24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Duplass Bros.

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

Duplass brothers look to put a 'Pitchfork' in it

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

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

September 15, 2011 |  8:59 am


Indie-film darlings Mark and Jay Duplass want moviegoers to know something about the stars of their new studio picture, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home."

"People expecting that they'll be seeing the Ed Helms of 'Hangover 2' or Jason Segel in a mainstream comedy aren't going to get that," Mark Duplass told 24 Frames. "Audiences will see these actors do things they've never done before."

Indeed, within the first five minutes of the dramatic comedy, Helms is shown running roughshod over his meek wife (Judy Greer)--a  reversal from the defanged neb the actor has played in many of his television and feature roles such as  "Cedar Rapids," "The Office" and the "Hangover" franchise.

Segel at first seems like he's in a more familiar Apatowian mode as a slacker stoner with his own sense of moral rightness. But his character, too, is soon given a more dramatic spin.

Six years ago, the Duplass Bros. burst on the low-budget indie scene with the crowd-pleasing road movie "The Puffy Chair." Last year they made a leap to the speciaized film world, teaming with Fox Searchlight on the Marisa Tomei-John C. Reilly relationship black comedy "Cyrus."

This film sees them taking the next step, making a movie with Paramount, producer Jason Reitman, Oscar winner Susan Sarandon and au courant stars Segel and Helms.

At a world premiere Wednesday night at the Toronto Film Festival, the duo took the wraps off "Jeff," at least a full four months before the movie hits theaters. (The studio has not dated the picture, but the Duplass' say it will probably come out in early 2012.)

Set in their home state of Louisiana, the movie begins as the titular Jeff (Segel), a 30-year-old layabout living in his mother's basement, receives what he thinks is a sign from the universe (this right after a funny opening monologue about the movie "Signs"). The cosmic indication -- or is it just stoner-perceived coincidence? -- prompts Jeff to start doing strange things, or at least stranger things, like running around the strip malls of Baton Rouge stealthily pursuing strangers and delivery trucks whom he believes are also sending him signs. Each new foray seems to lead him into a new pickle.

In the meantime, Jeff's mother (Sarandon) is getting messages of her own at work, from a secret admirer, while Jeff's toolish and dislikable brother Pat (a goateed Helms) begins running around the city following, by himself as well as with Jeff, Pat's wife, whom he believes is having an affair.

"It's a more densely plotted movie than we've ever done, and it's probably the most dramatic," said Mark Duplass, who also acts and stars in the festival breakout "Your Sister's Sister."

"But there are still squirm bombs," added Jay Duplass, referring to the brothers' penchant for milking comedy out of characters' uncomfortable situations.

The Duplass' had the idea for "Jeff" years ago, but the film, with its street chases and other more lavish shots, couldn't be made on the shoestring budgets they were working with early in their careers. So they waited until they had the standing to get it financed. (At the post-screening Q&A, Mark Duplass, who shares writing and directing credits with his brother on the film, thanked Paramount and others who've "let us make weird movies.")

Perhaps the most personal element of the film for the New Orleans natives is that it concerns two male thirtysomething brothers, which might prompt some filmgoers to see a parallel between art and life.

Asked about the connection, Mark Duplass said, "People always ask how we work so closely and creatively without destroying each other. And this is the opposite: These are two brothers who are estranged and don't know how to talk to each other but because of the events of one day need to learn how to try."

If you want to show that kind of complicated relationship, it helps to land two of the more respected comedy actors out there. When queried about how they pulled off a feat that would have been difficult to imagine earlier in their careers, the brothers put it in symbiotic terms. "We get movie stars," Mark Duplass said at the Q&A, "and they get to do something different."


Toronto 2011: 'Your Sister's Sister' finds a parent

Toronto 2011: Madonna says she has auteur dreams

Toronto 2011: Real drama behind Michelle Yeoh's 'The Lady'

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jason Segel and Ed Helms in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." Credit: Paramount

Duplass brothers look to put a 'Pitchfork' in it

June 8, 2011 |  4:06 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Mark and Jay Duplass made the jump from mumblecore to mainstream with the well-received black comedy "Cyrus" last summer and will bring out the Jason Segel-Ed Helms feature "Jeff Who Lives at Home" (produced by Jason Reitman) later this year.

Now the "Puffy Chair " pair seek to continue their bigger-budget pattern — and possibly, as with "Cyrus," using Jonah Hill in a mother-son theme.

The writer-directors have penned a new script that has been making the rounds in the past few days to Hollywood studios, say two people who've gotten a look at the script but asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about it.

Titled "Pitchfork," it's a dramatic thriller about the middle-aged mother of an indie rocker who, after her son is killed in a car accident, seeks vengeance on an online blogger who had peddled snark about her son (on the music site Pitchfork, hence one of the title's entendres). Things take a turn, though, when she finds out the snarker is just a teenager.

The film contains a juicy role for the mother (Susan Sarandon is one of the actresses who's being sought for the part) as well as the teen blogger, with Hill having discussed it with the filmmakers, said a person familiar with the pitch. It's not known if Mark Duplass, a performer whose most prominent acting appearance came in the indie buzz title "Humpday" in 2009, will take a supporting part in the film himself. Mark Duplass did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

The brother filmmakers began their career with the 2005 Sundance darling "The Puffy Chair," a dramedy that explored a troubled couple on a road trip and was one of the best-known of the brand of offbeat verite known as mumblecore. After another indie, the genre-inflected "Baghead," they made the jump to more star-driven pictures with "Cyrus," which starred Hill, Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly and was made by 20th Century Fox subsidiary Fox Searchlight.

Family relationships, particularly those between mothers and grown children, have been a recent preoccupation for the filmmakers. "Cyrus" had Hill in a too-close relationship with his mother (Tomei), and "Jeff" has Segel as a grown man who is sent by his mother on a routine errand to find that the universe may be sending him strange signals.


The actor: Jonah Hill heads toward greater visibility

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo. Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly in "Cyrus." Credit: Fox Searchlight.


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