How Jason Segel Feels a Kinship With the Late David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace and Jason Segel. Photo: Getty Images, Corbis

When news broke that Jason Segel would be playing author David Foster Wallace in the film The End of the Tour, there was some disbelief — even from Segel himself. “I asked James Ponsoldt when he offered me the part, ‘Why me?’ Because I'm self-aware, and I know that I'm not the first choice when that script comes across someone's desk,” Segel said during a panel luncheon hosted by Peggy Siegal in honor of the film. "He said, ‘No, ever since Freaks and Geeks, even when you're being funny, I see something very sad behind your eyes.’ And I thought to myself, Shit, I didn't know people could see that. I've been revealed.

The reviews for Segel's performance as the famously neurotic writer have been glowing since the film premiered at Sundance. New York’s film critic David Edelstein writes that Segel “had [him]” from the moment he lumbered in. “You feel like somebody who's just like you, but with a better vocabulary, is expressing the things that you've been feeling for a long time,” said Segel. "We were the same age. We both write. I found myself at the end of a career, feeling like, if I'm looking to feel satisfied by my achievements, work-wise, it hasn't happened. Like, I've danced down the street with the Muppets. That should do it. Really, for a guy like me, that should do it! And it hadn't. I still felt like I needed more."

The moderator pressed further, asking if it was “spooky” how Segel’s own struggles with drinking echoed Wallace's substance-abuse issues. "Well, I think less spooky as, I felt like, Oh, thank God. Here's somebody else who's willing to talk about these things," Segel responded. "Because I was very hopeful that my experience wasn't unique. I think most people are when they're going through rough times, they're just really hopeful that somebody else out there feels the same way and then like maybe we can talk about it. So when you read Infinite Jest, that's exactly how you feel. Oh, here's someone who's willing to talk about things!"