Jason Segel on the Good Times of Bad Teacher, and the Dramedy of Five-Year Engagement

Bad Teacher presents both good news and bad news for fans of Jason Segel. Your favorite Apatow repertory player is quite hilarious in the film as a gym teacher hot for teacher (Cameron Diaz’s titular poor educator), but he’s decidedly a supporting player. Which actually isn’t that bad for Segel when you think about it — especially since he’s spent the last two years working on How I Met Your Mother and writing a pair of highly anticipated films: the upcoming rom-com Five-Year Engagement and a little thing called The Muppets.

The busy Segel rang up Movieline earlier this week to discuss what led him to take a role in Bad Teacher, the film’s Freaks and Geeks Easter eggs, what to expect from Five-Year Engagement, and those outstanding trailers for The Muppets.

Normally, you’re heavily involved in the creative process of your films — I’m thinking Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets and Five-Year Engagement. That’s not the case with Bad Teacher. What made you sign on for this one?
Well, to be honest, I had a phone conversation with Jake Kasdan way before I even got the script. And Jake described the role to me — I’ve known Jake for 15 years now. So, I was just excited to work with Jake again. We’ve been trying to for years. That was what was most exciting. Then I found out Cameron Diaz was involved, and it seemed like a really fun thing to be a part of.

You’re definitely a supporting player in this one. With how busy you are, I imagine that was attractive, too.
Yeah. It was very easy. I literally worked for 10 days total. Ten shooting days. It really was like a fun side project that ended up being really great to do.

When you get scripts like Bad Teacher as a screenwriter, is there anything you’re really looking for in particular from them that someone without a screenwriting background might not be?
For the past couple of years, I’ve spent so much time writing, I haven’t read so many scripts. Writing a script from beginning to end and getting it made takes so much time. And to do that while being on a TV show, I basically have my head down and am focused on getting the scripts done. We were writing Muppets and Five-Year Engagement side-by-side, so it’s been a pretty heavy couple of years.

I kinda loved the idea of you being back in a school setting along with Dave “Gruber” Allen. You two even share a little moment together in Bad Teacher. Was that kind of faux-Freaks and Geeks reunion something you guys came up with on-set?
That was in the script originally. And there’s also a tiny cameo by Paul Feig in there, which you might not notice. We tried to get as many people in there as we could.

Both Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake are kinda playing against their normal types in this one. What was it like working through the film with them?
It was great. It was very easy to me to interact with Cameron, because I took our real-life relationship and portrayed that in the movie: I constantly hit on Cameron Diaz, and she constantly tells me she has no interest. And that’s that. [Laughs] So it’s very easy. And Justin, he’s supremely talent. It’s almost frustrating how talented he is. They guy can literally do anything. So, it was really exciting to get to know him — he’s a great guy, I think we’ll be friends for a long time.

You mentioned Paul Feig, and Bad Teacher is coming out six weeks after Bridesmaids kinda flipped the script on female-fronted comedies. Do you think there’s any pressure on the film to perform at the box office?
You know, it’s sort of an ironic question. It points to the whole problem. If there was a comedy with a bunch of dudes in it, and then there was another comedy with a dude in it, you wouldn’t be asking if it was weird to have a comedy with men coming out right after a comedy with men came out. You know what I mean? I think that points to that there’s still a discrepancy with the way women and men are viewed, especially in comedy. In my opinion, it’s about time — there’s so many funny women out there. I dare you to find three men who can contend with Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in a room together.

Bad Teacher is a pretty typical comedy, but you’ve been very good in the past when given the opportunity to flex some dramatic muscles. Do you want to do more drama in the future?
I do, yeah. Unfortunately, it’s a slower transition for a comedian. If a dramatic does a comedy, everyone is just pleasantly surprised at how funny they are. Unfortunately, when a comedian does a drama, there’s an immediate backlash because it wasn’t funny. People always expect that there will be some sort of humor to it. You have to sort of slowly make that transition, I think, for people to accept you doing a dramatic role. It’s like for Jim Carrey: Truman Show split the difference, and then he was able to do Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

You were so great with some very heavy stuff on How I Met Your Mother this year. Do you think that can help ease the transition?
I don’t know if there’s much of a connection between TV and movies, unfortunately. But I think that Sarah Marshall sort of started it for me — and the movie I’m doing now, Five-Year Engagement, definitely splits the difference between comedy and drama.

I know you’re filming Five-Year Engagement now. Were there any films in particular you thought of while writing the script?
Well, it hopefully is a very unique film. But we watched Annie Hall a few times, and When Harry Met Sally. Hopefully it’s one of those — that’s shooting for the stars, but: hopefully it’s one of those romantic comedies in the tone of life, versus being a broad comedy or a hard drama.

On the flip side of that, there’s The Muppets. The marketing so far has been ridiculously spot-on. The parody trailers strike the exact right tone. Were you involved in the selling of this movie at all?
I must say, that’s the Disney marketing department. They’ve really been on it. They’re so behind the idea of bringing the Muppets back, and everyone brought out their best creative ideas. I’ve been really, really pleased.

You’ve been working on The Muppets for four years. Is it rewarding to see the positive reaction online so far? It seems like people are really excited to have it come out over Thanksgiving.
More than anything, I’m just excited for the Muppets. I think they deserve the attention this movie will bring them, and hopefully it will bring them back to the late ’70s/early ’80s glory. We’re trying to hearken back to the first three Muppet movies. We even hired Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, and he wrote the music for The Muppets.

I know you’ve written a lot of songs for Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. Did you get to write any songs for The Muppets as well?
I do a lot of the singing and dancing, but I had my hands full with the script and the acting. But there’s no better match than Bret and the Flight of the Conchords sensibility. It was a great collaboration.

You’re a movie star, successful screenwriter, producer. Any dreams of adding director to your hyphenates?
You know what? No, it’s not really my thing. I don’t have that kind of focus on a moment to moment basis. I prefer to leave that in the hands of professionals.