Interview: Jason Segel Talks ‘The End of the Tour’ and Portraying Author David Foster Wallace

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The End of the Tour made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and its gotten some praise, most especially for Jason Segel’s performance as talented writer David Foster Wallace. The film, based on a true story of Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky’s five-day book tour with Wallace, the film found most of its script through Lipsky’s recorded tapes of the interview. It’s a bit ironic that Segel was doing interviews about a movie based on an interview, and so I got to sit down with him last week for a few minutes to discuss the film.

The End of the Tour opens in theaters today, so go check out the film and read my review of it here.

This role is very different for you. What attracted you to it and how did you get involved in the project?

I just think that as you get older you start thinking about different things and when I read the script it was reflective of what I was thinking about. And I got involved when James Ponsoldt, our director, who said that he saw something behind my eyes in my comedy that he thought would work in this movie. Because David Foster Wallace had to be a full-fledged human being just full of gravitas. But I wanted to make sure that he was funny and to some extent a dude and all those things. It needed to feel like a fun road trip is a better way to put it, which it was when you listen to the tapes.

 

There is a lot of pressure of playing a fictional character vs. someone who was actually living. How did you take on that challenge of portraying such a beloved author?

I think you read everything you can read and I had interviews at my disposal to watch and I had the tapes from this interview. I think you really dive into the writing because he’s a really personal writer and that’s how you get into his head.

And were you able to study any of his mannerisms at all? Because throughout the film, there are certain ticks and movements you employ.

Yeah, I used the videos I had at my disposal. There were a few interviews and videos at that time of him [David Foster Wallace] and a few other things you can find.

Did you get to speak to anyone who’s close to him? 

Yeah. There were a few people I got to talk to who knew him, specifically around the time when the movie takes place, so that helped a lot.

Throughout the film it’s clear that David Lipsky kind of envies David Foster Wallace and his career. And we have a lot revealed from Wallace as the movie progresses, but [David] Lipsky is very much more of a closed book. Can you speak a bit about the dynamic between the two characters?

I think David Lipsky looks up to David Foster Wallace in that he has just achieved that which David Lipsky hopes to achieve. Lipsky had a book come out around the same year that was not as well received and he’s a bit younger, so when he looks up at David Wallace he thinks, “I hope that I get there someday.” And I think that going into the interview he wants to both meet his idol, but also knock him down to his own size in a lot of ways.

And what are your takeaways from such an experience and getting to work with James Ponsoldt and Jesse Eisenberg?

I think that what I really took away was that when you work on something where everyone is there because they love the material, there is a real passion that comes across onscreen. And it was a collaboration with everyone involved, but really a lot of the work was done in preparation so that by the time we arrived on set, we were allowed to experience these discussions in the moment. One of the things that was really important was that it feel spontaneous because the dialogue can be so wordy by nature; these guys are both writers that you didn’t want it to feel like two smart guys saying smart things to each other. You wanted it to feel like a conversation. And when you watch the movie you really want to be on the road trip with the guys.

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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