Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Apatow-Segel Collaboration

The capacity to fall deeply, madly in love is fundamental to humanity. As is the inevitability of having our hearts painfully, inextricably torn apart. But in the darkest of places, there is the funniest of comedy.
Judd Apatow and Jason Segel have this shared history of dark humor.

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The longtime friends first worked together in 1999 on the Apatow-created TV cult classic Freaks and Geeks, in which Segel played confused 1980s McInley High student Nick, and again in 2001, as underclassman Eric in Apatows short-lived, but critically acclaimed television show Undeclared. In 2007, they teamed with producer Robertson on the box-office hit Knocked Upin which Segel received acclaim by portraying one of the juvenile, yet lovable, best friends of lead Seth Rogen as slacker Ben Stone.

Several years ago, Segel had discussed with the filmmaker his interest in writing and starring in a comedy about brutal heartbreak caused by a woman who had crushed a hopeful romantics spirit and abandoned their future. Segel believed there was comedy to be found in not only a couples time together, but in stories of the many bad things that happen after a relationship conceivably ends. Says Segel, I had to cut my first draft down to 120 pages, because originally it was 2,000.

During a courtside conversation at a Lakers game, Segel told Apatow the idea. Apatow provided Segel with direction and guidance, and the first-time screenwriter moved forward with drafting a screenplay. Segel recounts, Judd said to me, If you can improv the way you do, then you can also write. And here we are making a movie together.

While impressed enough by the actors past performances to keep hiring him, Apatow admits he was surprised when Segel handed him a finished script and asked for his notes. He recalls: Jason went away to Hawaii, and he actually wrote a hilarious script. From the get-go, everyone was shocked at just how good it was. He is just so funny as a guy desperately in love, jealous and insane.

Apatows producing partner on the companys hits The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad, Shauna Robertson, was equally impressed with the work of the first-time screenwriter. She recounts, Jasons quite a prolific writer. We were really excited about the script. The producer jokingly adds, I said, If you can come up with a movie where I can wear flip-flops all the time, Im in. So Judd said, Pack your bags, youre going to Hawaii.

During the time Segel was polishing copy, Apatows writing partner on Fun With Dick and Jane (and a former staff writer on Undeclared), Nicholas Stoller, was searching for a script with which he could make his feature film directorial debut. Stoller was given a copy of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and was impressed enough by the draft to work with Segel over the course of a year and a half. The pair developed the story about a couple who had everything, until she decides to leaveand he blames her for everything.

Provides Apatow: Nick and Jason get along great and share the same sense of humor. They had both been destroyed by women in the past, which is helpful. Actually, that has been a requirement for everyone who works on the movie. People who have had their hearts trampled on understand the material.

Surprised at being given the opportunity to have a movie made from his first attempt at a full screenplay, Segel laughs, Somehow, Universal gave us millions of dollars to make this film and to exorcise my demons from bad relationships.

Director Stoller felt lucky to be guided by producers with a reputation for eliciting humor and deep emotions from the raunchy side. He was, however, pleased that the script didnt delve into his past demons, stating, How wonderful that we didnt have to edit my breakup stories, as well as Judd, Shauna, Jason and executive producer Rodneys.

With a screenplay that the producers, the director and leading man were comfortable with, it was time to find a cast of characters that could wreak havoc on a tropical island. For the task, the filmmakers would turn to a former teenage P.I., a 70s stoner and a British shock jockas well as some tried and true Apatow players.

Casting the Film

From the first action to the final cut, Stoller felt there would be much flexibility for takes during production of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The dialogue, as is common in Apatow productions, would be adapted from Segels script to allow for the actors to perform off the page. For everyone, the best comic takes would trump all. Not surprising, as the daily call sheets included character names for supporting cast such as Potty Mouth Girl, Blonde Screaming Girlfriend and Tantrum Kid.


In the original script, as Sarah breaks up with Peter, he is naked, then he gets dressed. Stoller comments, We thought it would be much funnier if Peter was naked the whole scene during the entire breakup. And besides, Jason likes to get naked.

Kristen Bell

The casting process began as Segel and the filmmakers searched for the perfect woman to play the title charactera self-centered yet sympathetic, bossy but lovable, dumper of Peter. Kristen Bell was cast on the spot after her audition as Sarah, self-indulgent television star of hit procedural show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. Says Apatow: Her Sarah Marshall and Jasons Peter Bretter had great chemistry. Her shutdown nature and sarcasm were really funny against his puppy-dog vulnerability. They made an interesting, horrible, funny couple.

