IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jason Segel talks 'Bad Teacher'

Tuesday, 21 June 2011 12:14 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jason Segel talks 'Bad Teacher'

Actor Jason Segel first gained attention for his role on producer Judd Apatow’s short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks, but it was their collaboration on the hit film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which Segel also co-wrote, that made him a household name. Since then the actor turned screenwriter has appeared in several successful films including I Love You Man, Despicable Me, and the extremely popular CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. The actor will also star in the upcoming film The Muppets, which he produced and co-wrote with his writing partner, director Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek). But first, Segel will be seen opposite actress Cameron Diaz (The Green Hornet), and singer turned actor Justin Timberlake (Yogi Bear) in director Jake Kasdan’s (The TV Set) new comedy Bad Teacher, which is scheduled for release on July 24th.

In the film Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, an extremely attractive, foul-mouthed, pot smoking, alcoholic schoolteacher who is looking for a rich man to marry. Enter Scott Delacorte (Timberlake), a wealthy do-gooder of a substitute teacher who catches Elizabeth’s eye. But she will have to compete with perfect teacher Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch) for Scott’s affections, while fending off advances from slacker gym teacher Russell Gettis (Segel). Elizabeth decides that what she needs to attract Scott is breast implants and she’ll stop at nothing, including stealing from the school, in order to raise enough money for the operation. Eventually, Elizabeth’s scheme does not go as planned as she ends up bonding with Russell and becoming an effective member of the school’s faculty. I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with actor Jason Segel about Bad Teacher; it’s hard R-rating, the comedy genius of Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake’s comedic timing, and what it’s like working on a Jake Kasdan set. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, the character that you play in the film, Russell, has a very laid back attitude. Do you think it is that attitude that helped Cameron Diaz's Elizabeth to fall in love with him over Justin Timberlake's character in the movie?

Jason Segel: Yeah, that's my whole trick. That's a Jason Segel move, it is. It's the: here's what I am, take it or leave it kind of attitude. It always works. I tricked people into thinking I’m a movie star. It’s that exact same move. Luckily because of the way it was written, I knew I ended up with her.

Thanks in large part to Judd Apatow and the films that you have made with him like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, mainstream hard R-rated comedies are back, especially this summer with films like Bridesmaids, and The Hangover Part II. Can you talk about the evolution of hard r-rated comedies since you began making films and what do you attribute this recent trend in comedic movies to?

Segel: Comedy comes in waves. There was the Farrelly Brothers wave and then there was the Christopher Guest wave. Styles come in and out. The mock documentary was huge for a while, the Christopher Guest style. Before that it was the gross out type movies, the Farrelly Brothers and, American Pie. Judd came with a very new take on it. He was going to do movies that pushed the limit, but at their core the whole goal was that it would be about missed subjects. When I was writing Sarah Marshall, the best advice he gave to me was write a drama, then we're going to layer comedy on top of that. Don't worry about doing punch lines, jokes, set-ups and all that because movies can be funny by nature of the fact that you're funny. The people that we're going to cast are funny, we're all funny and we'll do a whole comedy pass on it, but no one's going to give a shit unless they care about the story. That's great advice. The first draft of Sarah Marshall is very similar plot wise, but most of the jokes aren't in there yet. It's just a story about a guy getting his heart broken, going to Hawaii and running into them. All the jokes came as we started casting people and seeing who was going to play what part. I think that's Judd's … that's the magic witches brew, is that Judd and our group try to write stories that have a core of truth to them.

Are you surprised with what you can get away with now in an R-rated comedy?

Segel: Not really. I seemed to have broken the mold, broken down the barrier of showing your penis in a movie or in a comedy. There's others in dramas, but there weren't too many leading man penises. Now they're everywhere!

Do you feel like that is the mark that you have left on cinema?

Segel: I guess so. The only thing I wasn't comfortable with in this film is that we did some of the R-rated stuff in front of those kids. Just having the kids there is the only thing that made me uncomfortable, but it sure makes it funny in the movie.

Cameron Diaz gives a powerhouse comedic performance in this film and I can’t imagine anyone else being able to play this role so believably. Can you talk about working with her in this movie?

Segel: She can do anything. She's so game. She's not afraid to try things, she's not afraid to make fun of herself. I mean that's just the opening threshold of being funny to me, being willing to make fun of yourself and to not be beautiful for a minute. She has no problem with that, and she has no vanity issues. To have someone so stunning, be willing to make fun of themselves and all that, I think it's a great start to being a comedian. And then that she's so smart, so funny, so with it and has so much life experience to draw on. She went balls out and she nailed it in this movie. The chemistry between us was very similar to our actual characters in the movie.

Singer turned actor Justin Timberlake has a great reputation for comedy as well after all of his hilarious SNL appearances, can you talk about his comedic timing and working with him on the film?

Segel: Justin and I hit it off right from day one. We're about the same age. We had met a couple times, but this was the first time we spent any amount of time together. All I can say is that I feel like I have a new friend. I think that translated on screen. I think we're going to be buddies for a long time and he could do anything. He's incredibly funny and obviously so talented.

Finally, can you talk about collaborating with director Jake Kasdan and his working style on the set?

Segel: Yeah, Jake is so calm, so nice and that filters down through the entire set. You never felt a sense of panic and you never felt any jerks on set. Because if Jake's not going to be a jerk and if Jake's not going to panic, who's allowed to then? It set the tone for a very open and collaborative set. It was great.

Bad Teacher opens in theaters on June 24th.

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