24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Ed Helms

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."


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-- Steven Zeitchik


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

Sundance 2011: Ed Helms says don't expect a 'Hangover 3'

January 26, 2011 |  4:19 pm

HelmsIn just a few weeks, Ed Helms will attempt to make the jump from television personality to bona fide movie star in “Cedar Rapids,” a  Fox Searchlight comedy that marks his debut as a leading man.

Helms, who was first seen on TV for five years on “The Daily Show” and now is part of the ensemble cast of “The Office,” has been in films before –- most memorably as a guy who cowers before his girlfriend in “The Hangover.” But “Cedar Rapids” presents a new set of challenges for the actor, who is known mostly for playing the nice-guy sidekick.

This week at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Helms sat in a faux insurance office that  Searchlight had set up on Main Street to replicate the building seen in the movie.  Seeming almost as polite and earnest as his character in the movie, the wide-eyed Tim Lippe, Helms insisted he wasn’t worrying about the TV-to-film transition.

“Well, um, I don’t know what is ahead. But as long as I’m excited about what I’m working on, I’m not gonna get too hung up on the format,” the 37-year-old said. “ 'The Office' is in this really exciting transitional phase — it’s kind of awesome.”

The actor was referring, of course, to Steve Carell’s imminent departure from the sitcom. Carell is still filming his final episodes, and Helms on Sunday swore he has yet to discover who will be stepping into the show’s boss role. However, on Wednesday, it was reported that Will Ferrell will help ease the changeover, appearing on the show for four episodes.

Still, Helms was unsure of how the show will “find equilibrium in the long run. Like, who will be the boss? That question has, I think, 100 answers that will probably get explored. It’s basically like one of the biggest story lines in the history of the show, so it will get milked out over a long period of time and there won’t be, like, an easy, simple answer. But there will be a lot of us vying for the position.”

Helms is also a part of another project that many are anticipating: “Hangover Part II,” due out in May. Those hoping “The Hangover” sequel evolves into a full-blown franchise may be disappointed, the actor said, as he believes the second film will be the last in the comedy series.

“I doubt it,” he said, when asked if there would be a third installment. “I don’t think Todd [Phillips, the director] would let that happen.... I would hope that ‘The Hangover’ kind of has a dignified legacy, if that makes any sense.”

Look for more with Helms in the coming weeks.

-- Amy Kaufman in Park City, Utah


Photo: Ed Helms poses with a cutout of himself in Park City. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times.


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Sundance 2011: Paul Giamatti and a newcomer hit the red carpet for 'Win Win'

January 22, 2011 | 10:45 am

Elizabeth Olsen may be the Sundance 'It' girl this year, but there are plenty of other fresh faces at the film festival who have been received well by moviegoers in Park City, Utah, this week.

Alex Shaffer, the 17-year-old who stars alongside Paul Giamatti in Tom McCarthy's "Win Win," took a break from his junior year at Hunterdon Central High in New Jersey to fly to Sundance. In the film, set for release in March by Fox Searchlight, Shaffer plays a teenager from a broken home who is taken in by a wrestling coach (Giamatti) and his family. In real life, Shaffer is a New Jersey state wrestling champion who was cast despite his lack of acting experience. (Before "Win Win," the only time he'd acted was in a sixth-grade production of "The Pirates of Penzance.")

"Tom had an article in the newspaper for all wrestlers around the area to audition for this movie," Shaffer told us at the film's premiere Friday. "I really wasn't that into the whole movie thing. I really wasn't that excited about it or into it or anything. Over time, like now, I love it."

It appeared the crowd at the Eccles Theater took to Shaffer. Standing on stage with the rest of the cast during a question-and-answer session after the screening, he received the most applause from the audience when McCarthy introduced him.

Later that evening, at the party to celebrate the film's release at a local saloon, Shaffer stood in a corner, non-alcoholic drink in hand, talking to his publicist.

"This is a really good indicator," she told him, referring to the audience's positive reaction. "They loved you. You're going to do well."

While Shaffer took in his new surroundings, co-star Giamatti seemed at ease, smiling as partygoers including Ed Helms back-slapped him and offered congratulations on his recent Golden Globe win for "Barney's Version."

"How am I coping? I don't know. I'm doing OK," he said, when we asked him on the red carpet about his whirlwind of a week. "It's all good. It's a nice thing. It's all positive. So I'm just having a good time."

His calm demeanor is thanks in part, he said, to one Sundance tip he's discovered on his trips to Utah over the years.

"I stay off Main Street, is what I do," he said. "Because it gets so crazy on there. So I just stick to the side streets. That's what I figured out."

