THE END OF THE TOUR tells the story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter and novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, “Infinite Jest.” As the days go on, a tenuous yet intense relationship seems to develop between journalist and subject. The two men bob and weave around each other, sharing laughs and also possibly revealing hidden frailties – but it’s never clear how truthful they are being with each other. Ironically, the interview was never published, and five days of audiotapes were packed away in Lipsky’s closet. The two men did not meet again.
The film is based on Lipsky’s critically acclaimed memoir “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” about this unforgettable encounter, written following Wallace’s 2008 suicide. Both Segel and Eisenbeg reveal great depths of emotion in their performances and the film is directed with humor and tenderness by Sundance vet James Ponsoldt from Pulitizer Prize winner Donald Margulies’ insightful and heartbreaking screenplay.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”
~ David Foster Wallace, “Infinite Jest”
In the winter of 1996 two ambitious young men, strangers to each other, set out on a five-day road trip, during which, it turned out, each was nervously, thrillingly, even defiantly, trying to decode who he wanted to be. One was the young, unseasoned Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky. The other was David Foster Wallace, the 34 year-old literary rock star suddenly being hailed as the most brilliant writer, and cultural observer, of his generation.
At the start of the trip, Lipsky was hunting for that great revelatory confession that could make his career. He wanted Wallace to share his exuberant ideas on our pop-culture-saturated world – on everything from television addiction to technophilia to the phenomenon of hyper-connected loneliness – but he also was looking for something more. He was looking for the flaws, he was looking for a big story, maybe he was looking for a kindred spirit.
The two jockeyed and joked and left behind a trail of junk food wrappers. They talked movies, girls, songs and the weirdness of modern life. But by the end of the tour something else happened: a flash-friendship, as potent and conflicted as the closest of comrades, sparked. It was layered upon all the envy, insecurity, aloneness and mistrust of contemporary relationships. Yet it also had the one thing that Wallace had sought most of all: the essence, as he once put it, of being “radiantly human.”
Director James Ponsoldt and stars Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel bring this unlikely story to the screen with raw, gripping emotion. At once tender and rollicking, the film is not just the story of genius colliding with the force of celebrity or of a reporter chasing his first elusive story. It also evokes the feeling of life in these times – our tricky relationship with success, our longing to connect and our wish to cut through the never-ending information bombardment to what is essential and true.
The screenplay is by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies, based on David Lipsky’s memoir “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace.” Academy Award® nominee Jesse Eisenberg (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) is Lipsky and, in a moving departure, Jason Segel (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME) portrays Wallace.
Ponsoldt says it all ultimately came down to the actors linking up with each other in a way that lights up the screen with fundamental human drama. “I’m so excited to share these two beautiful performances with the world,” he offers. “I don’t think audiences have ever seen Jesse and Jason like this before. In exploring the few days these two writers spent together at a major moment in both their lives they bring a depth of emotion, an honesty and a level of vulnerability that is riveting and very moving.”
Two Davids At a Divide
THE END OF THE TOUR is anything but a biopic. It might even be an anti-biopic.
Says director James Ponsoldt: “Biopics have a tendency to flatten out and reduce the complexity of a life. I usually have a fierce aversion to them. THE END OF THE TOUR is more like a snapshot of two lives taken over just a handful of days. The script is largely if not entirely based on the actual recorded conversations, so the veracity isn’t really debatable. But then Donald Margulies transformed that into great drama. It begins as a story about how a journalist approaches an elusive subject, but that story gets further complicated by ego, insecurity, jealousy, vulnerability and admiration. Ultimately, it becomes a kind of platonic unrequited love story.”
He adds: “We’ve all had the experience of a brief encounter with someone we’ve admired from a distance – whether professionally or a relative or an artist you get to meet – where this person has taken on all this meaning, all this emotion, yet they are a stranger and what you get is never quite what you expected, either in terms of who they are or how you react to them. This is a story about that moment, and it’s also a story of a man looking back at it years later, so it’s about memory, about something that was lost and about a kind of regret.”
Screenwriter Donald Margulies felt similarly. He had no interest in writing a life summary or trying to unravel the inner workings of David Foster Wallace’s expansive mind on the screen. “I deliberately didn’t want to do something meta,” he says of the adaptation. “I didn’t want it to be about how clever I could be in terms of translating this, or about any kind of artifice. It was about trying to tap into the universal essence of these five days in these two lives. That, for me, became a much more potent entryway than a cradle-to-grave biopic. Here was a kind of adagio dance between two men about art and ego and success. That’s what made it compelling and alive.”
The film isn’t a biopic, but it would not have existed if not for the complicated, accomplished, tragic life of David Foster Wallace. Few novelists achieve household name status anymore, but Wallace was different.
His books hit people with a force that turned many into obsessive fans. Dog-eared copies of his gargantuan novel “Infinite Jest” became an unspoken bond among those who felt it reflected their massively fragmented yet thirsty lives. His books, stories and articles had their own tour-de-force style. Lined with footnotes, complexly plotted, linguistically inventive, and filled with a hyper-modern (and often hilarious) manic energy, they challenged readers to give every last iota of their attention. But they also moved people with their era-defying sincerity and searching. In his disarming honesty about his own insecurities and despair, in his unabashed mix of ecstasy and sadness, Wallace allowed his readers to feel a little less alone.
Wallace was not another modern ironist. On the contrary, he saw irony as poisonous and fought against the tide of cynicism. He was going after a kind of writing that might combat alienation, not merely reflect it. As he put it in a 1993 interview: “We all suffer alone in the real world. True empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.”
At the same time, Wallace had a dexterous mind that consumed knowledge – from mathematics to Americana – with equal-opportunity voracity. As New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote: “Wallace can do practically anything if he puts his mind to it. He can do sad, funny, silly, heartbreaking and absurd with equal ease; he can even do them all at once.”
