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Anyone who has ever seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall will never forget the opening scene.
After Peter (Jason Segel) gets out of the shower, he finds his TV star girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell) waiting to break up with him. The shock causes him to drop his towel, showing both Sarah and the audience more of him than they could have ever expected. But that wasn’t always the plan. “[Jason] and I were talking about the script and he said he thought it would be funny if he showed his penis in the opening,” recalls director Nicholas Stoller. “I was like, ‘I don’t think you can do that.’ I literally just didn’t think you could do it. And then in this meeting at Universal, he said, ‘I really think it would be funny if I did full frontal in that scene,’ and everyone laughed. I was like, ‘Oh, I guess you can do that.’”
Like much of the movie, the naked split was pulled from Segel’s own love life, so with the writer/actor ready to recreate the painful moment, they initially stayed even more faithful to the actual events than the final onscreen product. “There was a part that we ended up cutting from the script — this is actually what happened — where he chose the outfit that as he put it ‘he’d be broken up in,'” shares Stoller. “He was like picking a shirt that his girlfriend at the time had bought for him to make her feel really bad. But it just slowed down the scene so we ended up not doing that.”
And still, that experience didn’t make it any easier on Segel when it came to filming. “He was mainly nervous that his wiener look normal, which in a very cold stage is hard to achieve,” says Stoller, laughing. “So he had set up a private room where he got his wiener looking normal. And Kristen and I just waited and he’d yell, ‘Okay, I’m ready,’ and then I’d say action and he’d run out to do the scene.”
Added Bell of the shooting experience: “Jason psyched himself up to doing it and he really owned the fact that he did write it and that he was going to go through with it. Because I’m sure on the day it felt so much more vulnerable than when he wrote it…at his house…the previous year. That was one of the last scenes we shot in the film, so we were all very comfortable with each other. And although the beginning of the day was vulnerable, it was apparent that we were all friends, because by the time we had moved on from close ups, Jason was still naked and didn’t realize it. I was like, ‘J, you can put your pants on now.'”
Segel was required to stay naked for a while, considering all the different angles Stoller wanted to film. “I had no idea what the audience would put up with,” admits the director. “So I shot the scene as if we’d show it the whole time, a version where he kept the towel on, one from the waist up, and then the weirdest one, which took a long time to frame, was just the top half of the trunk of his penis. There’s maybe like a second and a half of wiener in the entire movie. We did test screenings where there was more of it and people just didn’t want it. We discovered that less is more when you’re shooting wiener. [Laughs]”
For the film’s final scene, Segel would get naked again and his willingness to repeatedly bare it all earned him the respect of his costar. “There was a part of me that really loved it because we are so used to and almost numbed by female nudity,” says Bell. “Jason Segel was one of the first to exploit male nudity in a film and I just thought that was, and I say this with a laugh, but that was very brave.” The Good Place star then acknowledged that Segel himself wrote the scenes, declaring, “Which is why I didn’t take any of his nerves on set very seriously. I was like, ‘You wrote this, bro! You didn’t need to write it if you didn’t want to do it.’”
But despite Bell’s good-natured ribbing, Segel had great support from his cast and crew, which was on full display when they supported him on the day of by wearing T-shirts featuring the statue of David. Cracks Bell, “Everybody had a d— on their shirt that day.”