‘Shrinking’ star Jason Segel never thought mental illness was stigmatized: ‘I’ve asked for help so many times in my life’

Jason Segel teams with Harrison Ford and Jessica Williams for new dramatic comedy with some 'Ted Lasso' in its DNA

Jason Segel in Shrinking (Apple TV+)
Jason Segel in Shrinking (Photo: Apple TV+)

Jason Segel readily admits he gets typecast for a very specific role: “Your best friend.”

“I was like on a TV show for nine years, where I was your best friend,” the 43-year-old Los Angeles native says of CBS’s long-running How I Met Your Mother (2005-14). “And I’ve done movies where I’m your best friend.” See: Knocked Up (2007), I Love You, Man (2009), etc.

Our buddy Jason believes his onscreen affability is why Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein (a duo that has notched some major W’s lately with the Apple TV+ soccer smash Ted Lasso) pitched him Shrinking. The new dramatic comedy — also on Apple — stars Segel as a therapist and father of a teenage daughter (Lukita Maxwell) reeling from the recent death of his wife who finds catharsis when he becomes more personally involved in the lives of his patients.

TODAY -- Pictured: Jason Segel and Brett Goldstein on Monday, January 23, 2023 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images)
Jason Segel and Brett Goldstein (Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images)

“I think what I brought to the table was I seem to have established some sense that I’m like your best friend. … And so what I said to them was, ‘We should push this character as far to the edge of likability as we can, and use this really good sentiment [that I’ve built up] for evil, and have him get it wrong. Have him get it wrong a bunch, because I think that you’ll still feel like, ‘He’s doing his best.’”

Shrinking is something like Ted Lasso but with therapy. “Those guys are masters at what they do, masters of that tone,” Segel says of Lawrence (Lasso’s showrunner) and Goldstein (a Lasso writer-producer-performer who has scored two Emmys for playing grizzled ex-soccer star Roy Kent). “I think that one of the things that the shows have in common is that they are hopeful. At the end of the [Shrinking] episodes, even though they’re going through some really complicated stuff and grieving and there’s loss, I think the message of the show is that, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together. None of us come out of this life unscathed and there’s actually some comfort in that.’”

While Segel shines as the main character Jimmy Laird in his first comedic role in nearly a decade, Shrinking, like Lasso, is a true ensemble piece. Among its scene stealers are two actors playing therapists alongside Jimmy: Jessica Williams, who, as the quick-witted Gaby (“She’s astounding,” Segel declares), has finally found a role worthy of her talents since departing The Daily Show; and an 80-years-young fellow you may have also heard of, Harrison Ford, Emmy-worthy as the practice’s cranky, CBD-gummy-popping veteran with Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Paul Rhodes.

Segel calls the casting of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones icon as “the coup of the century,” and explains exactly how he felt when Ford signed on.

“You know when you’re like the dork in high school and then as almost like a joke or act of bravery, you’re like, ‘I’m gonna ask the prettiest girl to prom.’ And you kind of know that the victory is just in asking that. Of course she’s gonna say, ‘No,’ ’cause she’s going with the head of the football team. These are old tropes, but you know what I mean. That’s sort of what it felt like asking Harrison Ford to do this show. Like of course he’s gonna say, ‘No.’ Right? But won’t it be cool and brave to say we asked?

“And then the guy said, ‘Yes.’ And then you gotta figure it out like, ‘Gosh, now I’m going to prom with Harrison Ford. Where do I take him to dinner? What do I wear?’ That’s sort of what it felt like.”

Harrison Ford in Shrinking (Apple TV+)
Harrison Ford in Shrinking (Photo: Apple TV+)

Shrinking arrives at a time when public discourse about mental health is more common than ever, especially in the realm of entertainment. Celebrities like Selena Gomez, Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Bell have openly shared their struggles with anxiety and depression. Segel’s friend and four-time co-star Jonah Hill even made an entire Netflix documentary about his own issues. Many frame their forthrightness as helping to destigmatize mental illness.

Asked if Shrinking is also part of that narrative, Segel offers a contrarian view.

“It’s so funny because in my own mind, they’re not stigmatized,” he says. “I’ve asked for help so many times in my life, in so many different ways. I think if there is a destigmatizing element, one of the things I'm always afraid of when I ask for help is that the person across from me is judging me, or better than me somehow. And one of the things our show exposes is that, ‘Oh, we’re all [suffering in some form]. Like even the person you think is your authority, they’re a mess when they go home, too.’”

The actor is open about his own mental health journey.

“I have always struggled a bit with anxiety. And some sense that something is wrong and there’s a sense of impending doom,” he says. “At some point I decided there’s no reason to spend my life not feeling good. And so I tried to acquire some tools, therapy being one of them, to feel like everything’s OK.”

Shrinking is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Watch the trailer: