Jason Segel on how 'self-exploration' led him to Dispatches From Elsewhere
After playing TV’s best best friend on How I Met Your Mother, mining laughs from his own love life in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and being a fixture in the Judd Apatow Universe, Jason Segel found himself outgrowing the themes those projects were exploring.
“Part of your responsibility if you want to make anything resembling art is that you are performing some act of self-exploration on behalf of the audience,” Segel tells EW. “And so the things that I’m interested in and the things that I’m thinking about are changing as I’m getting older. It just didn’t seem relevant anymore to write about being devastated about a girl or learning how to stand on my own two feet. I wasn’t really interested in writing about stunted adolescence as I approached 40.”
That revelation led Segel to create, write, direct, and star on AMC’s Dispatches From Elsewhere, which also features Sally Field, André Benjamin, and Eve Lindley. The “spooky adventure” follows four strangers who yearn for something more, until they are brought together by a “puzzle hiding just behind the veil of everyday life” and the game’s enigmatic frontman (Richard E. Grant). “I was lucky enough to stumble into the real experience that we profile on the show, and I found it exciting, scary, and transformative,” shares Segel. “What was equally interesting to me is who takes part in these things, and why.”
Segel decided the who he wanted to explore those questions through was Peter, the de-facto leader of this group of misfits. And the actor couldn’t help but identify with the same crisis facing his character. “Peter feels a lot like how a lot of us feel, which is that you’ve checked off all the boxes that society told you were a complete adult American life, only to find yourself feeling like something is missing, like whatever promise was supposed to lie on the other end of this check list doesn’t exist and you’re facing the terrifying question of, what now?” explains Segel. “And that was something that I faced in my own way, of having a lot of success and doing a lot of cool things and finding that none of that scratched the itch of feeling emotionally or spiritually satisfied, that I must have placed my hopes and expectations on the wrong stuff.”
Dispatches From Elsewhere left Segel more than satisfied, despite the exhausting workload that comes with creating, writing, directing, and starring a series. “It challenged me in ways that I hadn’t been challenged in a long time,” he admits. “It’s been a really long time since I thought, ‘I might not be able to pull this off.’ I actually loved that feeling, and it forces you to raise your game and be your best. I think it’s rare that we really get to butt up against the limits of our ability.”
Considering his story is built on a mystery, Segel doesn’t want to reveal too much, although he’s willing to share the connection to a familiar tale. “What the show is about, parallel to that mystery, is four people in states of isolation and existential crisis on these character journeys, a lot like The Wizard of Oz. And the journey along the yellow brick road is just as important as reaching Oz.”
Dispatches From Elsewhere premieres Sunday on AMC.
Dispatches From Elsewhere