How Our Friend made Jason Segel a better friend

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Sydney Bucksbaum
·9 min read
How Our Friend made Jason Segel a better friend
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Our Friend Official Trailer

The gut wrenching film tells the true story of Matthew and his wife Nicole Teague throughout her battle with terminal cancer, and their friend Dane Faucheux who dropped everything and moved hundreds of miles to stay with them.

When Jason Segel signed on to bring the heartbreaking real story of Our Friend to life, he had no idea just how much it was going to change his own life.

Based on Matthew Teague's 2015 essay The Friend, the gut wrenching film (available in theaters and on demand now) tells the true story of Matthew and his wife Nicole Teague throughout her battle with terminal cancer, and their friend Dane Faucheux who dropped everything and moved hundreds of miles to stay with them, helping them and their kids for years as her health declined. It's a poignant, tragic, but ultimately uplifting tale that doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of not only cancer but also life, and focuses not on the cancer itself but more on the importance of friendship.

Segel stars as the devoted, heroic-but-flawed Dane opposite Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson, and he was drawn to how this friend brought "light-hearted joy to the family when it was most needed." Things have, of course, changed drastically in the time that he filmed the movie and its release now, but the lessons that Segel learned from Our Friend mean even more to him these days. "Obviously we had no idea what was to come, but by just sheer happenstance, the themes of the movie have taken on a new relevance of what it means to be there for each other, to be truly a friend during difficult circumstances," Segel tells EW. "I know having played the part has definitely affected my behavior during quarantine."

Courtesy of TIFF

After playing Dane, the actor feels an intense desire to be a better friend to the people in his life. "I call my friends every day," he says. "Things that normally I just sort of dismissed, like, 'They know I love them,' I've realized from doing the movie that I need to bridge the gap between the friend that I picture myself to be and who I actually am." Segel has no interest in being a "passive" friend anymore, adding that "it's just so easy" to fall into that pattern of behavior. "One of the things that was really moving about the story is to see a friend be active. A friend in action is not normally how we live. So I'm trying to be as good of a friend that I picture I am in my mind."

And that goes for his relationship with his parents, too. "It's as simple as, I now call my parents every day. Without fail," he says. "It doesn't matter if I don't have anything to say or if we said it all yesterday, sometimes I just call and I'm like, 'This is my daily check in!' And we talk for two minutes, and that's done. And I do it with a bunch of my friends just on the regular now."

He pauses before emphatically adding, "It goes a f---ing. Long. Way. Keeping the connection alive. And because it becomes reciprocal, also just getting a text or phone call during the day from any number of friends saying like, 'Hey dude, hope it's going great over there,' it actually means more to me than I realized."

CLAIRE FOLGER/Gravitas Ventures

That idea is beautifully relayed through the nuanced film, as Dane gets as much love and support as he gives to the Teague family, albeit in a very different way that becomes clear over the course of the story. "The movie is really interesting in that, in the hands of a lesser director, it could just be a melodrama about somebody dying of cancer and the tragedy surrounding that," Segel says. "But [director] Gabriella [Cowperthwaite] really saw this as a story of friendship through hard times. And what the part of Dane, 'our friend,' required was somebody who could do the drama but also bring that joy and it was a real tightrope of tone."

Segel says that the real Matthew "was on set almost every day which was very helpful" since they all felt the "obligation" to honor his story, and he met the real Dane on set once as well. "But Gabriella freed us from the need to really accurately portray the particularities of the characters we were playing; she was more focused on the themes of the story. So I got to create Dane from scratch vs. having to mimic anybody."

Segel pulled from all the ways he and Dane are alike to create who the onscreen version of the character would be. "There are a lot of ways that Dane and I are just really, really similar," he says. "Like trying to bring light-heartedness to tough situations, sometimes at the sacrifice of dealing with my own feelings of sadness or depression, being more concerned that everyone was having a real nice time than my own wellbeing, all those kind of things were where Dane was built."

