Once more Mr Nice Guy
Quite so. Jason took a few small roles in local theatre. Then, in 1999, he became part of the short-lived – but ultimately hugely influential – situation comedy Freaks and Geeks. Produced by Judd Apatow, our era’s most prominent comedy Svengali, the show also featured future stars such as Seth Rogen and James Franco. Five years later, Jason had secured a regular gig on the hit TV comedy How I Met Your Mother.
“People always ask me for advice, and you can’t say: ‘Go get discovered in a high-school play.’ I wish I could say something different, but so much of it has to do with luck. There are actors a million times better than I am stuck in small towns because they have to pay the bills.”
All those Amazonian Mozarts who never got to learn a musical instrument? All those ghetto Einsteins who were never introduced to physics?
“Yes. I think that’s why I’ve stayed the way I am,” he says. “I quietly scoff at arrogant actors. ‘You think you’re something special? Dumb ass!’ So much of it has to do with luck.”
True. But you also have to carefully exploit the contacts that good fortune brings you. Apatow, director of Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is currently the most powerful man in American comedy. He produced such films as Superbad, Pineapple Express, Bridesmaids and Anchorman. He, once again, appears on the credits of The Five-Year Engagement.
If Segel is to be believed, Apatow remains very protective of his protégés. He does not feel competitive towards the younger actors and writers. The Apatow generation has come together to construct the era’s signature comic mode: an improvised blend of earthy raunch and mildly tortured selfanalysis.
“He has been an amazing mentor to so many people,” Segel says. “That is often the case in this business as opposed to other professions. When older guys see a young talent, they will coax them onwards. But he was also very offended when Freaks and Geeks got cancelled. He went on a Count of Monte Cristo revenge policy to say: ‘Fuck you Hollywood! I was right’.”
In recent months, as Segel’s fame has solidified, he has found himself appearing in the gossip rags. Things are not going to get easier any time soon. A few months ago, he confirmed that he was stepping out with rising Hollywood star Michelle Williams. They make a slightly odd couple. She is best known for moping her way through miserable roles. He is the good guy in Judd Apatow comedies.
“That stuff is a drag when it gets into your personal life,” he says calmly. “I am an adult. I know what I signed up for professionally. But when it gets to people who didn’t sign up for that, then that’s when I think it becomes unfair.”
He’s not talking about Michelle. She signed the same metaphorical contract.
“No. Being with people who understand that stuff is an important thing. But my sister doesn’t need to be photographed. My parents don’t need to be photographed when we are out to dinner. Suddenly, my mother is self-conscious about what she wears.”