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Jason Segel says playing a lovable loser comes naturally

November 9, 2011 |  3:30 pm

The Duplass brothers, Ed Helms and Jason Segel at a screening of Jeff, Who Lives at Home
If there's one character actor Jason Segel seems to have mastered, it's that of the lovable loser. He began his career playing one on the television show "Freaks and Geeks" as a high school stoner with an unrequited crush. In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," he played a dopey guy kicked to the curb by his more successful and attractive girlfriend. And in "I Love You, Man," his schlubby character spent his days playing guitar and picking up women at open houses.

In "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," the latest project from sibling filmmaker team Mark and Jay Duplass, Segel tackles the archetype again. This time he's Jeff, an idealistic 30-year-old who lives in his mother's basement, takes bong hits and finds meaningful signs in late-night infomercials.

After an AFI Fest screening of the film Tuesday night, Segel said -- perhaps not surprisingly -- that the role came naturally to him.

"The simplest way I can put it is I just did exactly what they wrote," he said, referring to the Duplass brothers' script. "There was no, like 'What is my process?' or discovering the character."

Though the part may not have been much of a challenge for Segel, the film proved to be more of a struggle for the filmmakers. The Duplass brothers rose to fame after making a string of ultra low-budget, documentary-style films, and first teamed up with a bigger studio on last year's "Cyrus," the Fox Searchlight film starring Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly. "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," which also stars Ed Helms, is set for release by Paramount Pictures in March.

Asked what the most difficult scene was to shoot in the film, Jay Duplass referenced a moment when Segel's and Helms' characters leap off a Louisiana bridge into a threatening body of water.

"That bridge scene was hardest than all of our movies put together prior to this movie," he said. "We shoot in this documentary style, where we let people go into a room and have real interactions and I try to catch it as a documentarian. But when you shoot a bridge scene that has to be storyboarded like that, you have to control it, and then you have to make it shaggy again. Mark describes it as thrift-store shopping. You have to work really freaking hard to make it look like it just fell off the rack and you bought it at J.Crew."

Even during the most-controlled moments of filming, both actors said they appreciated the "calm" vibe the brothers created on set, where both were encouraged to improvise.

"I'm called upon to improvise a lot in different movies and on 'The Office,' and it's a great joy, but it's usually about trying to find the funniest beat or the funniest joke," said Helms, who plays Jeff's brother in the picture. "What was really kind of eye-opening ... was to improvise the most mundane moments."


Mr. Nice Guy Ed Helms

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Toronto 2011: With 'Jeff,' Helms and Segel in a new light

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: AFI Fest programmer Lane Kneedler, left, Jay Duplass, Ed Helms, Jason Segel, Mark Duplass and Jason Reitman at a special screening of "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Credit: AFI Fest