Says James Ponsoldt: “Simply put, David Foster Wallace sparked change in popular writing in our time – something that happens maybe once in a generation. He’s like Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Tom Wolfe, or Jack Kerouac before him. He gave a voice to the things a lot of people are struggling with right now, one that was hugely creative and funny and had a personal impact.”
Raised in the Midwest by professor parents, Wallace started out life as an athlete and promising tennis player. It was while double majoring in philosophy and English at Amherst College that he wrote his first novel, “The Broom Of The System,” as his thesis. This was followed by the story collection, “Girl With Curious Hair,” then the 1,079-page “Infinite Jest” – the title of which referred to a movie so outrageously entertaining it led to the apathy and death of its viewers. He would go on to publish “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” “Oblivion” and “Consider the Lobster,” as well as journalism, including a profile of John McCain. (His unfinished novel “The Pale King” and his poignant 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech “This is Water” were published posthumously.)
Wallace was known to have battled against bouts of severe depression throughout his adult life. Following an unsuccessful medication alteration, Wallace committed suicide in Claremont, California, where he was a writing professor at Pomona College, in 2008.
His death shocked those who had felt so close to his words. Among the grieving was David Lipsky, who, unknown to most, had interviewed Wallace 12 years earlier, just as Wallace’s career was entering hyperspeed and he was discovering the highs and lows of fame.
Lipsky was then a fresh-faced writer at Rolling Stone. He was also a fledgling novelist, though the superstardom Wallace was grappling with had eluded him. Lipsky had published a short story collection and a novel, “The Art Fair,” that was named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine. He would go on to write on such diverse subjects as junkies, gay teens and life at West Point (in the acclaimed book “Absolutely American”), but in 1994, he was still searching for a subject he could sink his teeth into…and he thought Wallace was it. Rolling Stone was not in the habit of putting novelists on the cover but Wallace was as rock and roll a quantity as any writer could be.
Lipsky’s interview was never published. But, after Wallace’s death, he was compelled to pull his tapes and notes out of storage. When he played the tapes back, in his own effort at coming to an understanding, he was surprised and stirred by what he found.
He revisited those five incredible days in “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.” A kind of catharsis for Lipsky, it became a fan favorite, considered one of the more insightful peeks into Wallace’s mind and what he meant to others. The Atlantic called it “funny, profound, surprising and awfully human” and Library Journal called it “A glimpse into the mind of one of the great literary masters…many fans of Wallace’s writing come to think of him as a friend – by the time they have finished Lipsky’s moving book, they will undoubtedly feel that even more strongly.”
But was it translatable to the screen?
An Interview Becomes A Road Movie
Could a story about two men riding through the Midwest talking about life, art and their insecurities be full of drama, tension and momentum? The filmmakers of The End of The Tour set out to find an answer to that riddle that would do something unexpected.
It started with the screenplay adaptation. As a playwright whose “Dinner With Friends” won the Pulitzer Prize, Donald Margulies is known for crackling dialogue and sharp interpersonal dynamics in original works for the stage. But when producer David Kanter, Margulies’ long-time manager, gave him a copy of “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” with a note that said, “Take a look; there may be a play in it” Margulies didn’t see it as a play at all. He envisioned it on the big screen – as a funny, poignant but definitely kinetic road picture.
“I was excited about it as a story of two American writers – one of whom happens to be David Foster Wallace – out on the American landscape,” Margulies explains. “The story contained a convergence of themes that have long-captivated my imagination: the mentor-protégé relationship, the journalist-subject dynamic, the way men forge friendships or don’t forge friendships, the search for legitimacy – and all of it surrounded one of the great minds and social observers of our time. It was exhilarating.”
It also presented an enticing creative challenge as Margulies took to the dense verbiage of the Lipsky-Wallace conversations with the chisel of a sculptor. In their rapid-fire exchanges, he found a dramatic structure that explores the full arc of a friendship, and recreates the feeling of those fleeting moments in our lives that shake us in some profound way.
“The challenge for me as a dramatist was to take this incredible treasure trove of material Lipsky gave us – these 300 pages of rich, pithy conversations between two incredibly articulate guys trying to outsmart each other – and carve from that a structured narrative,” he explains. “It became my task to make this a living, breathing organism and not just a re-creation of an interview. That was part of the great joy of it. It was a task of mining all the subtext and conflicts and bringing it back to the essence of the book’s title: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.”
The film is very much about two men constructing themselves, both on the level of image and at a greater depth, but Margulies’ approach completely avoided the cutesy and po-mo – to echo Wallace’s concerns about how he might be portrayed. On the contrary, Margulies’ screenplay was direct, human and very intentionally unembellished. The whole idea, Margulies says, was to tell a story that could fascinate and move audiences who may have never heard of David Foster Wallace.
“I wanted to write something universal and, at its heart, this is the story of two men that is full of drama and surprises – and it happens to be the case that one of those men is a real, larger-than-life figure,” says Margulies. “At the same time, Lipsky’s interview allowed Wallace to present some of his ideas in a very accessible way. Wallace’s books are not easily adaptable to the screen, but I hope that in watching the fascinating dynamic between these two men, people will be drawn to the work itself.”
Margulies rediscovered the breadth of Wallace’s writing himself while writing the screenplay. Though he’d read some of Wallace’s work, he did not tackle “Infinite Jest” until he started his research. “My appreciation and sense of sadness only deepened,” he says of that experience. “He was a kind of prophet in many ways and I was so moved by the terrible loss that our culture suffered. Wallace’s writing voice had this uncanny ability to sound just like that voice residing in a lot of people’s heads so his work became that much more personal. Yet, I’ve also been surprised by how many people I encounter who don’t know Wallace at all, which only intensified my passion for this project. There’s a new generation who might start to seek him out.”
