Bryan Cranston and Jason Segel on the Troubled Lives of ‘Trumbo’ and Author David Foster Wallace – Actors on Actors (VIDEO)

Jason Segel (“The End of the Tour”) and Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”) came to the Variety Studio to talk about getting into the heads of the charismatic writers they portray in their latest films, the history swirling around those writers and mull over modern-day ennui. The conversation has been edited for space.

Segel: I saw “Trumbo” and I loved it very much. So what made you want to do that movie? What drew you to the part?

Cranston: You know, for us whenever we read something that really resonates, that really leaves an impression on you, it’s the same as when you read a great novel that you want to get back to and read chapter by chapter. This story, about Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 blacklisted in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, it was a dark, dark period in not just Hollywood history but in American history. The story was just so big and so great. The jeopardy of losing your First Amendment rights under the pressure and penalty of imprisonment for no crime committed, and these men went to prison for years, it was so compelling to me and I had to do it. John McNamara’s script then backed up that story with such nuance and beautiful language and crafting.
Then I looked at the character itself. Dalton Trumbo was such a flamboyant, dramatic man.

Segel: It was a meaty part. And they didn’t do anything illegal, it was just their beliefs that got them locked up.

Cranston: No. It was just the thought police, the fearmongers of the time really penetrated the psyche of the American citizen and it wasn’t difficult at the time. In the late ’40s after the war and ’50s, there was about 65% of the population of the country felt that World War III was imminent. It didn’t take a lot to twist that screw a little bit.

Segel: For those who don’t know, Dalton Trumbo was an amazing writer. He wrote “Roman Holiday,” he wrote “Spartacus.”

Cranston: Not only nominated for Oscars, but he won his two Oscars under different names, (for) “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One.” He was not allowed to put his name on those.

Amanda Demme for Variety

Segel: I had the same thing with “Braveheart.”

Cranston: Is that right?

Segel: Absolutely. I had to write that under a different name. Had you ever worked with Jay Roach before?

Cranston: I had not. I have since worked with Jay. I did a play in New York called “All the Way” about Lyndon Johnson.

Segel: Oh yeah, that’s right. I heard that was fantastic. I didn’t get to see it.

Cranston: Yeah, thanks a lot for showing up. I know you were in New York often and you still didn’t come. The ticket was waiting for you. It said Segel right there. All you had to do was walk up to the box office, but no.

Segel: You know a lot of people want me to come to their shows.

Cranston: But you don’t go.

Segel: Ehh, you know.

Cranston: Let’s talk about “The End of the Tour.” How did that come to you?

Segel: I got really lucky. You know, you may have had a similar experience coming from comedy at the beginning of your career, I’m pretty self-aware. I know when a David Foster Wallace script comes across somebody’s desk they don’t go “get Jason Segel on the phone.” This script arrived for me from James Ponsoldt, our director, who said, “I think that you can do this.” He said, “Every time I’ve seen you do comedy there is something sad behind your eyes.” Which is a really uncomfortable thing to hear from a stranger. You think you hide that pretty well.

Cranston: Not just comedy, I see it right now.

Segel: Oh, totally. As soon as they say cut … tears.
I read the script and, it’s sort of like how you said, you’re looking for things as an artist that are sort of reflective on how you feel. There was a line in the script where David Foster Wallace says, “I have to face the reality that I’m 34 years old alone in a room with a piece of paper.” And I thought that is how I feel right now. In our career you’re sort of freelance, where you get a job and it ends you’re unemployed again. I just thought, “yeah I have something to say about that.”
Honestly I feel really lucky because it’s a rare thing in this industry to have somebody want you to do something they haven’t seen you do before. For him to say, “I know this is a big adjustment in perception, but you’re the guy I want for this,” I mean he changed my life.

Amanda Demme for Variety

Cranston: He felt that, did you feel that when you first read it? Did it resonate with you?

Segel: It did. I think the other moment I had was … so I think as an actor you spend a lot of time feeling somewhat resentful you’re not getting the opportunities you want. Then when the opportunity arrives, I was faced with this scary situation where I thought, “I might find out I’m wrong. I might find out I’m not as good as I think I am.” I was really excited to walk into being scared. Being scared is a good motivator.

Cranston: I find the same thing. I find if I’m a little apprehensive or nervous or fearful about something, it’s usually a good indicator.

Segel: Yeah, because you’re going to walk into someplace and find out your limits. I think that’s really exciting. By the end of that movie to feel like I didn’t butt up against the wall of what I’m capable of it really made me feel capable.

Cranston: It’s a beautiful film by the way, and it’s a sweet revealing expose about this man who, there was loneliness to him, there was a sense of a lost boy at times. I felt so empathetic toward him.

