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Susan Sarandon gets maternal with movie sons Segel, Helms
Updated 3/14/2012 11:12 AM ET
NEW YORK — Susan Sarandon surveys her brood, sitting across from her and nibbling on lobster at the Crosby Street Hotel, and swells up with what can only be described as very convincing maternal satisfaction.

"It's your time, babe. It's your time. My boys are just on their way," she coos.

Responds one of her "offspring": "I'm telling you, it's good genes."

VIDEO: Five Questions with Susan Sarandon MORE: L.A. premiere of 'Jeff'

Adds the other, far lankier one: "I'm very lucky."

The sons in question comprise her family in the idiosyncratic, existential comedy Jeff, Who Lives at Home, opening Friday. The titular Jeff is played by Jason Segel, 32, as something of a lost soul, an observer who spends most of his time in his mom's basement getting high and waiting for a sign that would determine his future. His seemingly more genetically advanced older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), holds down a decent job but is in fact a pugnacious emotional brute determined to bust his cheating wife (Judy Greer).

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Trailer: 'Jeff Who Lives at Home'

And Sarandon's Sharon, who pecks away at her computer at a sterile insurance agency, finds herself with a secret admirer. How it all comes together in the end is the brainchild of directors and writers Mark and Jay Duplass.

"The appeal of the film was, honestly, these guys and Mark and Jay," says Helms, 38, best known as excitable dentist Stu in the Hangover films and egomaniacal blowhard Andy Bernard on NBC's The Office. "The character was hard for me to wrap my head around. I didn't like Pat at all, at first. I actually liked him by the end. I generally like to play sweeter guys. It's more fun for me to play the underdog. I saw this intrinsic goodness in Pat trying to come out."

As the real-life mom of sons Jack Henry, 22, and Miles, 19, as well as daughter Eva Amurri Martino, 26, Sarandon, a radiant 65, has a clear understanding of family dynamics and how parental involvement, whether misdirected or well-intentioned, can make kids resent you. Or, in Sarandon's words, plot to murder you.

"I think the mom was constantly leaning on Pat. She drove a wedge between the two of them," says Sarandon. "In my house, I remember turning off the TV because Jack would be a problem and Eva would be like, 'What did I do? What did I do? How come I have to be punished?' As a parent, you often can make that mistake where you're actually making it harder for siblings to like each other."

The film came at a tough time for Sarandon. She had gone through her breakup from longtime partner Tim Robbins, after 23 years together, and she'd just injured her toe while doing volunteer work in Haiti.

"My first rule is to have fun, and I did," she says. "I guess it just confirms to me, which I came to a little while ago, that it's a lot about surrendering. I was in a boot. I had to have an operation after the movie. I wasn't even physically in my best shape, and other things were happening in my life that were kind of tense. I had a blast. What I learned was to trust my instinct. Follow the signs. Surrender."

Segel, at the apex of a thriving career as a writer and actor — he stars on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, his big-ticket comedy The Five-Year Engagement opens next month, and he co-wrote last year's The Muppets— surprisingly saw elements of himself in the sluggish, meandering Jeff, who won't be headlining anything anytime soon.

"I'm not going to lie to you. I saw my early 20s reflected back a tiny bit. When I was sitting around in my one-bedroom apartment waiting to be discovered, which is the same version of searching for a sign," he says. "It wasn't until I started writing that things changed. What got me about Jeff was that my job was to do nothing. It's very challenging. He's a watcher."

Interjects Sarandon: "It's so hard to be interesting doing that. Very few guys can pull that off. The best thing to do, the most fun thing, is when you get to play desperate and very real, and therefore it's hilarious because desperation is funny."

Segel seems a little humbled by her compliment. "Thanks. Jeez. Put that in the story. Jeff is devoid of judgment, so I tried to watch. I never thought of him as a stoner. I don't think pot is a theme of the movie."

None of the three were close before filming started, at most meeting each other in passing. They stress repeatedly how much pleasure they got from working together, referencing a fight scene between Helms and Segel that they thought was intense and real, and that left the directors and crew in hysterics.

