Perhaps Jason Segel isn’t the first actor you’d think of to play famed writer David Foster Wallace—don’t worry, he understands. “I’m relatively self-aware,” Segel says, with a laugh. “There was a big part of me that thought, Why Me?” Luckily, director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) thought otherwise. “It was an incredible compliment and challenge. I set off to do the best that I could.”
As part of his research, Segel started a book club with some guys from his local bookstore to get through the 1,000 plus pages of Infinite Jest, Wallace’s heavily annotated 1996 opus. “We’d get together every Sunday and talk about what we had read,” Segel says. “It was one of the sweetest experiences I’ve ever had as a grown man with other grown men.” The actor then had to try and figure out how to play a man that is considered by many to be the most talented writer of his generation. “What was daunting for me is that David Foster Wallace speaks in hugely long paragraphs. This isn’t quippy dialogue, these are well structured theses on every comment he’s making. So you really had to understand what you were saying,” says Segel. He laughs. “It’s no small thing trying to really know what a giant genius meant by everything he said.”
The film focuses on a one week period when Wallace is trailed by Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) on a book tour for Infinite Jest. “Jesse is the best,” says Segel. “Showing up and knowing that Jesse was who I was going to be with every day? It was the greatest.” Though, as far as filming goes, a far cry from fancy Hollywood experiences. “We shot in Grand Rapids, Mich. in the frigid cold,” he says. “There was nothing cushy about it: long days, trapped in the car, doing some pretty intense scenes. So you really felt like you were working—which is great.”
The End of the Tour opens July 31.