I think that’s part of what David Foster Wallace could see in our future – all these things that are trying to connect us have the potential to dehumanize us.
Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) stars in End of the Tour, the new movie from A24 Films about acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Segel) who wrote the groundbreaking book ‘Infinite Jest’. The films covers the five-day interview Wallace did with Rolling Stone’s reporter David Lipsky in 1996 at the end of his book tour.
I spoke with Jason about, David Foster Wallace’s ideas on communication, the collaborative relationship between author and reader, and his alternative to taking selfies with fans.
How’s the press tour going?
Jason Segel: Its fun…its fun because the movie seems to spawn conversations other than, “Did you play pranks on set?” [laughs]
End of the Tour deals with communication in a lot of different ways. The thing that stuck out to me was David Lipsky’s (Jesse Eisenberg) recorder. It seemed really invasive.
JS: It’s the third person in the room. You, as an interviewer, must have a complicated relationship with that idea…
I hate it. I wish I could hide it sometimes.
JS: Of course, but that would be inauthentic too. You would know you were recording and the other person wouldn’t. It’s a very complicated thing, especially a four day interview. I’m capable for 10-15 minutes of making sure I don’t say anything dumb. But over four days, you’re going to get tired, get honest, and something is going to come up. When you realize a day into this interview the person doing the interview has an agenda that diverges from yours, and you have three days left, that’s a really complicated situation. You want to be honest because the guy is going to write about you and write about what you say. David Foster Wallace had some very nuanced and complicated things to say and he wanted to put them in the hands of somebody he could trust.
David Foster Wallace also realized that none of this was “real”. He goes from a just a writer to one of the most popular writers as soon as Infinite Jest takes off.
JS: I think what’s interesting is David Foster Wallace would’ve been interested to talk about that. That would’ve made a very interesting article. One of the things that’s sad about the movie is that David Foster Wallace is going through something right then at that moment that he wants to talk to David Lipsky about. But Lipsky is so caught up in talking about his own perceptions of fame that he’s missing the real story. It’s like when you have a discussion with a contrarian who keeps stopping you before you get to your actual point – “You’re stopping about the difference between Great Britain and England when I’m trying to get to a point about something different”.
I loved that and the idea that we spend so much time with our electronics that it begins to warp how we interact with people. There are things people say online that you know they’d never say to your face.
JS: It’s akin to road rage. If you talked to someone in a grocery store the way people talk through there care windows at each other, “I’LL KILL YOU”[laughs], that would be crazy. I stopped looking at social media about three years ago and it’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I realized I felt better. I stopped looking at social media and realized everything was fine [laughs]. When you’re really focused on what’s actually happening in your day-to-day, things are fine. A lot of the stuff I was worried about was people getting whipped up into a frenzy about things that are completely irrelevant.
It’s a weird way for people to try and exert power over you by tweeting mean things and getting a reaction.
JS: I focus on the real interactions that I’m having. I think that’s part of what David Foster Wallace could see in our future – all these things that are trying to connect us have the potential to dehumanize us. I just experienced it when I walked down the street to Pike Place Market yesterday. It’s a very bustling place and to be somewhat recognizable is interesting because you’re really made aware that everyone has a camera in their pocket. Moving through a place with so many people, I realized I wasn’t going to enjoy myself if I stopped and took a picture with everybody. I would say, “I’m not going to take a picture but I would love to shake your hand”. To me, that’s a more personal interaction, but to see the look of disappointment in some people’s eyes because they’re not going to walk away with proof is a very interesting thing.
As if it means more that you have a picture instead of an actual interaction with someone.
JS: We could talk for a minute or thirty seconds
Instead of leaning in for a selfie…
JS: That you’ll never look at again [laughs]
I remember a time when people didn’t have phones and you would hear myths about celebrities.
JS: I guess in End of the Tour, the tape recorder is the selfie and David Foster Wallace is saying “Just talk to me. I know you’re here with a purpose and agenda.” David Lipsky isn’t able to just experience him in the moment.
Was there any you learned about David Foster Wallace after you finished the film?
JS: I walked away a changed person as a result of thinking about this stuff a lot. One of the really important things was trying your hardest to do stuff. I think that’s interesting. All you can do is the best that you’re capable of and from there you have to be ok with it. You really have to make friends with reality.
That’s 100% my dad’s mantra.
JS: That’s something I really had to grow into, versus chasing other people’s accomplishments or expectations. Here’s what it is – be nice to everybody, try to do a little bit of exercise, and do the best you can at your job. And then you have to let it go [laughs].
I spoke with Nick Kroll earlier this year and we talked about how you’re immediately unemployed after your project is finished and people are always worried about the “next thing.”
JS: Imagine what it must feel like to write Infinite Jest. Let’s say that takes five years and it goes as well as it can possibly go. The experience isn’t done yet and you’re on the press tour to talk about it – I guarantee a lot of people asked, “So what’s next?” [laughs]. It’s one thing if it’s a movie you’re working on three months, six months, or even a year. But what a complicated moment for someone who doesn’t know if they’ll be capable of doing that again. There’s a long process to writing something so personal and unloading a 1,000 page novel and then you’re confronted about what’s next. It’s terrifying to think about.
End of the Tour made me think about where I’m at as a person and if I’m really enjoying life or am I constantly trying to reach one goal after another?
JS: It raises the question, “Do things happen because you’re ambitious and you make them happen or is something right because it happens naturally?” I haven’t thought about it before. I guess that’s the difference between television and reading. There’s an illusion that TV is good for you because it’s easy. You sit there and it’s passive and it feels good the same way junk food feels good. Reading a book like Infinite Jest is hard. There’s a part in the process of reading a book that’s a real pain in the ass, but you finish the book and you’re reminded that you’re capable and smart. But you had to make that decision.
And you retain what you read much more than what you watch on TV.
JS: I find, in traveling, a book is a friend. Sometimes I’ll have two hours between things and I’ve learned to sit in a hotel lobby and read a book.
Is there anything you’re reading right now?
JS: I read this series of books called The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I loved them so much, I just plowed through them. Right now I’m reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Reading is an activity but it’s also a collaboration between you and the author. It’s the words of the author and the imagination of the reader working together. The reader is creating the story as much as the author is.
End of the Tour is being received very well. Is it scary, exciting…?
JS: It’s exciting because we filmed it over a year ago and it went to Sundance and now it’s finally coming out. It’s something we all worked really hard on with a lot of love and for it to come out into the world is really exciting.
Are you ready for the Oscar buzz headed your way?
JS: In the same spirit of not reading entertainment news on the internet – if the good stuff is real, the bad stuff is real too. I try to focus on what’s actually happening.