AMFM: WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS AND YOUR CONNECTION TO THE SCRIPT?
It started with Donald Margulies, who adapted the book David Lipsky wrote. Donald Margulies was my favorite professor in college, and we stayed in touch over the years. I continued to see his plays (he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner). He saw my films, he was just a really great teacher who stayed in my life…If I was ever a teacher I hoped that I would be as good and generous as Donald Margulies.
He reached out to me over email and said “Hey James, I don’t know if you’re a David Foster Wallace fan, or if you’ve read this book by David Lipsky’s “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace” but I’ve adapted it with Anonymous Content (who did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) they’re going to produce and I’m going to send it to you.
So I was thrilled and humbled and really nervous because I’m a huge David Foster Wallace fan, have been since I was a teenager, and I read David Lipsky’s book as soon as it came out in 2010.
AMFM: THEN READING THE SCRIPT MUST HAVE BEEN SUPER INTERESTING FOR YOU. WAS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
It was really moving. I mean, I’ve read David Lipsky’s book, which was an amazing conversation, but I didn’t read it thinking “could this be a movie?” I read it just for pleasure. I thought these are conversations with David Foster Wallace from right after he wrote “Infinite Jest,” the book that would define him.
When Donald said he’d adapted it, I started thinking “how can this be a movie?” I just dove right in and maybe an hour later I was done. It was a page turner. I was a weepy mess at the end of it. It really, really hit me. I was laughing through out, and I was deeply moved by it.
It was one of the most honest and moving things I’d read, and I connected deeply to both of these men, what they were wrestling with was connected to a lot of things I had wrestled with as well.
AMFM: SO IT’S PERSONAL
Yes. Very. There was some anxiety of course because it’s about real people, and they mean so much to a lot of people, so that changes the dynamic of when you put something out in the world. I understand how proprietary the fans are of David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky, because I am one, so it’s an added layer. This is not a work of fiction, it’s about real people, so you wonder how will this be received?
AMFM: DO YOU SHARE SOME OF WALLACE’S OPINION ON CELEBRITY, HIS RETICENCE?
It’s interesting, because I can relate to both of these guys. I relate mostly to David Lipsky, because I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of people I admire, or feel a twinge of envy toward…which mirrored back my own self doubt or insecurity when I measured my success against theirs. It’s a very human thing.
I think we all do that. Whether it’s meeting someone who does the job that we do (maybe they do it better). Or even meeting someone that we’ve thought about a lot on a personal level. An estranged relative, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, and the power of inequity.
You think about them a ton, they’re a fixture in your consciousness, but you may not register the same way. Then you get that five minutes with them, and their mess of humanity complicates that time.
As far as Wallace, I think he wanted to focus on the work. He did take pleasure, he worked for many years very hard on this book. You don’t write a 1000 page book to not want it to be read. It’s a very personal book and it’s someone who is challenging the audience to get to know him. Like “How hard do you want to get to know me?” It’s not an easy read.
He wanted to be someone who was working and not just talking. So there’s that.
As far as the actors, as far as achieving some notoriety, I would never ever want that. I’ve seen it through the actors I’ve worked with. I want to be someone who can anonymously eat a sandwich. To have that robbed from you, I can’t imagine what that’s like.
AMFM: ON HOW JASON SEGAL GOT THE JOB AS DAVID FOSTER WALLACE
I’d been a huge fan of Jason Segal since “Freaks n Geeks” which came out while I was in college. It was one of the most beautifully cast ensembles that I’d ever seen. Of all the great actors that came out of “Freaks and Geeks,” Jason was the emotional anchor. He was not doing a “comedic stint”. It was funny and relatable – Tom Hanks is funny and relatable – but Jason was giving an emotionally grounded and honest performance. When I saw him in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which he wrote the script for, I thought “I love this guy” – and “The Muppets” movie? He didn’t just star in it. He wrote it. He’s a very serious writer.
You don’t just revive a franchise like “The Muppets,” can you imagine the pressure? To write something and to see it get made, and get made well, you have to be really serious about putting in the time. To say no to everything else, to sit down alone with your computer, and just write and write, and revise and revise. Then to submit yourself to the scrutiny of other people who are going to read that script as well as the larger scrutiny of people that, after it’s made, might just want to tear it apart? That’s someone who’s serious. Most people quit.
So I’ve aways loved Jason, thought he was really moving, and funny, and grounded and relatable, but Jimmy Stewart is funny and relatable. Robin Williams was, Jamie Foxx is, you know? I’m thinking of these actors that come from comedy. Jonah Hill was a funny guy, now he’s a two-time Oscar nominee. These are funny guys. There’s a rich tradition of guys who we find to be remarkably funny that also wrestle with personal demons. Whether it’s depression or whatever. They’re much more complicated people.
AMFM: YES, THEY ALL ARE IF THEY’RE COMICS.
Right, we all know that. So when an actor known for “Mork and Mindy” suddenly goes dramatic there’s always “how could they possibly do that?” I say how can they not? It takes fierce intelligence to be funny. Unless you’re just slipping on banana peels, to see the world in a funny way, to have a humorous perspective and the gift of language requires intelligence. Meeting Jason, I realized, he’s really complicated, deeply intelligent and soulful.