Segel: I feel like it’s a very human thing. You may be less neurotic than I am.

Cranston: Oh by far, by far.

Segel: Yeah, I gathered. It deals with this interesting moment where what happens when everybody loves what you do. You get everything you dreamed of and you still feel the same. It didn’t affect the thing that you always thought it would affect. I really related to that.

Cranston: So with David it was that he wrote this beautiful book and he felt that the attention that came to him was uncomfortable.

Segel: You get something that’s so massive out of you, it’s seven years of writing, it’s a thousand-plus pages, you produce it and you can hold it and you put it out in the world and it didn’t affect the thing in him he thought it would affect.

Cranston: Which was what?

Segel: Maybe a feeling of everything’s OK. I can relax now. Maybe I’ll sit. You know, you do a movie and a question you’re asked on the press junket is, “What’s next.” If you write a thousand-plus page book that is everything and you get the question “What’s next,” that’s pretty terrifying.

Cranston: It’s really interesting how the public focuses on that, everyone does. They’ll ask a couple who just had a baby, “You gonna have another one?” Did you see how young this one is?

Segel: What do you think that is? Short attention span?

Cranston: I don’t know. As if they are so forward in their thinking as opposed to being in the moment. Being there and recognizing what you are experiencing with a new child.

Segel: You know what maybe it is? That you as the experiencer it is very visceral, you’re feeling all the things, and the other people are trying to use empathy but they don’t feel the things you feel.

Cranston: I like that. I want to be an experiencer.

Segel: It’s tricky though. I danced down Hollywood Boulevard with the Muppets. That theoretically should do it. It’s like the cartoonishly best moment of your life. It lasted a couple weeks and then you’re thinking, what’s next?

Cranston: I think it should be that way. These moments are ephemeral and you shouldn’t try to hold on to it or re-create it. I remember Woody Allen doing “Annie Hall” with Diane Keaton and they have this spontaneous moment with the lobster and it gets out and it creates this wonderful moment in their relationship. In order to recapture that he tries to set that up on the new date and she’s like, “What are you doing?” It’s such a great reminder that we have to be in the moment and experience this and then be smart enough to let it go.

Segel: That’s some advanced level Buddha-type stuff. I hope I get there. I’m much better than I was 10 years ago.

Cranston: When you’re doing your show, which I was able to guest star on …

Segel: Yes. You were on “How I Met Your Mother,” and now here we are.

Cranston: Were you able to then say, “I truly enjoy this moment, these people. We’re inexorably tied and that’s great and now it’s over time to move on.” Were you able to do that and move on?

Segel: It’s a very interesting question. I got “HIMYM” when I was 24. These are pretty formative years and I think you spend your 20s trying to get somewhere. I’m on the road to there. David Foster Wallace deals with this a bit in “Infinite Jest” and in the movie, you have this realization that there is no there. This imaginary there keeps moving away from you. What I realized three or four years ago was I needed to find a model that was sustainable where I wasn’t constantly feeling like I hadn’t arrived yet. Like you said, being present for each moment.

Variety’s “Actors on Actors” special airs Dec. 27 on PBS SoCal.

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  1. Trumbo the film, I do not judge the fine actors nor their performance in this make-believe film, but I take exception that there is value or a substantive message learned from untold truth, innuendo and the manipulation of facts by the writer, producers and the director of this film.

    Aside from the political debate, the movie Trumbo misrepresents the avarice conniving men that Trumbo and the King Bros were. Trumbo and the King Bros were all about the money and getting attention to that end.

    Trumbo was not a hero, he was a grandstander who mislead and toyed with the media about many things and the most important among them, to me, was his plagiarism of my father’s work.

    Trumbo lied about being the original author of the screenplay that the 1956 film, “The Brave One” was based.

    My father, Juan Duval, was the author of the original screenplay which the film “The Brave One” was based and awarded the Oscar for “Best Original Story”. My father died before film production and the King Bros and Trumbo unashamedly took advantage of it.

    Trumbo was a prodigious writer and during the Blacklist period he wrote and rewrote scripts for less money for low-life producers like the King Bros and anyone else who paid him under the table. Frank King’s nephew by marriage, Robert Rich, was the fourth person listed as the author of “the Brave One” (after the King Bros removed the title page of the original script) and was an afterthought and not initially intended to be a front for Trumbo. Per the FBI report, Rich was an office errand boy and bag man who picked up scripts and delivered cash to Trumbo.

