Jason Segel on Playing David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour


Jason Segel on Playing David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour.

Interview with Jason Segel on The End of the Tour

Jason Segel may be best known for comedy, whether it’s on the long-running television show How I Met Your Mother, shorter-lived ones like “Freaks and Geeks” or the many comedy movies he’s made since then. In James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, he shows a different side with his portrayal of a real person, that of the late David Foster Wallace.

Based on David Lipsky’s novel “Although Of Course You End up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,” the film follows the Rolling Stone journalist (played by Jesse Eisenberg) as he travels to Wallace’s home in the Midwest to interview the author, who is making waves in the literary world with his book “Infinite Jest.” Wallace proves to be very different from what one might expect from a celebrated author, living in a remote house with his two dogs, but as the two travel to Minneapolis for a book reading and signing, Lipsky’s desire to get Wallace to open up about his drug use and suicide attempts causes a rift in their relationship.

Not surprisingly, many people have been raving about Segel’s portrayal of Wallace since the Sundance Film Festival, although some of the people who knew and worked with Wallace haven’t been nearly as supportive. Maybe that just comes with the territory of playing a real person who passed away not too long ago (of suicide, no less), but for those who didn’t know Wallace, The End of the Tour is an impressive two-handed drama from Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) that really shows more of Segel’s range than we’ve seen in previous movies he’s made.

Jason Segel basically had four months to prepare his version of Wallace while filming the final season of “How I Met Your Mother” and was filming End of the Tour three days after wrapping. ”I just read everything I could and I watched every interview I had available to me,” he said about prepping to play the author when sitting down with ComingSoon.net last week. “Then I had also the audio from the actual road trip, which was really helpful. But I had his work, which is very, very personal. Even the fiction is very personal. I feel like in all of his work he was circling some very particular themes of what is going to make us feel satisfied. What at the end of the day is going to allow us to feel like it’s been a worthwhile day? So I had a lot of his thoughts on that available to me.”

“Jesse spent more time with him,” Segel said about Lipsky, who was generally available to consult with the actors. “My prep was separate, and I had a different approach. I think that it was very important that Lipsky and Wallace have different perspectives going into the movie because that’s where the tension would be.”

While Segel had a chance to meet Eisenberg beforehand, they didn’t have any time to rehearse together, which ended up working out. “The first scene we shot together is the scene where he arrives at the house and you can feel us like sniffing each other out, so it ended up really working for what we were doing. I think it was kind of prescient or appropriate because these are two guys who didn’t know each other; what was happening on the screen was pretty similar to what was happening off screen. We were getting to know each other and feeling each other out and asking each other questions. It was the most intimate experience I’ve had acting, because it’s just the two of us in a lot of these scenes.” 

The End of the Tour

“We tried to play things as naturally as possible,” he said about balancing his usual humor with the more dramatic moments. “(Screenwriter) Donald Margulies did an amazing job curating from the four days of actual interview, but that’s what’s so important to remember. David Foster Wallace himself was incredibly funny as a writer and his conversation is like a really interesting four days they spent together.”

“He’s the nicest guy and I feel like I caught him early at the beginning of a career that’s going to be very long and prolific and wonderful,” Jason Segel said about his director. “He’s really able to create a tense narrative on emotional character movements, and that’s what this movie required, but he’s becoming just one of my great friends. I feel really lucky to have met him.

“It was a low-budget movie so it was just a lot of people who were there because they love it,” he said about having a small crew to keep things intimate. “I don’t think you do a movie like this unless you have some personal connection to it.”

Despite the small crew, Lipsky and Wallace’s meeting took them to Minneapolis where they shot a pivotal scene at the Mall of America. It was a burst of energy because a lot of the scenes that are just between Jesse and I in a car or a house, and so while being a little nuts, it was exciting to have suddenly this infusion of energy into shooting. There were plenty of people recognizing both of us, but it was cool.”

But what does Segel want to do next, other than writing his third children’s book in the “Nightmares for Kids” series? I just feel like I’d like to do things that scare me and I’d like to do things that when you walk out of the movie theater you feel like you’d like to have a conversation. I think that that’s a good thing to shoot for.”

Even if Segel got a lot of pushback when it was announced he would play Wallace in The End of the Tour, he does hope he’ll deliver something that those who knew and worked with Wallace will appreciate. I tried to make the movie with a lot of respect and empathy. There are people who love him very much in various capacities and I hope that they take something positive from watching the movie.”

The End of the Tour is now playing in New York and L.A. and expands into more cities on Friday, August 7 before going wide on August 14. You can also read our interview with Jesse Eisenberg here and an earlier interview with director James Ponsoldt here.