was filmed in Los Angeles, with the City of Angels masquerading as a tropical paradise. Last year, we had the opportunity to visit one of the LA sets, where Jason Segel and Mila Kunis were shooting a day's worth of bar scenes. The duo filmed a few relationship-centered moments, and Jason did some entertaining singing (his character has the odd aspiration of putting together a Dracula musical). In between takes, director Nicholas Stoller showed us clips from the hilarious Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime, the fake forensics drama in which the character of Sarah Marshall stars. Pop culture fans will get a kick out of the various TV and film references to be found in this movie.
During a short break, we also had the opportunity to speak to stars Jason Segel and Mila Kunis. In this interview, Jason talks about taking his script to the big screen, working with Kristen Bell, and filming in Hawaii. We were fortunate to be one of only three outlets in this particular interview, so it was an enjoyable, laid back chat. And even amidst all the shooting, Jason remained upbeat and seemed very grateful that fans have been taking a shine to his work in recent years.
MEDIA: I have to start by saying that How I Met Your Mother is one of my favorite shows...
JASON: Oh, thanks! [laughs] Thank you, man, I appreciate it.
Throughout the day, we've been watching you do multiples takes on various scenes. How much of that is completely improvised, and how much has a general outline?
Well, it's the Judd style, which we've sort of honed for the past ten years, our little group. We come in and we shoot the script. And then from there, I think the idea is that you hire talented actors, and they might be able to say it funnier than you were able to write it, so you just kind of let it go free, you know?
So many of the pop culture references we're hearing are spur of the moment things?
Yeah, they're all either coming from us or from Nick [Stoller] the director or Rodney [Rothman] the producer. So it's all kind of spontaneous, which is fun.
Do you think the Hostel: Part II jokes will make it to the final cut?
[laughs] Who knows, you know? It's so funny with all these movies--until you get into the test screenings and see what people think is funny, you just never know.
Why is this movie being billed as a "romantic disaster comedy"?
Well, unlike your typical romantic comedy, it's not just a relationship unfolding. It's a guy having to deal with literally his worst nightmare while all that's going on. So I think there's an extra added element of it being your worst nightmare, which a lot of romantic comedies don't have.
How would you characterize Sarah Marshall as an ex? Is she the type of girl that all your friends know is wrong for you, but you're just blind to it?
No, I don't think so. I think part of what's good about the movie, I hope, is that nobody's written to be the villain. And as the movie progresses, you start to see, "Of course she left this guy--he's a mess." He's drunk all the time and lost all his ambition. So I think it's neat, because at the beginning...You know, you always side with the person who's been cheated on, but slowly you start to see that maybe she had her reasons.
As Sarah Marshall, Kristen Bell is playing an actress on a TV crime drama, yes?
Yeah, she's on a show that's called Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. [laughs] So she plays a young detective along with Billy Baldwin as her partner...I think originally it was a sitcom that she was on, and we decided you've seen that before. The new trend are those crime shows, so we switched it up. Writing the fake scenes for the crime show was especially fun.
Was that role as an investigator specifically tailored to her because she had done Veronica Mars?
That didn't have much to do with it. But she's able to do that stuff pretty well, so it worked out.
In one of the scenes, Nick directed you to be freaked out, and you asked if meant "movie freaked out"...
What exactly is "movie freaked out"?
Nick and I have a running joke that movie emotions are always much bigger and more exaggerated than actual human emotions. [laughs] So when he wants me to do something really big, he'll say like, "movie scared!" It's usually a joke.
We understand at one point in the shoot, you were hanging off a cliff in Hawaii...
It was terrifying!
Did that help you overcome your fear of heights?
Oh my God! No, not even close. Even thinking about it terrifies me still. They put me on this tension wire, and I'm hanging from the side of this cliff, and then at the end, I'm supposed to launch myself off and just hang from this wire. And they're like, "Just trust the wire! Trust your equipment!" And that's bullsh*t. I'm sorry, it's like someone telling you, "Oh, this spider has been defanged. Don't worry, it can crawl all over you." If you're scared of spiders, [you] don't care if it's been defanged! Same with the heights. Wire did not help at all.
Were they at least careful in setting you up?
Yeah. I mean, they did a great job and all that, but they were also kind of razzing me a little bit, because they're all like brave stuntmen and I'm, like...me. So I'd be hanging from the wire like shaking, and they wouldn't be hooked up at all. And they'd kind of just repel down on a rope and be like, "It's fine, look!" and just hang from one arm--you know, they just had to rub in that they're real men and I'm not. That's basically what was happening.
This is your first script to be produced. How has it been hearing actors speak your words?
It's been a dream come true. Which I know sounds cliche, but I can't believe it. What I like more than hearing the words I've written out loud is hearing stuff I've written improved by the actors. These guys are just amazing. I got really, really lucky. Like Kristen and Mila couldn't be better. And this guy Russell Brand is going to be a huge star. He's a genius. So I'm surrounded by great people.
Did you intentionally set the story in Hawaii so you could shoot there?
Absolutely. My first thought was, "Where is a fun place to shoot a movie?" [laughs] It was really fun to write it there, too. As soon as I sold the pitch, I rented a house in Hawaii for a month and went and finished it out there. It was awesome.
What were some of your best experiences while filming on location in Hawaii?
Well, first of all, the crew is like the nicest group of people on earth. And it was so laid back because we were shooting at the hotel where we were staying. So you'd wake up and roll out of bed and shoot for ten hours, and then go have Mai Tais all together at the pool bar. I think the camaraderie was the best part. Ummm...I got to fight a boar, which is pretty exciting. And I got to do some really beautiful scenes with Kristen Bell while I was in Hawaii, which was really fun. It's a comedy, but there's also some pretty serious relationship stuff, so it was really nice to act that stuff with her.
Was the plan always for you to play the lead?
Yeah, it was. Judd and I had a talk and he basically said, "I can get movies made now. If you have any ideas, let me know." [laughs] And I gave him a short pitch of this, and I think like three days later, contracts arrived. And so then it was my job to get the script in order.
Have you had this story floating around in your head for a very long time?
No. You know, it all happened very quickly over the past couple years. The idea, the kernel, sort of came in my mind, and I wrote the first 20 pages earlier, like a year and a half ago. And then I finished the rest once I went to Hawaii, which was several months later. But no, it's all just as I have terrible dates, more ideas come. [laughs] That's basically how it happened.
Has the success of Knocked Up changed things? Did you guys get more studio support or funding because of it?
You know what? Judd is his own little studio in a way, at the moment. So even before the success of Knocked Up, I think there's this sense in the community that Judd knows how to make comedies and they weren't going to interfere. So they were just so cool to us from the get go. Universal has been just a dream to work with.
You've been doing some clean versions of the various takes...But isn't this movie going for a hard R rating?
We always do a clean version for when they have to air things on television, or on the airplane. But yeah, it's definitely going to be a hard R.