Certainly, some of Wallace’s questions about how writers grapple with, and chafe against, success hit close to home for Margulies. As one of the nation’s most revered playwrights, he’s experienced life on both sides of literary strife. “Critics love to discover talent but once you’re already anointed you become a different kind of commodity and there are different expectations,” he observes. “It’s no longer about the shock of the new. It’s about what you’re doing now and whether it is like what you were doing before and that can become quite an obstacle for an artist.”
Another potent thread in the story that intrigued Margulies is the uneasy mix of bond and mistrust that can develop between a reporter and a tough-to-crack subject, especially one brilliant enough to run interference. He was put in mind of Janet Malcolm’s classic book, “The Journalist and The Murderer,” in which she explored the fraught ethics and psychological darkness of journalism by probing the back-and-forth between writer Joe McGinniss and convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the counter-transference that goes on between journalists and their subjects,” says Margulies, who previously wrote about Iraq war correspondents in his play “Time Stands Still.” “There’s a whole undercurrent going on between Lipsky and Wallace where you never know if Wallace is humoring Lipsky, putting him on, threatening him or complimenting him. It’s all part of the power dynamic, and even in a single scene there are many shifts in position.”
The subtly mounting emotional tension of the script would require a sensitive director. Margulies had a hunch about who that might be – one that would bring the mentor-protégé theme full circle. He sent the script to James Ponsoldt, who had been his student at Yale. Now on the rise as an indie film director, Ponsoldt’s SMASHED and THE SPECTACULAR NOW had brought a closely observed approach to the topics of drinking and teen angst that made them seem fresh again.
As it turned out, Ponsoldt was already a huge Wallace fan. But more so, his former teacher’s script riveted him. “I’d already read and greatly admired Lipsky’s book, but Donald’s script just knocked me out – it was deeply, deeply moving,” he recalls. “He had created this fragile, beautiful, compact thing from what Lipsky had done. It was just profoundly intelligent and compassionate, and refused to be reductive in any way. It’s my favorite thing Donald has ever written, and I say that as a big fan of his plays. Donald managed to transform this epic, multi-day conversation into something that has a real heartbeat, that is tense with conflict, that has emotion that creeps up on you.”
For Margulies, the satisfaction went beyond the pleasure of finding the right director for his script. “It was such a moving ‘Mr. Chips’ moment for me,” he muses. “The synergy in bringing together my life as a writer and my life as a teacher was incredible. I can’t describe how deeply gratifying this experience has been.”
The gratification was magnified when he saw the finished film. “It felt uncannily like what I wrote,” Margulies concludes. “It was all there in its prosaicness – and I think the lack of pretension in the way James captured the story is really going to captivate people.”
James Ponsoldt On Friendship, Fame and Legacies
James Ponsoldt brought a long personal history with the work of David Foster Wallace to THE END OF THE TOUR. Indeed, he says taking in Wallace’s appealingly conversational but mind-jangling work became part and parcel of his own coming-of-age. “You could say that one of the most complicated, meaningful relationships I had in college was with ‘Infinite Jest,’” he laughs. Ponsoldt followed Wallace throughout his life, and even had lines from “This is Water” read at his wedding.
But, from the beginning, the director saw THE END OF THE TOUR as really being David Lipsky’s story – albeit his story of being in orbit around Wallace. He also saw the story as a chance to hone in on a not-often explored landscape – the one that the lies within the often comically competitive yet fragile ins and outs of male friendship. For those five days Lipsky and Wallace were a kind of modern-day odd couple, different in the particulars yet not so different at all.
“We really don’t know what David Foster Wallace thought about those days he spent with Lipsky,” Ponsoldt explains. “We could and did infer certain things from talking to a lot of people who knew him at the time and we had the tapes so we knew exactly what he said, but really, all we have is David Lipsky’s memories. So the film is 99% Lipsky’s point of view and it’s purposefully colored by his biases and emotions. My take was always that it was about Lipsky wanting something from Wallace that he couldn’t fully give him under the circumstances. It was about a relationship that didn’t continue. I saw it as much as being in the vein of BRIEF ENCOUNTER as MY DINNER WITH ANDRE.”
Vital to Ponsoldt was capturing the electricity between these two men poised at the precipice of the future. “I wouldn’t have wanted to make a film about the last days of David Foster Wallace,” Ponsoldt comments. “It was important to me that in this film we see Wallace when everything was working for him. I thought of it almost like Bob Dylan in DON’T LOOK BACK – you have this young, brilliant guy entering the eye of the storm, who’s in the process of encountering the god of fame for the first time, and it’s just fascinating to watch it. I definitely didn’t want it to be a cold, arm’s-length kind of film. I wanted it to be a hangout movie with two young, smart, insecure guys who start out really almost kind of performing for each other and then start talking about how to live a better life.”
Throughout, Ponsoldt was grateful that Lipsky was so forthcoming. “He was a great, great resource for the film and he was very clear that he wanted us to be tough and honest and not sentimental,” says the director. “He’s under no delusions about what happened with Wallace. They weren’t ongoing friends, though Lipsky might have wanted that. They were two guys used to being the smartest in the room, and when you put them together in one room, things were destined to get tricky. But they had these few days in which something special happened, at least on Lipsky’s end.”
The risks of the film, especially the hefty weight of Wallace’s legacy, were not lost on Ponsoldt – but he used them as fuel. “I felt like my value system was in the right place and like I could be a good shepherd for this story or I wouldn’t have done it,” he says. “I knew what was at stake and I had a deep, deep fear of getting it wrong. There are stories that you fall in love with and there are stories that terrify you and this one was both. Maybe the best ones are always both.”
While Ponsoldt says this film could only ever have been Lipsky’s story, he hopes the experience of it will lead those who are intrigued to check out Wallace’s work. “If people really want to understand David Foster Wallace and his mind better, you should go out and read his books, because you’ll discover a whole world that’s impossible to get on screen in there,” he concludes.