-- Amy Kaufman



Sundance 2011: With Paul Giamatti's 'Win Win,' Tom McCarthy looks to score once again

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'Cedar Rapids': Can Ed Helms pull off a leading-man role? [Trailer]

December 23, 2010 |  1:01 pm

Cedar-Rapids-movie-trailerUntil now, Ed Helms has largely been an endearing but supporting character on both the small and big screens: as a correspondent on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," as the whipped boyfriend in "The Hangover," as a sweet but slightly pathetic salesman on "The Office."

But Helms finally gets his turn as a leading man in February's "Cedar Rapids," in which he again plays what's becoming his stock-in-trade character of the lovable loser.

In the newly-released trailer for Miguel Arteta's film, we meet Helms' character Tim Lippe, an up-the-middle, uptight Midwestern insurance agent whose company sends him to a convention in Cedar Rapids. There he meets a group of agents with a penchant for partying (played by John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr.).

The movie, which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, seeks to augur a comeback for Arteta ("The Good Girl") after his ambivalently received "Youth In Revolt" this year.

In a way, Arteta's new film almost seems like an indie version of "The Hangover," except that the cast of zany characters here seems more square. (Helms' character is the kind of person who finds that the car he’s rented is a run-of-the-mill Chevy and seems genuinely tickled.)

The movie hinges on the idea that Tim attends the conference as a last-ditch effort to save his struggling company. Instead, he becomes distracted by his new wild cohorts and a budding romance with Heche’s character. The stakes don’t seem all that high, but there appear to be plenty of enjoyable moments.

While Reilly is as amusingly over-the-top as he was in "Step Brothers," it's Helms who shines. He's reprising the entertaining role of naive goofball , and, fortunately, this time we're getting a lot more of him.

--Amy Kaufman



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Photo: Ed Helms, far right, stars in "Cedar Rapids." Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Is Ed Helms the new Steve Carell?

February 19, 2010 |  8:22 pm

Ed Helms' career is looking a lot like Steve Carell's these days. It's not just that each got their break on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," evince a geeky likability, practice a similar brand of deadpan  humor and currently star on the same hit television show "The Office (though that's part of it).

It's that both are seeing their dance cards fill up remarkably quickly -- and with not dissimilar projects.

Helms will anchor his first major feature when he shoots "Central Intelligence," a Walter Mitty comedy about an accountant (Helms) who inadvertently gets involved in an espionage plot. Sources now say the movie is to shoot this summer, with Universal, which is making the movie, currently looking for a director.

("Central Intelligence," incidentally, bears a similar premise to Carell's "Get Smart:" Dorky guy bumbles his way through unlikely high-stakes world, though Helms' trademark persona is dorkier, while Carell's is more deluded. And there's another Helms-Carell connection: the man who made Michael Scott famous is producing the untitled Civil War project in which several re-enactors get transported back to the land of Ulysses S. Grant; Helms plays one of the re-enactors and also helped write the script. That one, at least, is just in development, as is another project, the bromantic makeover movie "A Whole New Hugh" from the Judd Apatow incubator. So Helms will at least have time to breathe before he gets mixed up in those.)

There is, however, "The Hangover 2," which will shoot next fall during another "Office" hiatus, and in which Helms reprises his uptight, henpecked Stu Price character. All this comes after Helms finished shooting the Alexander Payne traveling-salesman dramedy "Cedar Rapids" last fall. And there's another, smallish movie on the way. That's a pretty hectic work pace for a guy with a network show.

Indeed, it's scheduling that's the big bugaboo for Helms, since, like Carell, the actor can only shoot during his hiatuses from "The Office." The schedule for the NBC hit was reportedly juggled so Carell could shoot "Dinner for Schmucks" at the end of 2009, which also enabled Helms to shoot "Cedar Rapids." But there's only so much juggling one can do without joining the circus.

Helms' name has also surfaced in connection with the Ron Howard infidelity comedy "Your Cheating Heart,"  which would have offered the bonus of seeing Helms play opposite Vince Vaughn. But it now looks like, for timing and other reasons, Helms won't appear in that one. And reports of his appearance in "Daddy's Home," a project in which he plays the uptight new husband to Will Ferrell's wild man ex-husband probably won't come to fruition; at this point, at least, it doesn't look like Helms is going to star in that one.

Helms' appeal as the embodiment of the straight-laced and the uptight in all of us has clearly resonated in Hollywood. We can only hope it will on the big screen too -- we'll be seeing a lot of him there in the coming months.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Ed Helms and a chicken in "The Hangover." Credit: Frank Masi / Warner Brothers


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