There was a reason “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” hit home for Jason Segel and Ed Helms, and that was the opportunity to find feeling amid the funny business.
Both actors are, of course, best known for their abilities to mine big laughs out of outrageous setups, but the latest film from directors Mark and Jay Duplass (“Cyrus”) gave them the chance to tap the hilarity of everyday situations without missing out on the pathos – and as the stars agree, bringing their finely honed improv skills to mostly dramatic scenes was something to get excited about.
Jason Segel: This movie was a no-brainer for me. I read the script and it was just very clear what my job was, and it was to show up and be regular. And I think everyone probably would agree it was just so well written. There was no need to talk about what the character’s motivation was or anything like that. It was nice work. I knew what my job was and it was just to show up and do what they had written. So I didn’t try to bring any funny bones to it. It’s funny because I guess by nature we’re a little bit funny, but the goal was just to be honest on this one.
Ed Helms: It’s the most fun way to go to work on a set every day, just not knowing what you’re going to say. I’ve done little bits of theater and stuff where you literally say the same lines every night, and that has its own kind of Zen appeal – like you can really find nuances in the same lines. But then there’s this whole other really exciting process, which [the Duplass brothers] are all about. I don’t know, it’s really fun. It’s so exciting and even the most mundane things feel really fresh and cool every take.
Segel: I don’t like it when I see somebody trying to be funny. To me the whole goal whether it’s comedy or drama is just being natural, like being really regular. That’s my goal. If it ends up being funny, it’s because we happen to be funny by nature. The goal for me the whole time was just to be really regular. I didn’t think about if it was a dramatic scene or a comedic scene. I think ‘Both.’
Helms: These kinds of scenes are to me sort of therapeutic somehow. I don’t know what that says about me, but I really love exercising these, I don’t know, icky feelings that I think we all have and bottle up. And to get to have this kind of explosive scene with a loved one even if it’s imaginary, it has some sort of value. And that’s kind of a tribute to the process, too, because it is so organic and these words are just like bubbling out. And it’s tapping into real things, real emotions and experiences. It’s exciting, it’s fun, but it also has some sort of like healing property somehow.
Segel: I just remember a period in my life when I was out of work, and I was sitting there waiting for someone to cast me. And it very much was like Jeff. You know, the sign that I’m supposed to be an actor is getting cast, and 21 to 25 was a crazy out-of-work period. It was before I really started writing hard. And I remember very much just sitting there thinking, ‘I’m going to wait for the sign that I’m worthy of being an actor.’ That’s what I related to in the part.