"I went into it confident that I would like Jason because I liked your energy on your movies," says Helms to Segel, before turning to Sarandon. "And I didn't know much about you other than your work, which I loved already."

All three want to play nice. Having worked with just about everyone in Hollywood at this point, Sarandon says she's more free to choose her projects now that her kids are grown and don't need their mom around much. Segel, when casting one of his own films, says he won't hire "jerks," and so far, he's been lucky to work only with decent people. Helms, who has such a short window to make movies when The Office goes on hiatus, tries to be as particular as possible.

"I get asked about these Hangover sequels," he says. "Do you really think there should be a third Hangover? Honestly, the decision to do a movie has big implications. A huge part of that decision is how are you going to spend this vast chunk of your life? Are these the people you want to be around? I'll make them more. I love those guys. That's a fun way to spend my time."

It's challenging to maintain your composure with this trio. An hour-long conversation with them encompasses the spiritual and the smutty. They talk about Sarandon's ping-pong club Spin, which Helms hasn't been to but where Kim Kardashian filmed an episode of her reality show Kourtney & Kim Take New York.

"But it was not responsible for the breakup of her marriage" to basketball player Kris Humphries, swears Sarandon, who then asks Helms if he's seen Kardashian's infamous sex tape. He demurs.

"I want to see it because I've been told that it's actually really hot because of what she says, not what she does," says Sarandon. "The first one was Pamela Anderson. I was doing Stepmom and all the Teamsters disappeared. They were all in the trailer. They finally gave it to me. I got uncomfortable because it seemed so personal in the beginning. It felt so invasive."

Talk then turns to politics, as Helms — dressed in a dapper sweater over a collared shirt — announces that he moonlights as a freelance consultant for Rick Santorum's presidential campaign. "How are you keeping up morale?" quips Sarandon.

And finally, the three tackle one of the themes of their film: destiny and whether it actually matters or exists. Segel's opinion is mixed.

Sarandon: "You can be existential and still be practical."

Segel: "I was about to say, I'm a mix of that and pragmatism."

Helms: "Pragsistencial."

Segel clarifies his outlook on life. "You look at the way I love Muppets and kids' stuff. I have a firm belief that the only point there is, is to be nice. No, it's really true. I have a deep-down belief that it's true. I don't believe in fate or destiny or things like that," says Segel.

Helms, too, is more sensible. "I don't believe in fate or any kind of sign. Coincidences are a reality. I kind of love the mystery of it," he says.

Says Sarandon: "Every single thing in my life that has been important and big, from getting pregnant to people I've been with to jobs, has come completely out of the blue. I haven't seen it coming. So what is that?"

Segel: "I think you're someone who sees the best in things."

Helms: "You can manifest things. It comes from within. If you're eating a (dirt) sandwich, chances are you ordered it. Thank you very much. Print that, USA TODAY. I heard that when I was a kid. Some camp counselor told me. That's my mantra."

Segel and Sarandon applaud as Helms beams. "I've never heard that expression! That is great," whoops Segel.

Segel and Helms are both taking the summer off after their respective shows wrap, and Segel will travel to Germany and France for the first time to promote Engagement. Sarandon plans a trip to Cuba in May, and has a mother lode of films in the can: the mind-bender Cloud Atlas, That's My Boy with Adam Sandler, Robert Redford's The Company You Keep, the Robert DeNiro ensemble comedy The Wedding and the Sundance charmer Robot and Frank.

"You just listed 18 movies. I think you're doing fine," says Segel.

As for Helms and Segel, they're still somewhat bowled over that they shot a film with Sarandon. "You feel like you're a good actor by association when you get to act with someone so great. I felt validated that I got to act with you," says Segel, to his smiling movie mother.

Sums up Helms: "We got cast in a movie together. We're on the same list!"

"Oh, my boys," murmurs Sarandon in response.

Posted 3/13/2012 4:56 PM ET
Updated 3/14/2012 11:12 AM ET
Awesome threesome: Ed Helms, left, Susan Sarandon and Jason Segel star in 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home.'
By Todd Plitt,, USA TODAY
Awesome threesome: Ed Helms, left, Susan Sarandon and Jason Segel star in 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home.'

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