Director James Ponsoldt is known for guiding praiseworthy performances in powerful, intimate movies like “Smashed” and “The Spectacular Now.”
He tops himself with “The End of the Tour,” opening Friday, which tells the story of an extended interview author David Foster Wallace gave to Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) in 1996.
Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “The Muppets”) gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Wallace, whose sprawling novel “Infinite Jest” earned him many devoted fans, including Ponsoldt.
“I’m a megafan,” says Ponsoldt, who visited The City with Segel to discuss the film. “I even had some of his writing read at my wedding.”
On the surface, the movie consists of two men talking. The filmmakers attempted to get all the factual details as correct as possible, but also to find something truthful within.
“Maybe we’ve had that experience of meeting someone we really admire,” says Ponsoldt. “We have an idea that we think we know them, but we spend time with them and they are much more complicated. They’re a human being.”
Segel used a similar approach to his performance. He read the book and listened to Lipsky’s tapes of the interview, learning speech patterns and mannerisms, but then came the hard part.
“I tried not to do an impression, or to view it as something that was outside of me. I wanted to focus on what it was about me that was the same,” says Segel.
Interestingly, both Ponsoldt and Segel have had the opportunity to be in Lipsky’s shoes, interviewing people that they admired.
Ponsoldt sometimes writes interviews for Filmmaker Magazine, meeting with filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Werner Herzog.
“I know their work so well, that when I sit down with them, I know what it is to have a weird blur: ‘I get this guy and he gets me,’ but, no… you’re a stranger,” says Ponsoldt.
Segel recalls how he interviewed the band Rush for a bonus feature on the DVD for his film “I Love You, Man.”
“I’m an uber-fan,” he says, “and so I had no idea what to ask except, ‘What’s it like to be you?’ They were all kind of circling around ‘Isn’t it great to be Rush?’”
In the end, Pondsoldt describes the movie as a kind of “unrequited platonic love story,” filled with big moments, as well as small ones.
“Hopefully, it’s a hang-out movie,” he continues, “like you enjoy hanging out with them, and when it’s over you wish you could hang out with them some more.”
IF YOU GO
The End of the Tour
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Becky Ann Baker, Anna Chlumsky
Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Running time 1 hour, 46 minutes