I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer and brother directors Mark and Jay Duplass at a recent press junket for the indie dramedy, Jeff Who Lives at Home, which takes us through an unforgettable day in the life of an unlikely hero.
Jason Segel stars in the title role, and his Jeff is so unassumingly lovable, he’s worth spending the day with, or at least an hour and a half in a movie theater.
Jeff is a 30-year-old who lives in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. When we meet Jeff, his early morning routine of getting high and watching infomercials is interrupted by a couple of phone calls. One is from his mother, who set’s him out the door to run an errand for her. The other is from an unknown caller looking for someone named Kevin, and this second call sends Jeff, who believes anything can be a sign from the universe, far off course from easily accomplishing that errand.
Among the people (many who are named Kevin) whom Jeff will run into on his journey is his brother Pat, played by Ed Helms. Where Jeff has a strong sense of wonder and purpose (even though what his might be still eludes him) Pat has become deeply jaded. Pat’s marriage is on the rocks and his brother frustrates him to no end. Through a string of coincidences, or as Jeff would say, “signs”, the brothers cross paths with each other and then Linda, Pat’s wife (Judy Greer) whose mysterious rendezvous with a strange man compels the brothers to work together to find out what’s going on.
When we met with the cast and filmmakers in Beverly Hills to find out more about Jeff, we found the improvisational style encouraged by the brothers Duplass on their set is hard to shake for this cast. They are still willing to push one another to take a joke to a whole other level. This ease with and encouragement of each other shows through in this film, making you believe they are a family… a flawed, but ultimately loving, family.
PPLA: Jay and Mark, a lot of us have had a relative who’s kind of a slacker and still living at home at an older age. Who was your inspiration for Jeff?
MARK DUPLASS: Well, Jay and I lived in Austin for a long time and there’s this zip code in Austin, 78704. If you’ve seen some of the early Linklater films you know, it’s this group of people that are kind of neo-philosophers living off of $4,000 a year, theorizing about the nature of the universe while wearing basketball shorts and hoodies and smoking a lot of pot. I guess a distinction we make is, we don’t really see Jeff as a slacker. He is 30 years old. He is living in his mom’s basement. But in a way, there’s an argument to be made that Jeff has more integrity than any of us because he believes his life is meant for grand things, for big things, and he won’t settle for just a decent job and maybe the right girlfriend. Jeff is waiting for glory, and that’s what we love about him
JASON SEGEL: He won’t compromise. He is very, very pure. He won’t compromise.
MARK DUPLASS: He’s an iconoclast.
JASON SEGEL: Yeah, he is.
JAY DUPLASS: Mark and I look up to Jeff, and to those types of people, because they are actively choosing to live outside of the typical procedure of go to college… get a job… get married… have kids… do all this stuff… and because they choose to do this, they’re also exposing themselves to pain and vulnerability that a lot of us don’t expose ourselves to. So in a weird way, I mean don’t get me wrong, we think they’re hilarious and that their basketball shorts are hilarious, but we ultimately look up to them.
PPLA: You’re funny in this movie on a whole other level than you are on your show How I Met Your Mother. What do you find it takes to be funny?
JASON SEGEL: Well, I mean, I was just born hilarious. [laughs] But beyond that, 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. 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…
[Someone loudly blows their nose from the other side of the room over Jason’s answer]
JASON SEGEL: [aside] Nice work. [laughter] See, that’s what I mean, born hilarious. [laughter] You know, 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. The goal was just to be honest.
PPLA: This film takes us though a single, unforgettable day in the lives of the characters you play. Is there a day that stands out as similarly exceptional in any of your lives?
ED HELMS: Every day is unforgettable for me. They’re just so full of chaos and excitement, but let’s see. One in particular was…
JASON SEGEL: Your most eventful day, Ed…
ED HELMS: God, I’m really bad at this. I’ll tell you Jason’s most eventful day…
JASON SEGEL: Oh, good.
ED HELMS: He piloted an F-16 and actually was in a dog fight and saved America one day. I rode a rollercoaster and was in a car crash the same day. That’s a true story.
JASON SEGEL: Is it?
ED HELMS: Yeah.
SUSAN SARANDON: Was that also when you delivered the baby at the amusement park?
ED HELMS: Yeah, a baby came out on the rollercoaster right behind me and I pulled it out. And then Fabio was hit in the face…
JASON SEGEL: With a bird!
ED HELMS: Yes, on the same rollercoaster.
JAY DUPLASS: When you delivered the baby were you inverted?
ED HELMS: The baby did not come out until we were upside down. Gravity, gravity.
SUSAN SARANDON: And I liked the way that you sang to her while you were delivering that baby.
