Jason Segel opens up about playing a sad therapist in ‘Shrinking’ — which landed him his first Emmy nomination
‘I’ve always had a lot of issues with anxiety and depression and sought help when I needed it, and it’s why I’m still here,’ he told the Deseret News
To Jason Segel, the entire process of creating a show from scratch feels like a “rafting trip.” You draw a map, plan for the weather, and get your gear from REI, but nothing can really prepare you for what’s to come.
“This moment happens, where you get in the river, and you realize the river’s in charge. That’s what making a show is like,” he said of his latest series “Shrinking” in an interview with the Deseret News.
Segel has now earned his first Emmy nomination since the show first aired in January.
Two of the show’s co-creators, Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence, worked intimately on “Ted Lasso,” a three-season hit that earned a handful of Emmys and a Golden Globe, too. Segel joined them as a writer, creating a relatable comedy that isn’t afraid to tackle mental health.
The 10-episode series isn’t like his other, more cheerful, work, like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” He plays a widowed therapist, putting his sad eyes to good use while starring opposite “Indiana Jones” actor Harrison Ford, a solemn shrink.
The first three episodes debuted on Apple TV+ on Jan. 27 and follow Jimmy (Segel), who is trying to cope while being a dad, friend and therapist. He decides to try a new approach — ignoring his training and ethics — by being brutally honest.
An opening montage in Episode 1 reveals a bunch of Jimmy’s patients. Grace, who is one of them, is sitting on the couch, and venting about her boyfriend when Jimmy, still drunk and disheveled from last night, breaks.
“We’ve been doing this for two years — two years of your life,” he exclaims while standing up.
“And you keep telling me how great it is. Well, I saw him. He’s not that great. His muscles are too big, his shirts are too tight — no one likes that, it’s gross,” he claims.
The blonde woman is especially startled when Jimmy tells her that her partner is emotionally abusive and that she should leave him, or he will dump her as her therapist. But alas, therapy is more complicated, and the creators of the show understand that.
“It’s not generally one and done. And this is a process and even with his new radical method of therapy ... he doesn’t say that this is a solution,” explained Segel. The truth, though, can clear room for the real work.
Jimmy replaces the typical procedure — “How does that make you feel?” — by getting personal. Consider the way he helps Sean (Luke Tennie), a former soldier, by taking him to an MMA sparring gym to help him deal with his anger issues.
The first four episodes, which were available for review, create a sense of trust between the two, but whether it pans out in therapy is unclear for now.
Getting Harrison Ford on board
Creators Segel, Goldstein and Lawrence didn’t think the veteran actor would take on the role of Paul, the serious but secretly loving therapist.
“You offer something to Harrison Ford, knowing that he’s gonna say no,” Segel said, noting that it was still brag-worthy.
“But then he said yes. It’s like you’ve asked the prettiest girl in school to prom. And somehow she said yes,” he said. “And then you’re like, panicked. ‘What am I going to wear? Where do I take them to dinner? Oh, no, I don’t even really know how to dance.’”
Meanwhile, Goldstein, who wrote and acted in “Ted Lasso,” told The Hollywood Reporter that the cast and crew incessantly asked how they landed Ford.
The moment the star arrived on set, he tried “to break through any sense of awe that might be in the room and treats everybody like a peer,” Segel said.
The “Star Wars” alum balances Segel’s erraticness and supplies a voice of reason with stoicism, easily becoming my favorite on the show. When Jimmy tells Paul of his new approach to therapy, the principled shrink, who’s in the early stages of Parkinson’s, shuts it down fast.
“Great idea. We just rob them of their autonomy to help themselves, right?” he says in Episode 1. “Then we become what? Psychological vigilantes?” Count on Ford to relax into his role as the chief of the practice.
‘Shrinking’ is darker than ‘Ted Lasso’
Paul is Jimmy’s anchor and Alice, his daughter played by Lukita Maxwell, is his entire heart. While dealing with grief, Jimmy abandons his responsibilities as a dad, burdening the teenager, who gives him a morning aspirin after his night of partying and gets her own ride to school.
Stepping into Jimmy’s shoes was “a really special journey” for Segel, teaching him the character’s struggles of being a good dad. Meanwhile, Christa Miller plays Liz, who’s like a mother to Alice, a dynamic that works well on-screen.
“She is a master at comedy and she has been doing it a long time,” Segel said of working with her and sharing a vocabulary for humor.
Fans of “Cougar Town,” a show about a recently divorced 40-year-old figuring out the next chapter of her life, will see the actress playing a nosy neighbor again but with more dramatic flare as Jimmy and Liz negotiate who gets to take care of the struggling teen.
The moving scenes fit right into the “dark space of grief and loss and trauma” that Jimmy’s character exists in, Goldstein told the Deseret News prior to the show’s release. The tone is a departure from the open and loving story of Ted Lasso, an American football coach teaching soccer in the U.K.
“‘Shrinking’ is sort of a much more intimate show. It’s set in this little community of neighbors, work colleagues and a family ... just three or four streets. And that’s it,” Goldstein said. The starkest difference is that Jimmy “begins in a place of self-destruction.” And it seems the 43-year-old is the perfect guy to play the part.
Jason Segel: The ultimate sad therapist
For the comedy actor, Jimmy was within his comfort zone, allowing him to easily put on the “resting-dead-wife face,” as he says in the show.
“I’ve always had a lot of issues with anxiety and depression and sought help when I needed it, and it’s why I’m still here,” Segel said.
“I’m sad a lot of the time,” he joked. “I’ve never worn life very lightly. It’s worked out great for me because it’s made me want to write and make made me want to express things. I have some sense that I’m not alone in that.”
He got his big break in 1999 when he got cast in Judd Apatow’s well-regarded series “Freaks and Geeks,” and found more fame through “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Muppets,” which he also wrote.
“So, when I write something, I really write from a place that starts with this belief that we’re all probably having a hard time figuring out what the point of any of this is,” he said, smiling. “And maybe there’s some fun in figuring it out together.”
The show is rated TV-MA for some sexual references, violence and gore, multiple uses of profanity, and some crude humor.
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