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‘I f you can find the line be­tween sym­pa­thetic and creepy, you have reached a very funny area,” Ja­son Segel once said. Not only has the ac­tor and screen­writer found that line, he walks it like a tightrope.

Since com­ing to the at­ten­tion of view­ers (and his men­tor, Knocked Up writer-di­rec­tor Judd Apa­tow) in the cult high school se­ries Freaks and Geeks, Segel has made a habit of play­ing guys who are just slightly off.

In TV shows and films (such as the re­cent For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall, which he also wrote), his char­ac­ters tend to be a lit­tle clingy, a lit­tle clue­less, but some­how like­able, even love­able, de­spite it all.

Of course, the tall, hand­some Segel is adept at play­ing nice guys as well, as his char­ac­ter Mar­shall on the Seven sit­com How I Met Your Mother proves. View­ers have seen long-term cou­ple Mar­shall and Lily (Alyson Han­ni­gan) break up, make up and take on the joys and chal­lenges of par­ent­hood.

Here, Segel talks about the How I Met Your Mother en­sem­ble, the uni­ver­sal ap­peal of Neil Pa­trick Har­ris and the mis­con­cep­tions peo­ple have about him … The How I Met Your Mother cast is a mix of new­com­ers and fa­mil­iar faces – what’s it like work­ing with this team? There was this strange chem­istry be­tween the five of us right from the beginning. I think the first time the five of us met was at a bar­be­cue. And then Alyson was there for my screen test. I read with her, and I’d say that within a cou­ple of min­utes of start­ing the scene we had gone off-book and sort of started im­pro­vis­ing. It was so funny and so nat­u­ral that I just knew we would make a great team. Then when we met the other three, some­thing about it just felt right. It was very easy from the beginning.

Har­ris’s Bar­ney has emerged as a bit of a scene stealer in a role that’s dif­fer­ent to the way he’s been seen in the past.

When Bar­ney was first writ­ten on the page, he was in­tended to be this sort of slob­bish, over­weight guy. So, Neil came in and did this ver­sion of Bar­ney, which I just think is so in­ter­est­ing and great. More than him mak­ing any ef­fort to try to change his im­age, I think he’s just a re­ally di­verse and tal­ented per­former. We just haven’t seen him like this be­fore but it’s well within his grasp. He’s a tal­ented guy.

The frame­work for the show is Ted telling the story of his re­la­tion­ships to his kids in the fu­ture. Now, the show gets a tad racy at times … has any­one brought up the

fact that Ted’s sto­ries might be a lit­tle in­ap­pro­pri­ate? [Laughs] Yeah, we’ve thought about that. But maybe in the fu­ture, so­ci­ety’s val­ues have changed.

You write movies and mu­sic, you act in leads and sup­port­ing roles. How do you see your ca­reer?

As di­verse and as pos­i­tive. Di­ver­sity, I think, is the key. I look at some­body like Peter Sell­ers, who was just one of the amaz­ing, amaz­ing char­ac­ter ac­tors. Be­ing There couldn’t be fur­ther from Pink Pan­ther. I’m al­ways in awe of that. Also, you do have a choice over what ma­te­rial you do, cer­tainly as you progress in your ca­reer. I’d like to choose things that at least speak to some­thing that I think is rel­e­vant. That’s al­ways when I act the best, when I con­nect to it in some way. When it’s friv­o­lous, I show up and do it and do my best, but … Even some­thing as sim­ple as try­ing to be sin­gle, at least you can hook into and try to ex­press some­thing that any­one can re­late to. Peo­ple see­ing you as the sleazy friend in Knocked Up or the lovelorn lead in For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall could eas­ily form strong opin­ions of you. Any­thing you want to clear up for the record? No. Sadly, it’s all true. [Laughs] But I am this tall. And I’m bet­ter-looking in per­son.

Party of five: Ja­son Segel with HowI MetYourMother co-stars, from left, Alyson Han­ni­gan, Josh Rad­nor, Co­bie Smul­ders and Neil Pa­trick Har­ris.

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