Eisenberg & Segel & Lipsky & Wallace
As the story of two strangers unexpectedly connecting, despite being natural adversaries, THE END OF THE TOUR was destined to be a performance-focused movie. Everything hinged on finding two actors who could bring these two young men in such a dynamic, alive way that audiences would feel they were in the room with them, shooting the breeze, debating life and occasionally getting telling glimpses into one another. It was also going to require two actors willing to be fairly naked in roles where you can’t really hide.
Jesse Eisenberg was a natural choice to play David Lipsky. His ability to evince both smarts and vulnerability was a known quantity, but he also came to the role as a writer (he’s written several plays, is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and the literary magazine McSweeneys, and will soon publish a book of short fiction). Though he is also an accomplished screenwriter, Jason Segel, better known for his comic work, may have been less obvious – though perhaps no one is an obvious choice to play David Foster Wallace – but he came to the role with such an open-hearted willingness to go deep that Ponsoldt felt he was exactly the right match.
Most of all, as a pairing, the two had an instant frisson. “So much of the film is spent just with Jesse and Jason – it was vital that the two of them have that volatile chemistry. And they really did,” says Ponsoldt. “They’d never worked together before, yet it was immediately clear that they enjoyed making each other laugh, one-upping each other. It felt like I was genuinely watching the beginning of a complicated friendship.”
Ponsoldt continues: “Beyond their gifts as actors – and they both gave incredibly brave, honest performances – they each are great writers, a combination that is hard to find. These guys understand the life of a writer far more than most actors. They’ve both been humbled by the writing process, and they understand the frustration and loneliness.”
Eisenberg came at the role in a very specific way. “My goal was to make this character as emotionally rich as possible,” he explains. “He’s not just a guy trying to get an important interview – he’s a guy with his own questions about self identity, his own anxieties and his own interesting and complicated feelings about other people. Even in the scenes that are about very heady, substantive things, I wanted to bring a subtle emotional underpinning to Lipsky.”
He and Ponsoldt were on the same page in that regard. “My favorite thing about James is that he approached the movie, despite it being a conversation between two men, as having life-and-death stakes,” Eisenberg explains. “He always found the deep, deep core to each scene.”
One of the most challenging aspects for Eisenberg was turning the tables on an experience he has had over and over. He had to become the interrogator rather than the interrogated. “I’ve done a lot of interviews as an actor, but always on the other side, of course,” he muses. “I’ve also done some antagonistic interviews, so this was an interesting experience because it pushed me to really think about why a journalist would want to be antagonistic and invasive. It was a process for me to learn to identify with the journalist. I had to come to terms with Lipsky’s agenda.”
Donald Margulies was impressed with the shadings Eisenberg brought to the role. “We were so lucky to get Jesse,” he says. “He’s the embodiment of the New York intellectual and he’s got one of those constantly whirring minds and the verbal dexterity the role demands. But I think what he brought to the role beyond that is remarkable. His performance reminds me of Jack Lemmon’s in THE APARTMENT – it’s a comic performance but there’s so much more going on under the surface. The things you can see in his eyes, the way he is with his subtle facial expressions, create a whole other layer. I think it’s his most mature work to date – and he and Jason were a beautifully calibrated duet.”
Adds Ponsoldt: “The film is tough on Lipsky. It’s easier to feel sympathy for a tortured genius who the world adored than for a guy like Lipsky who we see being petty, insecure and overstepping his boundaries. On some level we might judge him, but I think you see in Jesse that we’ve all been this person. Lipsky is the surrogate for us and Jesse is amazing in his honesty and his vulnerability.”
When it came to David Foster Wallace, Eisenberg notes that Lipsky came into the interview with feelings so mixed he wasn’t sure how to reconcile them. “Lipsky’s frustrated because he knows he’s a good writer but he’s been stuck doing 500 word pieces on girl bands. He’s also published a novel, so he’s accomplished something great, but now he’s in the presence of someone who has accomplished something far greater. I think he comes into it spanning the spectrum from jealousy to uncertainty to admiration. He’s writing about Wallace, but a part of him would prefer to be him.”
Eisenberg goes on: “Subconsciously, Lipsky maybe wants to take Wallace down a bit and find the flaws. Here’s this guy who lives in the Midwest, wears a bandana and talks in an almost overly casual manner, yet he’s a literary hero. That has to eat away at Lipsky because he’s tried to do everything correctly. He lives in New York, he’s in the social scene, but he’s still struggling, and meanwhile, Wallace bucks every trend, seems to puts in zero effort, and he’s becoming a huge star.”
Though Eisenberg wanted to be true to the essence of Lipsky – he spent some time with the writer and delved into his recordings – he notes that he had more leeway than Segel to come at the character in his own way. “Lipsky is a real person but he’s a real person that people don’t necessarily know well. So as an actor, you can make more of a personal choice on how to play it. There wasn’t the pressure on me that Jason had portraying someone who has been deified,” he comments.
He related to elements of Lipsky’s persona. “I like the way Lipsky always deflects attention from himself,” Eisenberg says. “It’s partly because he’s a journalist but I think he’s also just a guy who is uncomfortable talking about himself. I like that part of him. I can relate to it because part of my life is on display as an actor, so in conversations I prefer to hear about other lives and not divulge my own. What struck me most from the interview is how uncomfortably personal it felt for both of them.”
Yet, Lipsky is increasingly revealed as the road trip progresses, and as his mind games with Wallace shift into a momentary kinship. This, says Eisenberg, became an organic unfolding once he was working with Segel. “Jason was an endlessly creative and funny partner,” he says. “He brought a levity and life to something that could have been at worst just melancholy. It was so important to show Wallace in all his humor and generosity, to show him having fun with words, having fun in conversation. Jason played Wallace with that wonderful, but honest spirit. Through a lot of the film, we were isolated with each other and that created something unique.”
