For 15 years, Jason Segel worked almost exclusively in comedy — from his first screen appearance as “Watermelon Guy” in Can’t Hardly Wait to cult TV favorites Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared to box-office hits Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man to the long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
Then after the 2014 raunchfest Sex Tape — which was also one of co-star Cameron Diaz’s final projects before she surprisingly retired — Segel retreated from the genre. He played David Foster Wallace in the acclaimed The End of the Tour, explored indie sci-fi in The Discovery, created the complex drama series Dispatches From Everywhere and now appears in the gut-wrenching film Our Friend, about a mother (Dakota Johnson) dying from cancer as her husband (Casey Affleck) and his best friend (Segel) tend to the couple’s two young daughters.
“I did about a decade and a half of pure comedy, between those movies and then How I Met Your Mother, which was literally every day for nine years,” Segel tells us during a recent press day for Our Friend (watch above). “I think I was just interested in seeing what else I could do.”
Sex Tape, which was a modest box-office success but got skewered by critics, may have had something to do with it.
“There was a moment around that period, ’cause that was also around when How I Met Your Mother ended, where I was like, ‘I have a blank canvas ahead of me now,’” Segel says. “Sex Tape ended up doing well, I think, but it didn’t feel good. So I got to look forward and say, ‘This is freedom. You can do anything right now. So why don’t we walk right into some of the looming questions, like, what if I tried to do just a drama? What if I tried to write and create and run a TV show?’ I wanted to bump up against my litmus, which I hadn’t done in a long time.”
Our Friend, which premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, is based on a National Magazine Award-winning Esquire article by Matthew Teague detailing the tragic loss of his wife — and how his closest friend helped him through it. Like another one of Affleck’s recent dramas, the Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea, the film has utterly devastating moments.
“It was weighty and emotional to film,” Segel says. “We were shooting in the real town, Fairhope, Alabama, where Matt and Nicole lived, and so the town knew Nicole and they knew the story that we were telling. And they were really supportive and some participated as well in some of these group scenes. It was something that was really cathartic for everybody. That was emotional.
“I know Dakota really well, and care about Dakota tremendously, I’ve known her since her early 20s. And her performance is so transformative that watching her go through such a tragedy was hard to go through side-by-side with her when we were acting.”
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Steve Michel
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