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Actor Segel, Director Ponsoldt Discuss Author’s Influence

Ebertfest Director Nate Kohn, actor Jason Segel, director James Ponsoldt, and film critic Matt Zoller Seitz of Roger

The panel after Thursday's screening of "The End of The Tour" (from left) Ebertfest Director Nate Kohn, actor Jason Segel, director James Ponsoldt, and film critic Matt Zoller Seitz of Roger (Amanda Honigfort/WILL)

A large audience at this year’s Ebertfest film festival has seen a portrayal of the late author David Foster Wallace, who graduated from Urbana High School in 1980.

Director James Ponsoldt admits he had some concerns about what Wallace's fans would think, as the film “The End of The Tour” went into production.  But Ponsoldt said being a fan of Wallace’s work himself drove him towards the project. “The writing of David Foster Wallace has meant as much to me as anything I’ve ever read, and I would never want to be driven by fear, and was driven totally out of love of the man’s writing, and as much empathy as I could bring to it.”

“The End of The Tour” depicts the Wallace’s time with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky over a few days in 1996.  Wallace, who had a history of depression, committed suicide in 2008.

Jason Segel told a packed Virginia Theater Thursday he wasn’t scared to take on the role of Wallace.  The actor largely known for comedic roles, including on TV’s “How I Met Your Mother”, and films like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "The Muppets" told a large audience in Champaign that he felt a connection to the late author’s book, 'Infinite Jest.' 

Segel said Wallace uniquely articulated a way that many people feel, and this movie could not have been about anyone else.

"That’s the difference -  and that’s what made David Foster Wallace so special,"  he said.  "As I think that there are these feelings that are swirling around in us, and he put them perfectly into words.  And so that’s the only reason it needs to be specifically him, because it honors what I think is a really, really unique and very, very special ability to act as a surrogate for all of us in a really poignant way.”

Segel said he also studied Lipsky’s recorded interviews in preparing to play the author.  Lipsky is played in the film by Jesse Eisenberg.

Thursday's screening of "The End of The Tour" marks a departure in terms of the timing for a movie shown at Ebertfest, which oftens shows movies that were initially overlooked.  It only screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January.   Numerous sources, including Entertainment Weekly, list the film as opening on July 31. 

More from Ponsoldt and Segel's visit to Ebertfest is here