Kristens character was fun to develop, he continues. I always think it is fun to satirize people in show business. Making fun of television shows, cop shows and stars of shows are just ripe areas of comedy.
Bell was sold by her co-stars screenplay. Most romantic comedies tend to be very predictable, but there is a reality to this script, she commends. Jason wrote a very three-dimensional story. Everybody is trying the best they can, and you can see all sides of every situation.

Producer Robertson offers of the films female lead: Kristen was the right person to play Sarah Marshall because you have to, at moments, love her and other times be disgusted by her. Kristen can play both and have you glued to the screen either way, laughing out loud.

Mila Kunis

Mila Kunis was chosen to play Rachel Jansen, the levelheaded love interest for Peter in Hawaiithe woman who helps him finally get out his head. Provides director Stoller of the choice: For both of our leading ladies, we knew they were the ones from their auditions. We saw hundreds of women, but their two faces remained in our heads during the entire casting process.

Naturally biased, Segel wanted to find a counterpart who was the opposite of everything that his character fell in love with during the first go-around. Mila has this carefree air to her about life, he compliments. She is the antithesis of the Sarah Marshall character and doesnt need to be doted on or catered to.

Kunis was no stranger to Apatow-Robertson productions. Though the actor had auditioned for Knocked Up, the filmmakers kept her in mind for a project that was a better fit. Robertson remembers, We knew Mila would be the perfect Rachel.

Says Kunis of her interest in the part and her on-screen love: A breakup from a guys point of view I loved it from the first read. Jasons honesty is so sweet, on screen and off, and he is no fool as a writer. She laughs, He has sex scenes with like 10 different women in the film. He found room in the story for a multiple partner montage. Imagine that!

Like Segel, Kunis background was in television. The transition to improv would first prove challenging, but ultimately rewarding, for her. She notes, When you come off television, you dont improv. You stick to the script, word for word, because there is a time limit for everything. Its a whole new process, and I am slowly but surely learning the ropes.

Russell Brand

When he came in for his audition, the filmmakers didnt know what to make of U.K.-based stand-up comedian Russell Brand. He arrived in his normal fare of leather pants, complete with several belts strapped about his waist, teased up and ratty long hair, and black eyeliner.

None of the crew was familiar with Brands work, and Stoller told the actor to be loose with the script, improvising whenever he wished. When Russell began to speak, Stoller remembers, it was literally the funniest riff I have heard.

Recalls Apatow: After we met Russell, we tailored the part to who he is. He has this very flamboyant nature, and we knew we had to turn his character into a rock star, because he looks so good in leather pants.

Continues Segel, Russell was the find of the century. When he came in for the audition, oozing with undeniable sexual energy and rock star good looks, he said to me Youll have to forgive me, I have only had the chance to take a cursory glance at your script. Perhaps you should tell me what you require And all I kept thinking was that takes balls, man! and I realized he was the dude. We did a complete rewrite for him.

Brand was comfortable with the comedy improv, right from the go. When I do stand-up comedy shows, I improvise generally for the first hour and it keeps things very organic and fresh. I felt very comfortable with this improvisational vibe on set.

Pual Rudd

The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up alums Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill support the cast as, respectively, stoner surfer Chuck (who prefers his Hawaiian name, Kunu) and waiter/Aldous Snow stalker Matthew.

Recounts Rudd: It was one of those things you didnt even have to think about. Judd called and asked if I wanted to bring my family to Hawaii for a week and play the part of a strung-out surf instructor. We were on a plane before the day was out.

Continues Apatow, Any time we can convince Paul to work in a movie for almost no money, we tend to go for that. And for Jonah, we told him there are many beautiful Hawaiian girls on this island and that he could perform in the movie for a day or two. We said wed maybe keep him here a week, and give him five days off to do his best to not get rejected by all these women.
Joining Forgetting Sarah Marshall in other key roles are SNL veteran Bill Hader as Peters sensible-but-short-fused brother, Brian, along with Jack McBrayer as sexually repressed newlywed Darald and Maria Thayer as his randy wife, Wyoma.