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Watch: Jason Segel on Playing David Foster Wallace in Sundance’s ‘End of the Tour’ (Exclusive Interview)

Watch: Jason Segel on Playing David Foster Wallace in Sundance's 'End of the Tour' (Exclusive Interview)

A24 picked up, sight-unseen, three-time Sundance director James Ponsoldt’s two-hander “The End of the Tour,” which world-premiered Friday night at a rousing screening at the Sundance Film Festival.

Based on David Lipsky’s 375-page memoir “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,” the film tracks Rolling Stone writer Lipsky’s five-day 1996 immersion with writer Wallace, who was uncomfortable with all the kudos he was getting for his postmodern novel “Infinite Jest.”

Jesse Eisenberg plays the alert and slightly envious novelist Lipsky opposite lanky Jason Segel as Wallace, who fought depression and resisted fame until he took his own life in 2008. Lipsky told me that he was relieved at the time that the interview was never published, as other things came up and pushed it aside. The movie opens as Lipsky hears of Wallace’s death, unearths the tapes and puts fresh batteries into his Sony Tape Recorder (the same model I still own). The journalism rings true, as do the debates between two wily writers. Segel says the movie is like the trajectory of a relationship as they first meet, start to know each other, get comfortable, then intimate, then angry, and break up. They never met again. 

The David Foster Wallace estate has not endorsed the film on the grounds that the author would never have approved such a fictionalized portrait. American playwright Donald Margulies relied on interviews with Lipsky, he said at the Q & A, and felt that the memoir lent itself to a cinematic road movie set in the American landscape more than a stage play. The trick was to streamline five days of talking into a seamless narrative. “To me it became a universal story of artists who struggle and achieve and the conundrum of success. I saw in Dave and David a kind of doppleganger, two very bright complicated guys bumping up against each other. And encapsulated in those days was friendship, competition, so many conflicting things about the nature of art and the creation of art and the publicizing of art.” 

Margulies was Ponsoldt’s professor in college and reached out to him. “It moved me to my core,” he said at the Q & A. “It doesn’t ever get easier.” A24, which also released Ponsoldt’s 2013 Sundance darling “The Spectacular Now,” is finalizing fall 2015 release plans.

“The Muppets” writer-producer-actor Jason Segel gives a brilliant awards-worthy performance as Wallace, unlike any other he has given before.  Both he and Eisenberg showed up on set very prepared, Segel told me in our flipcam interview below. He is aware that he is hardly typecast in this role. He and his costar enjoyed the level of tennis they were playing, which helped to up their game. Wallace-phile Ponsoldt (“Smashed”) delivered on the details, helping his cast to parse what they were saying and why.

Segel organized a “book club with three great book dorks” to read “Infinite Jest” together, but while he digs the author, it is not necessary to know Wallace’s work to understand what the movie is about. “He touches on some universal human feelings,” Segel said at the Q & A, “so I tried to pay attention to the parts of us that are the same.” (Eisenberg was shooting “Now You See Me 2” in London). As Segel explains below, don’t we all wonder, when we have achieved a life goal and gain praise, money or fame, if this is what it’s all about? What is that hollow feeling?

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