But in where he and Dane are different, Segel laughs as he admits, "I like to think I'm better at stand-up than Dane." In the film, Dane has dreams of becoming a stand-up comic and even gives a performance for Nicole to test out some of his jokes in one awkwardly hilarious scene. "I've never tried stand-up as Jason Segel but I will say that doing stand-up as Dane was one of the most mortifying experiences of my life," he says with another laugh. "It was so uncomfortable. In the script it just says, 'Dane does stand-up.' There were no jokes written. They just figured that I would know how to do this."

And it was even harder than Segel expected. "You didn't want it to be that Dane was a terrible stand-up comic who had no hope for a future, but also you didn't want it to be like he was going to become Seinfeld or something," he says. "I had to walk this tightrope of slightly-better-than-average jokes. [Laughs] And it was hard, but I wrote a bunch and I picked a few that I thought were in that wheelhouse."

But first, the actor reached out to some friends for help — and considering the numerous successful comedians Segel has on speed-dial, he hoped for a better outcome than what he actually got. "I asked a couple friends who were stand-ups if they had any jokes that I could use but as is expected, all the jokes I got back were so filthy," he reveals with a laugh, adding that he won't call out the names of the culprits. "They were totally inappropriate for a cancer drama. Just straight-up raunchy humor. I don't think I did a good enough job setting up the context. They didn't make the cut, thank God."

What was easier (and a much more enjoyable) experience for Segel was filming all the scenes in which Dane ditches the hardships of real life to go on a solo backpacking trip. "That was the best experience of my acting career, doing those scenes," he says. "In the movie it was supposed to be the Grand Canyon but it was actually Moab National Park in Utah." Segel spent three days filming those scenes with Gwendoline Christie — during which he didn't pepper her with Game of Thrones questions since, he admits, he still hasn't seen her popular HBO series — and just a small crew.

CLAIRE FOLGER/Gravitas Ventures

"It was basically Gwendoline Christie and I up in that terrain, just trying to do some kind of melancholy, quiet, honest acting," he says. "It was very easy, to be totally honest with you, when you are just surrounded by stuff that makes you feel small, I found it very easy to be humble. God, it was stunning."

It was also a great environment for Segel to reflect on his life and career, now that he works hard to not compartmentalize his work from his life like he used to do when he was younger. And while he's made a name for himself playing characters that people consider to be "lovable f--- ups," he sees things a different way. "The reality is, that if you're being really honest, every one of us is a f--- up in some capacity," he says. "The goal for me of trying to explore any character honestly is probably, to some extent, to find that. Like, that's what you're telling a story about, that's where the tension would come from. How is this person f---ed up? And then finding the lovable part of them in spite of that is where the beauty lives."

To hear Segel talk and to see the roles he's taken on in recent years, it may seem like a hard left turn from where he started out. The How I Met Your Mother star became a household name with raunchy comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, and I Love You, Man. But after 2014's Sex Tape with Cameron Diaz, Segel decided to leave comedy behind for something more serious.

"It was very interesting to me to find out what I was capable of," he says. "I swung very hard towards drama in a movie called The End of the Tour and answered a lot of questions for myself and really enjoyed it and felt like I was good at it. I've done a few since, including this."

However, Segel reveals that he isn't done with comedy for good. "Over the past few years, I've felt like, 'Hey, don't forget, you're also really good at comedy and you also enjoy that,'" he says. "So finding things across the spectrum that I enjoy is now my goal. I made a show last year that I did a lot of the jobs on, I wrote a bunch of it, called Dispatches From Elsewhere, and that also bridged the gap between comedy and drama and whimsy and magic. I feel like I am very lucky and that my plan is just to do things that interest me."

As for what's next? "I'm making a couple of interesting movies this year that I'm really excited about," he says, adding, "I can't get too specific but I'm writing a movie that has a lot of comedy in it. I'm excited about that, I haven't written a movie a few years. It's been neat to stretch that muscle again. I hope it is as good as I think it could be."

But for now, he just wants to be the best friend he can be. And have a good cathartic cry, thanks to Our Friend. "I love a good ugly cry," he says with a laugh.

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