Segel was equally exhilarated by the rapport. “I found myself surprised by Jesse everyday and in every scene,” he says. “He’s not only a brilliant actor but an amazing guy and I really feel like I made a friend for life. When you’re doing such weighty material, that makes all the difference. We were able to go seamlessly from joking around to really intense scenes. It had that tone of real life.”
Segel came into playing Wallace knowing there would be a flurry of expectations hanging over him, but he was able to put that aside. Though some were surprised by the casting, Ponsoldt says he never had a doubt that Segel was the right match to embrace, yet never mimic, the towering writer.
“I never really had thought of Jason as just a comedian,” he notes. “He’s done comedies, sure, but I always thought of him as an actor with real depth, with expressive eyes you could read, eyes that have a mix of sadness and intelligence to them. I saw him in the mold of a Henry Fonda or a Jimmy Stewart. Of course, there were a lot of physical things about him that were right, too. He was the same age that Wallace was at the time of the interview and like Wallace, he’s an ex-athlete – but more so he got both Wallace’s complexity and his charisma. When you see interviews with Wallace at that time, you see how amiable, hilarious and in command he could be, and Jason captured that.”
The director adds: “He also knew the scrutiny he would face and he knew what he had to do. He took the challenge extremely seriously. He read ‘Infinite Jest,’ he worked with a dialect coach to get Wallace’s voice down, he listened to the tapes endlessly and he talked to people who knew Wallace at that time who could give him more color and nuance. But he never, ever tried to do an impression – he created this character as a deeper kind of expression.”
The responsibility led Segel to undergo an intensive period of preparation, one that had a profound impact on him. At the same time, he gained weight and even grew out his hair and beard to take on the grunge-like appearance of one of the most recognizable writers of the 20th Century.
“I read and read and read and read,” Segel describes of how he dove into his portrait. “Some friends of mine created a kind of impromptu book club to read ‘Infinite Jest’ and we got together to talk about it every Sunday which was really helpful. Being introduced to Wallace’s fiction was one of the real gifts of this role for me; and ‘Infinite Jest’ truly changed my life. I think it speaks to that particular moment in your life when you start coming to terms with the fact that some of the things you set as goals aren’t really as satisfying as you thought. And it’s also about the reality that the only consistent relationship you’re going to have throughout your life is the one with yourself and you have to develop some kind of sustainable model to make that relationship last.”
The compulsive reading was essential to Segel making the part his own, allowing him to merge his persona with Wallace’s words in a very natural, immediate way. “So much of the language in this film is brilliant because it comes from Wallace himself, from David Lipsky’s memories and then from Donald Margulies streamlining it all into a coherent whole,” he notes. “It’s great stuff, but I knew that the important thing was that every word make sense to me in a personal way or it was all just going to sound like jargon. I didn’t want these ideas to sound like that, because they’re such important ideas, so I really set out to have a visceral, internal understanding of what I was saying.”
In Segel’s mind was always the reality that in 1996, Wallace was at the apex of his life, but those watching the film in 2015 can’t help but be aware that he would go on to take his own life. He felt there had to be a subtle undercurrent of precariousness to Wallace’s humming mental energy.
“In this film Wallace is at a high point, when everything seems to be clicking for him. But I think what’s so interesting about it is that behind all the hope and promise there is this feeling that Wallace can’t necessarily escape what he’s felt in his darkest times. As someone who questions whether human value should come from achievement, I think he has this looming sense that things to come aren’t going to be quite as easy as they look.”
Once on set, Segel let go of all his research and analysis and followed his instincts. There could be no other way, he notes. “I felt a great pressure to do my due diligence and to be as prepared as possible. But once you’ve done all you can to understand a person’s point of view as much as possible, the only thing left is simply to try to be as honest and intrepid as you can between ‘action’ and ‘cut.’”
Ponsoldt’s guidance aided that willingness to inch right up to the edge. “James said let’s think of this as a tremendous compression of time – in these few days, you and Jesse go through all the stages of a platonic love story. As soon as I clicked into that, I felt I understood the movie,” says Segel. “I honestly would not have been willing to play David Foster Wallace if I didn’t feel I was in safe hands but with James, I knew I was. It’s impossible to imagine having done this without him.”
Though Eisenberg and Segel were often alone in scenes, a strong supporting cast surrounded them, including Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”) as David Lipsky’s David-Foster-Wallace-idolizing girlfriend, two-time Oscar® nominee Joan Cusack (“Shameless”) as Wallace’s Minnesota book tour rep, Mamie Gummer (CAKE) and Mickey Sumner (FRANCES HA) as Wallace’s grad school friends and Ron Livingston (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Lipsky’s Rolling Stone editor.
“The movie doesn’t work without these great performances,” says Ponsoldt. “Joan is one of the great screen comics we have. She’s hilarious in this role but there’s also a real sincerity in it and Joan added so many colors. Mamie and Mickey are phenomenal, they’re funny and challenging and the story really takes off as you watch them provoke these very smart but somewhat immature boy-men into playing more head games with each other.”
He concludes: “So much of Lipsky and Wallace’s interaction is talking intellectually about the difficulties of being sincere and honest….but when they go out on the tour, they meet these very sincere and honest people who are just grounded in their lives without really questioning it.”
On The Tour
THE END OF THE TOUR is a road movie but it never leaves the Midwest, which was David Foster Wallace’s home for the majority of his life. The Middle American landscape became a guidepost for the look of the film – but James Ponsoldt didn’t want a clichéd, folksy heartland at all.
“It was important that the Midwestern landscape be part of the soul of the film,” says Ponsoldt. “This is the world where Wallace was formed – a land of late night diners and the largest mall in America – and it’s full of ideas that Wallace engages with in his fiction. Both the heights of our consumerist, technological culture and how one maintains one’s humanity in the face of that are exemplified there.”
