Jason Segel did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour.
Jason Segel is an actor best known for his broad comedic performances, though I'll admit I have seen little of his work in total, so this is rather outside of that comfort zone. The film is a two character piece, though there are other minor players, but it squares specifically on the dynamic between Lipsky and Wallace. Jesse Eisenberg who frequently gives mannered performances actually is surprisingly subdued in that regard here, which works well against Segel's work which must be mannered in order to capture the spirit of Wallace. Any notion that Segel is just a broad comic actor can instantly be forgotten in his realizations of Wallace's idiosyncrasies. The way Segel speaks here is somewhat unusual in his almost airy sound of his voice, the muted timbre as well as the pace of delivery as he almost quickly rushes through what he's saying then has a notable pause before starting again. This is the way Foster spoke, and you'd think this was merely the way Segel spoke as it never feels like an affectation, but rather just the way the man speaks. Segel even captures the unique movements of the man as creates a sense of an almost tug of war in his body language as he goes outgoing one moment, to a shyness the next. Segel makes it all of this seem just as he is, and never allows it to seem like acting for even a moment.
Segel's brilliant realization of Wallace's various tics, without making them seem like acting tics, is essential to the success of the film. When we first meet Wallace it could have been just time to see some caricature of a real person but through Segel we seem to just meet the man. Segel importantly does nothing to prevent us from seeing Wallace as more than just a collection of ideas, which is also important in the film as Lipsky also has to see Wallace as a person rather just as the vague idea he has of some genius novelist. Segel's performance carefully humanizes Wallace from the moment we meet him in the flesh as calmly apologizes for his earlier brief phone conversation with Lipsky, where he sounded as though he might be the egotistical writer sort. His introductory moment further quashes this idea as Segel, even in finding those idiosyncratic behavior of the man, plays him as an approachable enough man, even if there is a certain introverted element in his behavior. Segel and Eisenberg for that matter both do very well in portraying the needed awkwardness of two strangers' meeting. Segel's very good in portraying the courtesy of Wallace as he tries to break the ice with Lipsky, but with a most definite hesitation when the idea of the interview is more fully realized when Lipsky reveals his tape recorder.
The conversations between the two are really the film, and both actors must find their characters in the shifting of topics throughout the interview. Now often times the conversations are quite minor in discussion such as just when they are indulging in some junk food they procured for the night. Segel and Eisenberg manage to make even these minor conversations rather compelling as they so easily find the chemistry between the two, and make the words sound so particularly natural. These scenes are nicely played though in producing a certain warmth, and perhaps alluding to a possible friendship just through the ease in which the two of them can go back and forth on various topics. Segel captures a certain rhythm in Wallace as he covers these simple enough topics as he goes from casual discussion, but set off on a certain point reveals an intellectual intensity of sorts, though not overt. Segel is excellent in these moments as he basically reveals the passion of Wallace's certain beliefs when they come off even in casual conversation. What's special about this is that he avoids making it seem self-indulgent. He naturally comes to these points as just someone talking about something they care about, and even then Segel inserts moments of realization as though Wallace sees what he's doing and pulls back.
That puts a nice contrast against the moments where Lipsky directly presses Wallace to talk about his personal philosophies and how they relate to Infinite Jest. Segel handles these moments well by showing Wallace very much take upon the role of the proper interviewee as though he's on a talk show. Segel does not portray this as though it is a facade or anything, just rather the adjustment of a man who wants to make sure he gets his ideas across clearly. The passion in these scenes Segel reveals again though in an intriguing alternate way that it is more precise, and in a way less natural, but in no way false. He conveys the earnestness of his beliefs in direct fashion to make it abundantly clear to Lipsky exactly what ge believes without question, though again Segel does this without an obvious smugness rather a confidence of an intelligent man who has given much investment into the development of these concepts. There are moments even in these conversations that Wallace takes a moment to make it clear that all that he says is what he hopes his book accomplished. Segel is great in this as he reveals this to be genuine modesty in Wallace, and suggests the vulnerability of a man who perhaps is still unsure if he's truly succeeded or not.
As the tour goes on Lipsky and Wallace do connect in their moments of mutual appreciation but there is definite push back when Lipsky's questions become more incisive towards Wallace's personal life. This includes questions involving his parents as well as his problems with depression and possibly drug abuse. Segel is fantastic once again in these moments as again he keeps it very much within the setting of a proper interview as he maintains his composure as well as he can. Segel's reactions to these questions show Wallace's resistance to even broach the subject, and finds an understated disgust towards Lipsky for even bringing the subject up. When Wallace does answer Segel finds the right defensiveness in Wallace at all times as he makes every answer have an aggressive quality to it as though he's trying to even attack some of Lipsky's suggestions in his own humble way. However Segel does not have Wallace cover up as he does allude to the pain associated with these memories, and gives a greater understanding to the subtle melancholia that Segel presents as a part of Wallace's natural state of being. The difficulties of the interview are only encouraged by Lipsky's jealousy of Wallace's success, but also Wallace's concerns when Lipsky seems to be becoming a bit too friendly with Wallace's female friends. Segel is quietly moving by creating the sense of Wallace's personal sensitivity, that is not of an egotistical writer, but that of a man with very normal insecurities. The fate of Wallace is known from the introduction, as he eventually committed suicide, and Segel does find that course in his portrayal. Segel never allows that to control the portrait of the man. Segel through every conversations, which are always engaging no matter how slight they may seem, finds the man's sorrow, his brilliance, but also his joys. It's an excellent performance which always feels not as an imitation, but as a true embodiment of this man.