ED HELMS: Well, we all know I sing too much.
JASON SEGEL: Sing the song, Ed, sing the song. The delivery song, sing it.
ED HELMS: [starts singing] “Breathe, just breathe. Close your eyes and let the baby come out. We’re goin’ upside down now, yeah!” And then it was there. I had it right in my hand and I was sobbing and really emotional…
SUSAN SARANDON: That was really cool.
JASON SEGEL: But other than that, it’s just boring days.
JAY DUPLASS: Yeah. We thought that day was a little subtle and wouldn’t read, so we amped it up for Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
ED HELMS: I’m writing a movie about that day. I’m hoping these guys will do it with me.
PPLA: Judy, you play Ed’s wife and obviously had quite a few scenes with him, but you had a few scenes with Jason as well. I’m just curious…
JUDY GREER: Which one I like better? [laughter]
JASON SEGEL: Who’s a better actor?
ED HELMS: Who smells better?
PPLA: If you want to go there, please do. I was just curious what differences you found playing off of each of them.
ED HELMS: Basically, who do you like better? That’s a veiled version of the same question.
JUDY GREER: It felt really seamless to make this movie because every time we were on set we were acting, like there wasn’t a lot of downtime and the cameras were always rolling. I can’t, obviously, I can, tell them apart, but it wasn’t like one experience was different. I had some really emotional moments with Ed and that was really fun. And then I’ve always liked Jason and he’s funny.
JASON SEGEL: Thank you.
JUDY GREER: I don’t know how to answer that question, I’m learning as I’m speaking… but working with both of them felt really comfortable. They have a similar energy and sense of humor. I came there a few days after they had already met and the bonding between them was so obvious already. I don’t know if you guys knew each other well beforehand… but they seemed immediately to me like brothers.
PPLA: Jay and Mark, how do you maintain a harmonious relationship, being brothers who work together?
MARK DUPLASS: When we’re on set, we’re aware that it’s so hard to make a movie, and almost impossible to make a movie that’s semi-entertaining and watchable, that whatever problems end up coming up between us immediately get dwarfed. It’s like that moment where two villains who hate each other have to join forces to defeat the bigger villain.
JAY DUPLASS: It’s like Frankenstein. You make a movie and it’s like this big monster that threatens to ruin your life… and eat up all of your food …
MARK DUPLASS: And your fun…
JAY DUPLASS: … and your fun. So, you’re there with your sibling, and you’re just trying to get Frankenstein back into the grave. And, basically, if he’s making that weird clicking noise that pisses you off, you’re kind of happy that the clicking noise is there, because you’re like, “Oh, if I die, I’m not going to die alone.”
JASON SEGEL: Am I Frankenstein in this story? Is that’s what up?
JAY DUPLASS: Yeah. [laughing]
MARK DUPLASS: Who’s the tallest person in here?
JAY DUPLASS: Oh, sh*t. Oh, sorry.
PPLA: The movie takes place in Baton Rouge, but you actually shot in New Orleans. Did you have a good time filming there?
JASON SEGEL: I had way too good a time in New Orleans. The movie takes place in one day, and I gained 25 pounds while being there, and we shot as much as we could chronologically. So, with as many themes as we have, the movie is really about a guy who gains 25 pounds over one day. What did you say the other day, Jay?
JAY DUPLASS: It’s like the Benjamin Button of weight loss.
JASON SEGEL: Yes.
JAY DUPLASS: It really is.
JASON SEGEL: It’s amazing. Like, I walk through a doorway and I’m ten pounds heavier. [laughs] It’s remarkable.
PPLA: Jason, Mark and Jay seem to have a good time squeezing you into small places in this film. I’m wondering what was the most uncomfortable to shoot? Being squeezed into a Porsche, wedgeded behind a vending machine…
JASON SEGEL: My favorite “small” moment was wearing the little coat at the restaurant. That was my favorite moment. It reminded me of Peter Sellers so much. Not to in anyway compare myself, but it was like my little moment of getting to do a little physical comedy, a big guy in a little coat. I had a really good time that day.
PPLA: Jeff embraces the philosophy of M. Night Shyamalan, particularly in his film Signs. Are you a fan M. Night and do you believe in signs?
JASON SEGEL: Yeah, I mean I’m a giant fan. 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 where, 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 starting 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.
SUSAN SARANDON: What was it?
JASON SEGEL: Uh, the …
SUSAN SARANDON: The sign?
JAY DUPLASS: Are you still waiting for it?
JASON SEGEL: Yeah, it hasn’t happened yet. Yeah. No, it really hasn’t. Some day.
Find out more about Jeff Who Lives at Home.