The film’s practical locations – from hotel rooms to an NPR studio to Minnesota’s 4,870,000 square foot, mega-sized Mall of America – were essential for bringing Lipsky and Wallace into the world after their intense living-room and car encounters. Says Jesse Eisenberg: “It’s always great to shoot on real locations because you use the environment as part of your performance. My favorite location was Wallace’s house because it felt so authentic. It seems strange that this guy with one of the greatest minds in the world lives in an unremarkable suburban house – but it also felt really right.”
For Jason Segel, the Mall of America was especially evocative. “That location is so thematically on target,” he muses. “The slogan in 1997 for the mall was ‘The Spirit of America’ and it really is this tsunami of stuff coming at you, as it says in the movie. There are 510 stores and an amusement park in the middle and it’s just total sensory overload. It blew my mind to be there.”
Wallace and Lipsky’s actual road trip took place in winter and it was important to Ponsoldt to keep it that way – but he didn’t want a frigid, icy feel. “I really don’t like it when I see cold and snow used as cheap literary metaphors of despair,” he muses. “There’s something about winter that can be deeply romantic on the screen and I thought that was right for this complicated love story. You naturally have a lot of whites and greys in winter – but I also wanted to push the vibrancy.“
He did so with a crack team that includes Swedish cinematographer Jakob Ihre known for his work with Joachim Trier and who recently shot Trier’s forthcoming LOUDER THAN BOMBS; production designer Gerald Sullivan whose recent works include ROSEWATER and ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL; costume designer Emma Potter, who recently did costumes for JAMES WHITE and LOUDER THAN BOMBS; and editor Darrin Navarro, who worked with Ponsoldt on THE SPECTACULAR NOW.
“We really wanted the film to be as warm as it could be. Jakob and I looked at a lot of very lush films – we looked at Wong Kar-Wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and even DOCTOR ZHIVAGO – and we talked about using very subtle things to make this world really inviting, with an intimate camera,” says Ponsoldt. “The whole crew had a fierce dedication and there was a lot of encyclopedic research.”
When Ponsoldt headed into the editing room with Navarro, the rhythm of the piece emerged. “Darrin has the most wonderful gift for filtering out BS and finding those clumsy, awkward but beautifully honest moments,” comments Ponsoldt. “He finds the moments between the moments and that’s what this film is about.”
Adding another layer to the film is Danny Elfman’s spare and contained score. “I’ve loved Danny Elfman from when I was a kid and he was really the soundtrack to my childhood, so being able to work with him was super exciting for me,” says Ponsoldt. “I love that he did something more minimalist than what he usually does, using very unique instrumentation to create something gorgeous. It’s a score that really embraces the idea of silence and he was an amazing collaborator.”
As the final cut of THE END OF THE TOUR came into view it showed all of its many influences – starting with Lipsky’s book, then Donald Margulies’ idea-rich screenplay, then Ponsoldt’s approach of making a road movie about unrequited friendship, then the cast and crew’s visceral performances. Along the way, somehow the film ended up becoming itself.
“There was a kind of alchemy going on that is something rare in collaborative art,” says Margulies. “It was very magical and mysterious and that’s what you wait for in art – to be surprised.”
ABOUT THE CAST
JESSE EISENBERG (David Lipsky) is a playwright and actor; he can currently be seen on-stage in his new play “The Spoils” for The New Group. Previously Eisenberg wrote and starred alongside Vanessa Redgrave in his play, “The Revisionist” and in 2011 he wrote and starred in the play “Asuncion” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Drama League Nomination).
Films include THE DOUBLE, NIGHT MOVES, THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Academy Award® nomination), NOW YOU SEE ME, ZOMBIELAND, ADVENTURELAND, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and ROGER DODGER.
Upcoming films include THE END OF THE TOUR, LOUDER THAN BOMBS and BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE in the role of Lex Luthor.
He is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker Magazine and the author of the forthcoming collection “Bream Gives Me Hiccups,” from Grove Press.
JASON SEGEL (David Foster Wallace) will next star in James Ponsoldt’s dramatic biopic, THE END OF THE TOUR, in which he stars as writer David Foster Wallace opposite Jesse Eisenberg. The film recounts magazine reporter David Lipsky’s (Eisenberg’s) travels and conversations with Wallace during a promotional book tour. THE END OF THE TOUR premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to amazing reviews and will be released by A24 on July 31, 2015.
Segel was recently seen starring opposite Cameron Diaz in Jake Kasdan’s SEX TAPE for Sony Pictures. The comedy follows Segel and Diaz as a married couple who wakes up one morning to discover that the sex tape they made the evening before has gone missing, leading to a frantic search for its whereabouts. Segel and Diaz also starred in Kasdan’s BAD TEACHER, which made over $200 million worldwide.
Segel landed his first major leading role as “Peter” in Nicholas Stoller’s FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL which he also wrote. The film was released in 2008 by Universal Pictures and made over $100 million worldwide. Segel wrote a “Dracula” musical performed by puppets, which was a personal idea and passion he incorporated into the film, emboldening him to pitch his concept for a Muppets movie. He, along with Stoller, signed on with Disney to write THE MUPPETS, which made over $150 million worldwide. Additionally, the film won an Academy Award® in 2012 for “Best Original Song” for “Man or Muppet,” written by Bret McKenzie and performed by Segel.
Segel also collaborated with Stoller in 2010 to write and co-produce the film GET HIM TO THE GREEK, where Jonah Hill and Russell Brand reunited as co-stars in a spin-off of FORGETTING SARAH MARHSALL. The film grossed over $90 million worldwide and won the Teen Choice Award for “Choice Movie: Comedy.”
In 2012, he starred in Judd Apatow’s THIS IS 40 opposite Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann for Universal Pictures. The film is an original comedy that expands on the story of Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) from KNOCKED UP as we see first-hand how they are dealing with their current state of life. KNOCKED UP grossed over $300 million worldwide and was recognized by the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy, was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Comedy Movie and was named one of AFI’s Top Ten Films of the Year. Additionally, THIS IS 40 was nominated for a 2013 Critics’ Choice Award for Best Comedy Movie.
