Jason Segel Talks Despicable Me, Little People and Writing Comedy

By  · Published on July 10th, 2010

A short time ago I was given the opportunity to sit down and talk to Jason Segel of the Universal Pictures animated offering, Despicable Me. In the film, Segel plays the nerdy Vector – the nemesis of the main character Gru (Steve Carrell). He is way too geeky to be as cocky as he is. Holed up in his sleek house/fortress, Vector can usually be found in his orange warm-up suit, playing video games while plotting his nextmove. His favorite weapon is a gun that fires live pira-nhas. Unfortunately for him, Vector has a hard timekeeping the carnivores inside the gun’s barrel…

Click on through the jump to see what Segel had to say about the film, his role as Vector, and whatever else came to mind during a quick but informative Q&A. Below are some of the highlights of that event.

On developing the voice of Vector:I was given a sketch very early on, and coming up with a voice to go with this sketch I was given; I was given a few months and I came up with a few, and I went in and they helped me choose. The one they helped me choose ended up being perfect. One of the voices I did was completely counter to the look of Vector. *does an Alfred Hitchcock-esque voice, but with a deeper baritone * I think we chose the right one.”

On doing an animated film: “I was very excited. The whole thing that drew me to doing an animated film, is you’re free of the limitations of your body. I sort of get to ignore that I’m this six foot four, lumbering dude; that was really exciting. Puppetry is very similar. They whole thing tha ties them together is not being tied to your physical body. To voice a character that looked nothing like me was very exciting. If I did that voice as an actor, you’d call BS. In this case, I can be five foot three, wear a jumpsuit, and be super nerdy.”

The character, Vector: “This guy is almost totally based on insecurity; all he wants to do is prove to his dad that he’s worthy. I kind of drew from there. It was sort of freeing. You’ll notice, none of the cast were doing their voice. Steve, Russell, Julie; we all did a different voice than what you would expect from us.”

The process of doing an animated film: “What’s cool about doing an animated film is that, you go in for three hours every few months. I probably went in six times over two years. I think the goal is, from their standpoint, is coming up with as much material as possible for them in that short time so they have a lot to work with. Everytime it was just three hours of intense effort trying to be as funny as I could be. It’s a strange experience in that you’re not working with any of the other actors during these scenes. You’re alone in a booth, and for me it’s really a test of being funny and on story. On story is a big part of improv, it’s very easy to come out and say funny lines you’ve thought up, but to be on story is the real challenge. You’re in there for three hours, and you’re trying to give them material they can actually use. I really enjoyed that challenge.”

On his feelings about Despicable Me, and audiences: “I am more proud of this move than anything I’ve ever done. You know, there is something very special about the idea of a family being able to go to a movie and everyone enjoying themselves genuinely. It’s something The Muppets did beautifully, The Simpsons kind of does it – parents aren’t placating their kids when they take them to this movie. They’re enjoying it as well, and there is something really great about the idea of a family walking out of the theater, and everyone is happy with their experience and are enjoying themselves. I think a family getting along for a few hours is a very special thing.”

Jason on his music in films:I wrote some of the music for Get Him to the Greek, uh; that’s a real side job for me, but I enjoy it. When you try to pitch a real musician some of these songs, they try to write them too musically and comedians write them too funny. I think I’ve somehow found a middle ground. You know, I taught myself to play piano at seventeen to pick up girls. I remember the first thing I did was find a not too bright girl, and told her I wrote Your Song by Elton John for her. It worked!”

Respecting little people: “We did a conga line with some small people dressed as minions for a press event, which was a little awkward. I mean, it’s midgets in costumes. At one point I was sort of asked to do something funny, so I asked one of the guys in a costume if I could throw a ball off of their head. The guy said, “You’ve got to remember…I’m a real human being.” I felt awful.”

His helming of the next Muppets film: “It’s very intimidating; but I think if I approach it with a real sense of respect…You know, I’m very earnest about the way I approach it. There is no sense of irony, I don’t think it’s funny that I’m doing The Muppets. I truly love them.”

The next season of How I Met Your Mother, and the Apocalypse: “I don’t know the story, but allegedly I get even funnier. Honestly, if I had to guess, I’d say there might be kids in our future, but I’m truly guessing. I think that, since the narration takes place in the future, as a great reveal for HIMYM, there should be a point where when the show ends they finally look out the window that it’s just horrible out there, like the Apocalypse. But, you know…they’re not amused by these ideas. *laughs* They sort of come from my being a bizarre human being.”

The best way to write a comedy screenplay: “The best way to write a comedy script, is to write a drama. I’m not joking. That was the first advice I got from Judd Apatow, and I think that’s why his movies are so brilliant. He told me when I was writing Sarah Marshall, that the first draft he wanted from me was a drama. He said, ‘We’ll make it funny, it’s going to be funny because we’re funny, and we’re going to add jokes, and the cast will be funny – but the people will see it and keep seeing it and connect to it because it’s a drama.’”

Despicable Me is in theaters this weekend.