Casting the Film Forgetting Sarah Marshall

From the first "action" to the final "cut," Stoller felt there would be much flexibility for takes during production of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The dialogue, as is common in Apatow productions, would be adapted from Segel's script to allow for the actors to perform off the page. For everyone, the best comic takes would trump all. Not surprising, as the daily call sheets included character names for supporting cast such as "Potty Mouth Girl," "Blonde Screaming Girlfriend" and "Tantrum Kid."

For example, in the original script of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, as Sarah breaks up with Peter, he is naked, then he gets dressed. Stoller comments, "We thought it would be much funnier if Peter was naked the whole scene during the entire breakup. And besides, Jason likes to get naked."

The casting process began as Segel and the filmmakers searched for the perfect woman to play the title character-a self-centered yet sympathetic, bossy but lovable, dumper of Peter. Kristen Bell was cast on the spot after her audition as Sarah, self-indulgent television star of hit procedural show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. Says Apatow: "Her Sarah Marshall and Jason's Peter Bretter had great chemistry. Her shutdown nature and sarcasm were really funny against his puppy-dog vulnerability. They made an interesting, horrible, funny couple.

"Kristen's character was fun to develop," he continues. "I always think it is fun to satirize people in show business. Making fun of television shows, cop shows and stars of shows are just ripe areas of comedy."

Bell was sold by her co-star's screenplay. "Most romantic comedies tend to be very predictable, but there is a reality to this script," she commends. "Jason wrote a very three-dimensional story. Everybody is trying the best they can, and you can see all sides of every situation."

Producer Robertson offers of the film's female lead: "Kristen was the right person to play Sarah Marshall because you have to, at moments, love her and other times be disgusted by her. Kristen can play both and have you glued to the screen either way, laughing out loud."

Mila Kunis was chosen to play Rachel Jansen, the levelheaded love interest for Peter in Hawaii-the woman who helps him finally "get out his head." Provides director Stoller of the choice: "For both of our leading ladies, we knew they were the ones from their auditions. We saw hundreds of women, but their two faces remained in our heads during the entire casting process."

Naturally biased, Segel wanted to find a counterpart who was the opposite of everything that his character fell in love with during the first go-around. "Mila has this carefree air to her about life," he compliments. "She is the antithesis of the Sarah Marshall character and doesn't need to be doted on or catered to."

Kunis was no stranger to Apatow/Robertson productions. Though the actor had auditioned for Knocked Up, the filmmakers kept her in mind for a project that was a better fit. Robertson remembers, "We knew Mila would be the perfect Rachel."

Says Kunis of her interest in the part and her on-screen love: "A breakup from a guy's point of view? I loved it from the first read. Jason's honesty is so sweet, on screen and off, and he is no fool as a writer." She laughs, "He has sex scenes with like 10 different women in the film. He found room in the story for a multiple partner montage. Imagine that!"

Like Segel, Kunis' background was in television. The transition to improv would first prove challenging, but ultimately rewarding, for her. She notes, "When you come off television, you don't improv. You stick to the script, word for word, because there is a time limit for everything. It's a whole new process, and I am slowly but surely learning the ropes."

When he came in for his audition, the filmmakers didn't know what to make of U.K.-based stand-up comedian Russell Brand. He arrived in his normal fare of leather pants, complete with several belts strapped about his waist, teased up and ratty long hair, and black eyeliner.

None of the crew was familiar with Brand's work, and Stoller told the actor to be loose with the script, improvising whenever he wished. "When Russell began to speak," Stoller remembers, "it was literally the funniest riff I have heard."

Recalls Apatow: "After we met Russell, we tailored the part to who he is. He has this very flamboyant nature, and we knew we had to turn his character into a rock star, because he looks so good in leather pants."

Continues Segel, "Russell was the find of the century. When he came in for the audition, oozing with undeniable sexual energy and rock star good looks, he said to me 'You'll have to forgive me, I have only had the chance to take a cursory glance at your script. Perhaps you should tell me what you require?' And all I kept thinking was 'that takes balls, man!' and I realized he was the dude. We did a complete rewrite for him."

Brand was comfortable with the comedy improv, right from the go. "When I do stand-up comedy shows, I improvise generally for the first hour and it keeps things very organic and fresh. I felt very comfortable with this improvisational vibe on set."

The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up alums Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill support the cast as, respectively, stoner surfer Chuck (who prefers his Hawaiian name, Kunu) and waiter/Aldous Snow stalker Matthew.

Recounts Rudd: "It was one of those things you didn't even have to think about. Judd called and asked if I wanted to bring my family to Hawaii for a week and play the part of a strung-out surf instructor. We were on a plane before the day was out."

Continues Apatow, "Any time we can convince Paul to work in a movie for almost no money, we tend to go for that. And for Jonah, we told him there are many beautiful Hawaiian girls on this island and that he could perform in the movie for a day or two. We said we'd maybe keep him here a week, and give him five days off to do his best to not get rejected by all these women."

Joining Forgetting Sarah Marshall in other key roles are SNL veteran Bill Hader as Peter's sensible-but-short-fused brother, Brian, along with Jack McBrayer as sexually repressed newlywed Darald and Maria Thayer as his randy wife, Wyoma. Rounding out the talent are TAYLOR WILY as Peter's Hawaiian confidante, Kemo; LIZ CACKOWSKI as Peter's sister-in-law, Liz Bretter; and DA'VONE MCDONALD as South Central native Dwayne, who currently dispenses advice to tourists as a bartender/amateur ichthyologist at Turtle Bay Resort.

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