    Roman Holiday may be Trumbo’s original story for all I know (and I love the film), but Trumbo was not in Italy during the shooting where much of the script was re-written by Director William Wyler and screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter. They wrote script on set day to day and the nights before shooting the film, as was Wyler’s method of film making. After Hunter’s death, his son would not return the Oscar (and rightly so) when asked by the Academy so the Academy could then issue the Oscar to Trumbo decades later. In my opinion, the success of the film was due to Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s splendid performance of romance against the background of post WWII Italy.

    Proof that Trumbo plagiarized my father’s original screenplay is revealed in Trumbo’s book of letters, “Additional Dialogue”, page 270/271 wherein he explains to the King Bros that he, “ruthlessly cut all extraneous material and scenes, and kept rigidly the simple story of the boy and the bull”. Trumbo cut 50 pages from the original screenplay.

    No matter, it was my father’s original story and not Trumbo’s, which was the category the Oscar was awarded. The Academy should issue a posthumous Oscar to my father, as they did for Trumbo for Roman Holiday.

    If you read the screenplay marked #1 and the redacted letters in Trumbo’s book, “Additional Dialogue, Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962” and compare them to the rewritten scripts and un-redacted letters archived at the University of Wisconsin Library, it’s obvious that Trumbo didn’t write the original screenplay, otherwise, why would he criticize and complain to the King Bros in so many letters about the original screenplay.

    “The Brave One” script marked “#1” with 170 pages is archived in the University of Wisconsin Library where Trumbo donated all his work. The “#1” script’s Title page was removed and no author was mentioned.

    The “first version” (133 pages) and “second version” (119 pages) of the scripts listed “Screenplay by: Arthur J. Henley”.

    The last two scripts listed “Screenplay by Merrill G. White and Harry S Franklin on the early movie posters and “Original Story by Robert L. Rich” was added to scripts later.

    When the King Bros listed their nephew Robert Rich as author they had no idea that “The Brave One” would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Story. At first, Frank King said that there was no such person as Robert Rich and later he said that they bought a 6-page script from a Robert Rich who was away in Germany or Spain.

    Robert Rich (the nephew) did not attend the Oscar awards because he turned informant for the FBI who were watching Trumbo and Rich didn’t want to be publicly humiliated when the truth came out. And Trumbo used the excuse for not being able to produce the original screenplay for The Brave One on his residence being burgled while intimating that it was the FBI who tossed his residence (FBI File Number: 100-1338754; Serial: 1118; Part: 13 of 15). The FBI did in fact toss his residence but had no interest in scripts.

    White and Franklin were editors and acting as fronts for Trumbo before and after “The Brave One” movie. The King Bros did not initially intend that their nephew Robert Rich be a front for Trumbo as White and Franklin were first listed as the screenwriters on the movie posters of The Brave One. It was only after the media played up the no-show at the Oscars that the King Bros and Trumbo saw an opportunity to play the media and sell tickets (per Trumbo’s letters to the King Bros).

    Juan Duval, poet, dancer, choreographer, composer and director of stage and film was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1897. He matriculated from the Monastery at Monserrat and moved to Paris in 1913 where he studied with his uncle M Duval. Juan Duval was renowned as a Classical Spanish and Apache dancer and performed in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. Juan was fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and English.

    In 1915, Juan Duval was conscripted into the French Army and fought in Tunis and Verdun, where he suffered head wounds and was partially gassed. He came to the US in 1918 and joined the US Army and was then stationed with the 50th Infantry in occupied Germany for two years before immigrating to the US where he directed live theater and taught dancing and acting at his Studio of Spanish Dancing on Hollywood Blvd across from the Warner Bros Theatre. Juan produced Cave of Sorrow (Play); Lila (Musical Comedy); Spanish Love (Drama); Café Madrid; Spanish Revue; Night In Paris (Drama) and choreographed “One Mad Kiss” (musical) and at least one sword fighting scene with Rudolf Valentino. He directed movies in Mexico and Cuba including the 1935 highest grossing Spanish speaking film, “El Diablo Del Mar” starring Movita (Marlon Brando’s second wife).
    Mizi Trumbo refused to talk to me about The Brave One original screenplay.

    Before former Director of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Bruce Davis retired, he told me that because of the documentation that I provided him, he was inclined to believe that my father wrote the original screenplay which the movie, “The Brave One” was based.

    The Academy gave Trumbo an Oscar for “The Brave One” 20 years after the Oscars and posthumously gave him another Oscar for the Roman Holiday in 2011.

    The Academy of Arts and Sciences should recognize my father’s original story and posthumously awarded him the Oscar for “Best Original Story” for “The Brave One”.

  2. 85wzen says:

    Jason Segel did a fine job as DFW…

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