I Love You, Man star Jason Segel has an incredible claim to fame. With a glint in his eye he says, "Do you know that if you Goggle 'male nudity' I'm the first name that comes up?" Without missing a beat, he appends, "Just don't ask me why I was Goggling male nudity!"
The reason the 29-year-old holds such an exalted position on this particular Goggle search is because Segel did the full Monty in the opening scene of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the hit comedy that he wrote as well as acted in. In so doing, Segel demonstrated that it's not only women that can give their career a lift by taking their clothes off for the camera.
The actor only makes one film a year because of his commitments to the US sitcom How I Met Your Mother, about to enter it's fifth series, which the actor himself describes with the increasingly commonplace tag, "It's like Friends." Consequently he seems even more careful than most actors about picking roles. He seems to be making the right choices, as I Love You, Man has introduced a new word – bromance – into the cinema lexicon. A bromance is a romantic comedy in which platonic guys bond like they're in a relationship with each other. A perfect example of such a relationship is the one between Joey and Chandler in Friends.
In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd upon getting engaged realises that he does not have a male friend that he can ask to be his best man. Trying to rectify this, Rudd goes on a series of "man-dates", before chancing upon Segel, a suave educated slacker with whom he shares a mutual love of the rock group Rush and fine dining.
The actor explains the philosophy behind the movie: "It's got all the elements of a romantic comedy and it's got all the elements of a buddy movie, all rolled into one. I think we've hit the sweet spot in terms of women can go with their boyfriends, guys can go with their guy friends and girls can go with their girlfriends. I'm surprised that a movie like this hasn't been done before."
Segel is another in the line of actors who have seen their career championed and boosted by director and producer Judd Apatow. Their paths first crossed after Segel appeared in Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived but hugely influential high-school sitcom set in the 1980s, which was executive produced by Apatow and helped launch the careers of Seth Rogen and James Franco.
Apatow and Segel then worked together again in 2001 on another sitcom called Undeclared, but despite his 6ft 4in frame, Segel was struggling to get noticed. So much so that by the time Apatow produced Anchorman and directed The 40 Year Old Virgin, Segel was being sidelined. "Judd tried to put me in The 40 Year Old Virgin but the studio wouldn't let him," recalls Segel. "He tried to cast me in several other things and the studio wouldn't let him. In the end he said, 'Look, I'm trying my best, but I think that the only way you're going to make it if you write your own material'. This is the best advice that I've ever received and I went off and wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
With a trick that is becoming an Apatow trademark, the director and producer cast Segel in a high-profile supporting role in Knocked Up, knowing that the exposure would fast track an actor to leading-man status. The mechanical process of setting up stars is like a baton being passed around a relay race. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall it was Russell Brand that Apatow decided to showcase. Segel, for his part,will never forget his first encounter with the firebrand British star.
"Originally the part in Sarah Marshall was written for a young Hugh Grant type, who would be playing a British author," recalls the LA native. "Russell walked in and he looked at me and said, 'You'll have to forgive me mate. I've only had a chance to take a cursory look at your little script. Perhaps you can tell me what you require. I thought, my God, this is the perfect guy to be intimidated by the fact that he's dating your ex-girlfriend. That night I went home and rewrote the script to make the British character a rock star, because there was no way that Russell was going to play a young author."
This first encounter has seen the start of a transatlantic bromance between the two comedians. Segel explains: "I think, and I don't want to speak for Russell, but there is definitely a mutual appreciation society. He and I are different enough that we would never be competitive, it's sort of like we both appreciate what the other one does."
But I'm surprised when Segel informs me that his character in I Love You, Man, who seems like he lives a life designed by Ernest Hemmingway, was heavily influenced by his British best pal: "The vibe that I was going for is a guy that just doesn't care; this is who I am, take it or leave it, which is a quality that I don't have in my own life, so it was fun to play in a movie. I was really inspired by what Russell Brand is like in real life. He is the sweetest man, and I think unless you know him, it's hard to tell because of all the publicity he gets for his antics. In life, he is just the sweetest man of all time, and just comfortable with the fact that he's a womaniser or whatnot. It's not an in your face kind of vibe and that was what I was going for with this."
Segel puts on a British accent when he mimics Brand. It's not bad. And it's something that the actor is bound to improve upon as he's spending the next five months in London filming Gulliver's Travels in which he plays Horatio opposite Jack Black's Gulliver. Segel spent a part of last summer in London too, writing a draft for a new Muppets movie. Also, his bromance with Brand is set to continue as he's currently writing songs for Brand to perform in the Judd Apatow produced comedy Bring Him To the Greek, in which the British personality reprises the rock star role Segel created for him. It must be love.
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