“I’ve never had a stigma around mental health. I’ve always had a lot of issues with anxiety and depression,” says Jason Segel. “You ask for help whenever you need it in life. I found help. That’s why I’m here.”
On a cold afternoon in Los Angeles, the 43-year-old actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer doesn’t mind getting personal. His Zoom interview becomes a bit of a therapy session.
“Mental health is honestly a comfortable area to research,” he says. “I hope what I’m doing now will remove any stigma and remind people that real mental health isn’t a one-time fix.”
What he’s doing now is Shrinking, a new Apple TV+ series that asks a provocative question: What would happen if a therapist put aside ethics and training and said what he really thinks about a patient?
Segel portrays “psychological vigilante” Jimmy Laird, a brutally honest man dealing with a full emotional plate: death, divorce, estranged daughter, elderly mentor (Harrison Ford).
Oh, it’s a comedy.
“Seeing someone at the bottom trying to find their way with the help of their friends and maybe helping others is the set-up,” says Segel, who created and executive produced the show. “The message is by doing all this, maybe he can even help himself, which seemed like a really wonderful concept to me.”
The 6-foot-4-inch Los Angeles native gave up his interest in basketball to pursue acting. An early role on the critically acclaimed Freaks and Geeks led to starring roles on TV’s How I Met Your Mother and films such as This Is 40, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. He also voices Gru’s rival Vector in the Despicable Me franchise.
Segel’s Tips for a Good Life:
Everyone has problems
“As humans, we’re told to curb our feelings,” says Segel. “In the past we were told not to let our feelings get out of hand. “I let them get out of hand in this series.” The origin of the show, he says, was a therapist who makes huge changes in a patient’s life (and his) by saying exactly what he thinks based on his own pain. “One of the things the show does well is emphasize that even your therapist is still up there. It is a very comforting thing to think that the person sitting across from you has their own problems and is not judging you, but is in it with you. I find solace in that situation.”
Hug no luck
How did Segel get superstar Harrison Ford to sign up for Shrinking? “Honest to God there is no happiness,” he says. “I don’t really know how to explain it, other than we should trust dumb luck more in life. … We offered this to Harrison Ford, assuming he would say no. And then he said yes. And the next thing you know you’re trying to figure out what to do when Harrison Ford arrives, and that’s write the funniest part possible.”
Realize that fear is normal
Segel admits he was a little nervous, too, which was fine. He used his fear. “Ford’s yes was like asking the prettiest girl in school to prom and somehow she said yes.” Then you panic and think, “Where am I going to take her to dinner?” Then it’s, “Oh no, I don’t know how to dance.” Fortunately, the fear passes.”
“I’m here to work”
“Harrison Ford has the mentality of, ‘I’m here to work.’ At one point he told me, “My goal at the end of every job is to make the people who hire me happy.” That’s good advice for anyone.”
Learn to pause
Patience is key to self-sustainment in show business and life, notes Segel. “You think of an idea for a new show while you’re sitting on your couch, and a few years later, it exists,” he says. “You have to accept waiting in life or you will always be miserable.” “Life is for waiting.”
“The river is responsible”
“I love acting more than I can express,” he says, “but all this creative stuff is like planning a river rafting trip, getting your gear and drawing your map. You know all about your path. You go to REI. You get more stuff. You think everything is settled. Then, when you get into the river, you realize that the river is responsible. All your plans are out the window. … The magic is that someone else is in charge, and the surprises in life are as close to magic as you’ll ever get.”
Allow yourself to be sad
“I am sad in life. “I’ve never taken life very easily, but it turned out great,” says Segel. “It made me want to write, so I could express things from my heart. I have a feeling I’m not alone in that. Writing is therapy. I don’t have the energy to hide it all when I write something. I’m writing from a place of, “We’re all having a hard time figuring it out, and it might be fun to figure it out together.” “
Share the joy
“In life and in comedy, you don’t throw the ball most of the time,” says Segel. “You set the ball up, so another person can dribble it.” And that should still feel good. Share the joy in whatever you do. Let the other person lead. Let me create space for you to kill him. Help me figure that out for you and we’ll both win.”
What does success mean to you?
“If that’s the achievement you put your value on, you’ll never achieve enough,” he says. “If it’s all about money, you’ll never be rich enough.” But if you’re doing something and you’re part of what’s happening, then you’re always in it and it’s always enough.”
“Kindness is the one thing that never goes out of style,” says Segel.