“How I Met Your Mother” and “Sex Tape” actor Jason Segel has said it was a “magical midlife crisis” that inspired his new AMC series “Dispatches From Elsewhere,” in which the actor was able to take creative control and work outside of studio constraints.
Segel, who was speaking Monday as part of a keynote address opening the sixth edition of the TV-focused Berlinale Series Market and Conference, described sitting in studio offices several years ago for “one of the biggest movies I ever did,” as an unnamed exec charted its hypothetical success across a blank graph on a dry-erase board.
“‘Your name and (their) name on this date should give us this amount of money,’” he recalled the executive explaining. “And I remember knowing that this is not how you make art.”
Segel’s anthology series has its world premiere Monday as part of the TV-focused Berlinale Series Market. The star wrote, executive produced and stars in the show, while also directing the first episode, which airs March 1 on AMC.
While release windows and roll-out strategies are constantly being negotiated in corner offices in Hollywood, Segel said studios are often more focused on copy-pasting the formula for previous hits, rather than developing fresh ideas, asking, “How do we do the next thing that was just like that (last) original thing?”
As streaming services such as Netflix and Disney Plus ramp up their production budgets and a glut of new content hits the market daily, it becomes increasingly difficult for new films and series to grab eyeballs. Yet Segel conceded: “I don’t know that standing out to me is the point right now.
“It is a question of how we’re going to use this platform and this opportunity,” he continued. “Do we need another, even single scene of people shooting each other? What if the conversation is different, and it’s not about setting up two opposite sides who then just try to destroy each other?”
Whenever the multi-hyphenate takes on a new project now, he said the question he tries to ask himself is: “What am I trying to contribute to this global conversation?”
Segel added that “Dispatches from Elsewhere” is a response to uncertain times “where things feel so confusing, and we’re being pitted against one another.
“We’re being told that we’re so different, and that we should be scared of each other and hate each other, or stick to your own group,” he said. “If you carry that far enough, you end up the king of your own kingdom of one. I was interested to break down those walls.”
“Dispatches” follows a diverse group of ordinary people who stumble onto a puzzle hiding just behind the veil of everyday life.
“It’s the closest I could come to my version of ‘The Wizard of Oz,'” he said. “Four people go on a quest to find a missing girl, and in the process try to find themselves, find community and find some of the magic that gets lost.”
He continued: “The show at its heart is a challenge of empathy, to present people who seem like completely disparate types, and I challenge you at the beginning of each episode to think of this person as you. If we’ve done our job, by the end of the series, you recognize yourself in all of those characters.”
Segel, who turned 40 last week, admitted that “Dispatches From Elsewhere” was partly born out of a “magical midlife crisis.”
Entering the industry at 17, he said he was fortunate enough to have a string of successful projects, including iconic TV series “Freaks and Geeks” and “How I Met Your Mother,” as well as hit film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
“One of the side effects of being so, so lucky…was that I didn’t have to do much thinking about who I was or why I was doing any of this,” he said. “I had a blank canvas in front of me. I had no idea who I was or what I was thinking about. I went on a personal quest to figure out why I was doing this in the first place.”