Segel’s other film credits include: THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, I LOVE YOU, MAN, JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, DESPICABLE ME, SLACKERS, THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKES, S.L.C. PUNK, CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS, among others.
On television, Segel starred as “Marshall” opposite Alyson Hannigan, Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, and Neil Patrick Harris on the CBS hit comedy series “How I Met Your Mother.” During the show’s nine season run, it was nominated for an Emmy® for “Outstanding Comedy Series,” a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite TV Comedy” and a Teen Choice Award for “Choice TV Show: Comedy.” He also starred in Judd Apatow’s Emmy® nominated television series “Freaks and Geeks” for NBC as well as Apatow’s “Undeclared” for FOX.
In addition to his work in television and film, Segel made his debut as a children’s book author with “Nightmares!”, published by Random House and co-written by Kirsten Miller. The first installment of his middle-grade trilogy was released on September 9, 2014 and debuted at #2 on the NYTimes Bestseller List. The second book, “Nightmares: The Sleepwalker Tonic”, will be published in September 2015.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JAMES PONSOLDT (Director) is a filmmaker originally from Athens, Georgia. A graduate of Yale and Columbia’s MFA Film Program, Ponsoldt’s feature debut OFF THE BLACK premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
His subsequent feature, SMASHED (2012), made a Special Jury Prize-winning debut at Sundance as well, and went on to earn star Mary Elizabeth Winstead an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance.
Ponsoldt’s third feature, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, was warmly received by critics and audiences alike, taking home a Special Jury Award at Sundance in 2013. Starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, the coming of age story was released by A24 Films in August 2013 and received nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards and Gotham Awards. The film was also named one of the top ten independent films of 2013 by the National Board of Review.
In addition to feature films, Ponsoldt has also directed episodes for the critically- acclaimed TV series “Shameless” and “Parenthood.”
DONALD MARGULIES (Writer/Executive Producer), one of America’s most widely-produced playwrights, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Dinner with Friends” (which was made into an Emmy Award-nominated film for HBO directed by Norman Jewison) and was a finalist twice before for Sight Unseen and Collected Stories. His many other plays, which include “The Country House”, “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment”, “Brooklyn Boy”, “The Loman Family Picnic”, the Tony Award-nominated “Time Stands Still” and the Obie Award-winning “The Model Apartment”, have been produced on and off-Broadway and in theaters across the United States and around the world.
Margulies has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York Foundation for the Arts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He was the recipient of the 2000 Sidney Kingsley Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre by a playwright. In 2005 he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters with an Award in Literature and by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture with its Award in Literary Arts. He was the 2014 recipient of the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theatre Award for an American Playwright in Mid-Career and the 2015 William Inge Award for Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater. He has developed numerous screenplays, teleplays and pilots for HBO, Showtime, NBC, CBS, Warner Bros., TriStar, Universal, Paramount, and MGM. He is an adjunct professor of English and Theater Studies at Yale University.
DAVID KANTER (Producer) is a producer and manager at Anonymous Content, a leading motion picture, television and commercial production company and talent management company in Culver City, CA.
Kanter’s films in production include THE REVENANT, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu for New Regency, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy; and BASTILLE DAY, starring Idris Elba and Richard Madden, directed by James Watkins for Vendome/Studio Canal/Focus Features.
Kanter produced FUN SIZE, a co-production with Paramount Pictures that marked the feature directorial debut of Josh Schwartz and starred Victoria Justice, Thomas Mann and Chelsea Handler; IN THE LAND OF WOMEN, a co- production with Castle Rock and Warner Independent, starring Meg Ryan and Adam Brody; the controversial Tony Kaye documentary LAKE OF FIRE which premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival; and New Line Cinema’s RENDITION, directed by Gavin Hood, starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep and Alan Arkin.
His television excutive producing credits include the forthcoming Cinemax series “Quarry,” starring Logan Marshall-Green to premiere in 2016; “To Love and Die” for USA Network; “Law & Order: Crime and Punishment,” a drama series documentary for NBC that he co- created and executive produced; and “Stanley Park” for BBC3/Lionsgate. David currently has pilots and long-form shows in active development at AMC, Showtime, HBO, FTVS, F/X Studios, Lionsgate Television, and Sony Television.
Kanter’s roster of management clients includes John Romano (THE LINCOLN LAWYER), Andrew Baldwin (THE OUTSIDER), Donald Margulies (MIDDLESEX and the Pulitzer Prize winning play “Dinner with Friends”), Lesli Linka Glatter (“Mad Men,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Homeland”), Ron Nyswaner (PHILADELPHIA, FREEHELD) and Andrew Fleming (THE CRAFT, HAMLET 2) among others.
Prior to joining Anonymous Content in 2000, Kanter was a founding agent at United Talent Agency and was personally involved with numerous major studio motion pictures including THE LONG WALK HOME, LEAP OF FAITH, FAR FROM HOME, THE RIVER WILD, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, STARSHIP TROOPERS, RUSHMORE, TRAFFIC and THE SPY GAME, along with many independent films. He was also involved in many prestigious long-form television projects and television series including “Chicago Hope,” “Party of Five” and “The Sopranos.”
Kanter started his career in New York in the books-to-movies and television business with Curtis Brown, Ltd., the late Edgar J. Scherick and Sterling Lord Literistic Agency.
