Jason Segel’s breakthrough role came in 2008 as Peter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which he also wrote. He went on to appear in Knocked Up, Bad Teacher and on TV’s successful comedy series How I Met Your Mother.
Ed Helms is best known for his role as Stu in The Hangover and The Hangover 2, and can currently been seen on TV’s The Office.
In their new dramedy, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, by writers/directors Jay and Mark Duplass, Jason portrays Jeff, and Ed plays his newly estranged brother, Pat. Not much of a self-starter, Jeff is waiting for signs from the universe to tell him which path he should take in life. Until then, he rarely ventures beyond his home, which is the basement of his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) house. The movie spotlights a day in the life of Jeff and Pat.
What was it about the role of Jeff in Jeff, Who Lives at Home that you responded to?
Jason: 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. The sign that I’m supposed to be an actor is getting cast and 21 to 25 was a crazy out-of-work period.
I remember very much just sitting there thinking I’m going to wait for the sign that I’m worthy of being an actor. That’s what I related to in the part.
This movie was a no-brainer for me. I read the script and it was just very clear what my job was, and it was to show up and do what they had written. So I didn’t try to bring any funny bones to it. It’s funny because by nature we’re a little bit funny, but the goal was just to be honest on this one.
What was it that interested you, Ed?
Ed: The script was awesome. And Mark and Jay Duplass are awesome. The script was just the right combination of poignant and hilarious. I’m always wary of things that try to get too sappy, but this really struck a great balance, and there’s even a little darkness in there.
They’re strong filmmakers with precise opinions about performances and characters.
Did you connect with your role as Jason did with Jeff?
Ed: I have to like the character that I’m playing, or at least understand how the character justifies his actions, even if he’s a douche bag and it comes from insecurity. I needed to get that to play Pat, and at first, I wasn’t getting it.
I kept reading it, and when I got to the end, I realized that I was misunderstanding him, just as Pat is misunderstood. I was able to rationalize his behavior and actually fall in love with it and, in a way, that made me excited to play the role.
Which scenes were the hardest to do, the serious ones or the funny scenes?
Jason: To me 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. That’s my goal. If it ends up being funny, it’s because we happen to be funny by nature. I didn’t think about if it was a dramatic or comedic scene.
Ed: The [dramatic] scenes are to me therapeutic somehow. I don’t know what that says about me, but I really love exercising these icky feelings that I think we all have and bottle up, and to get to have this kind of explosive scene with a loved one, even if it’s imaginary, has some sort of value.
That’s a tribute to the process, too, because it is so organic and these words are just like bubbling out. It’s tapping into real things, real emotions and experiences. It’s exciting, it’s fun, but it also has some healing property.
Was there a lot of improv on the movie?
Ed: The most fun going to work on a set everyday is just not knowing what you’re going to say. It’s so exciting, and even the most mundane things feel really fresh and cool every take.
Jason: Our job when we worked with Mark and Jay was to show up and really understand what the scenes were about and 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. And then beyond that you had to be ready to be painfully honest.
They never made us recreate a moment of magic. There are these things that happen when you’re improving. [They never] flipped the camera and [said], ‘Now, do that thing that you improved last take.’ We never had to do that. Everything [had] to be genuine.
There’s a scene in the movie where Jeff and Pat jump from a bridge into a lake to save a family. Were you nervous about doing that stunt?
Ed: Jason did it first.
Jason: Yeah, I did.
Ed: And survived and so I was confident, but I still landed in the water with my pants full of pee. It actually doesn’t look as high as it felt.
Jason: 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 told everyone I was going to do it, so I had to.
Did you like working in Baton Rouge?
Jason: We faked New Orleans for Baton Rouge. I had way too good a time in New Orleans. The movie takes place in one day, and I gained 25 pounds while being there.
We shot as much as we could chronologically and, as many themes as we have [in the film], the movie is about a guy who gains 25 pounds over one day.
I walk through a doorway and I’m ten pounds heavier, it’s remarkable!