MATT DEROSS (Producer) is the VP of production at Anonymous Content, the Los Angeles-based management and production company responsible for TRUE DETECTIVE, THE KNICK, BABEL and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, to name a few. DeRoss, who has been with Anonymous for the past 13 years, has worked closely with some of the most innovative talents in the film industry. DeRoss is producing the HBO/Cinemax series QUARRY, written by Graham Gordy and Michael Fuller and starring Logan Marshall Green. His other credits include THE LOFT, a remake of the highest-grossing Belgium film of all time, and the documentary #ReGENERATION narrated by Ryan Gosling and featuring interviews with Talib Kweli, Mos Def and the late Howard Zinn. He is currently in development on a new TV series with John Lee Hancock, the writer/director of THE BLINDSIDE. DeRoss is a graduate of Florida State University. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
JAMES DAHL (Producer) is the founder and president of Modern Man Films, a Los Angeles based film and television production company. James studied creative writing and literature at the Gallatin School of New York University, and has worked in the finance and music businesses before turning his attention to creative development and production of film and TV. Modern Man Films co- produced THE END OF THE TOUR with Anonymous Content and will world- premiere the film at Sundance 2015. James enjoys membership in the LACMA LENS Photography Council and Avant-Garde communities and is an avid supporter and collector of Los Angeles based art and photography.
MARK MANUEL (Producer) is the CEO of Kilburn Media. Kilburn is a rapidly growing diversified entertainment company with operating divisions in film, television, live theatrical shows, and film and TV distribution. Mark is Chairman of Kilburn Media and Road Show Theatrical and Co-chairman of Eclipse TV and the Freemantle Corporation. Prior to founding Kilburn Media, Mark was an executive with Lionsgate Entertainment and Paramount Pictures and was an investment banker before joining the entertainment industry.
TED O’NEAL (Producer) is a partner in Kilburn Media with Mark Manuel. He is an experienced producer and financier who focuses on strategic investments in film, television and other media-related ventures. Ted utilizes his expertise in capital placement and structured transactions to build long term partnerships with private equity groups, hedge funds, family offices and high net worth individuals resulting in a multitude of successful transactions and exits. He serves on a variety of boards and is active in managing direct investments and providing leadership. Ted is also a licensed attorney in multiple jurisdictions and practiced law at a large international firm where his work included mergers and acquisitions, finance, and media transactions. He has served in executive leadership roles for a variety of companies. Ted graduated from Princeton University with honors where he played Golf and Volleyball. He is the co- recipient of the Frederick Barnard White Thesis Prize in Architecture from Princeton University.
PAUL GREEN (Executive Producer), President of Anonymous Content, first joined Anonymous in April 2004 after having previously worked with Anonymous CEO Steve Golin at Propaganda Films. Mr. Green assists with development, financing, production and distribution of films, television projects, and digital projects. He has executive produced or produced the recent films FUN SIZE, BIG MIRACLE, 44 INCH CHEST, THE BEAVER, SCENIC ROUTE, ADULT WORLD and THE FIFTH ESTATE, along with the upcoming films LAGGIES, THE LOFT, THE REVENANT, SPOTLIGHT and TRIPLE NINE. Previously, Paul served in executive positions with Icon Productions, Beacon Communications, Propaganda Films and the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. Paul is a member in both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Television Academy.
JAKOB IHRE (Director of Photography) recently completed LOUDER THAN BOMBS, a New York based feature, directed by Joachim Trier and starring Isaebelle Huppart, Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg. The Swedish-based cinematographer’s films include QUITTERS, LOLA VERSUS, OSLO AUGUST 31st and REPRISE.
GERALD SULLIVAN (Production Designer) graduated from the Southern California Institute of Architecture, (SCI-ARC). For the last fifteen years he has worked in the film industry as set designer, art director and production designer on such films as THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. He was the Supervising Art Director on Wes Anderson’s THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, which won an Oscar® for Production Design, as well as on his previous effort, MOONRISE KINGDOM. Most recently, he was production designer on Jon Stewart’s debut film, ROSEWATER, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and the forthcoming thriller FRANK & LOLA.
Over the last 30 years, four-time Oscar® nominee DANNY ELFMAN (Composer) has established himself as one of the most versatile and accomplished film composers in the industry. He has collaborated with such directors as Tim Burton, David O. Russell, Gus Van Sant, Sam Raimi, Paul Haggis, Ang Lee, Rob Marshall, Guillermo del Toro, Brian De Palma, and Peter Jackson. Beginning with his first score on Tim Burton’s PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, Elfman has scored a broad range of films, including: MILK (Oscar® nominated), GOOD WILL HUNTING (Oscar®ƒ nominated), BIG FISH (Oscar® nominated), MEN IN BLACK (Oscar® nominated), EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, WANTED, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, PLANET OF THE APES, A SIMPLE PLAN, TO DIE FOR, SPIDER-MAN (1 & 2), BATMAN, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, SOMMERSBY, CHICAGO, DICK TRACY, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
Elfman’s most recent work includes David O. Russell’s award-winning films SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and AMERICAN HUSTLE, Rob Minkoff’s MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN, Tim Burton’s BIG EYES, Sam Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, Errol Morris’ THE UNKNOWN KNOWN, THE END OF THE TOUR, TULIP FEVER and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.
A native of Los Angeles, Elfman grew up loving film music. He travelled the world as a young man, absorbing its musical diversity. He helped found the band Oingo Boingo, and came to the attention of a young Tim Burton, who asked him to write the score FOR PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. (30 years later, the two have forged one of the most fruitful composer-director collaborations in film history.) In addition to his film work, Elfman wrote the iconic theme music for “The Simpsons” and “Desperate Housewives.” He also composed a ballet, Rabbit and Rogue, choreographed by Twyla Tharp, a symphony Serenada Schizophrana for Carnegie Hall, an overture The Overeager Overture for the Hollywood Bowl, and, most recently, Iris—a Cirque du Soleil show at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton had its concert premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall and has since performed the concert twenty times in nine countries. “Having a particular style is not bad,” says Elfman, “but I prefer to push myself in the direction of being a composer who you never know what he’s doing next.”