'The End of the Tour' tells uneasy tale

Wednesday , January 21, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Nancy Van Valkenburg

For director James Ponsoldt, the story behind “The End of the Tour” was impossible to resist.

First of all, it was about two modern literary figures he admired, novelist David Foster Wallace and journalist/author David Lipsky. In 1996, Lipsky conducted a five-day interview with Wallace for Rolling Stone magazine, but the article was never run. Lipsky published a transcript-based book on the interview only after Wallace’s 2008 suicide.

The story of the uncomfortably revealing interview had every complex emotion and motivation a filmmaker could want.

“Admiration. Envy. Insecurity. Competition. Fear. A desire to be respected. Empathy. Compassion. Regret,” said Ponsoldt, writing about his Sundance film in an email interview with the Standard-Examiner.

“David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky were close in age, 34 and 30 during the time they spent together, and they were both brilliant, ambitious, creative men,” wrote Ponsoldt, whose other three films — “Off the Black” (2006), “Smashed” (2012) and “The Spectacular Now” — were Sundance premieres.

“But the very nature of doing interviews — especially a long, multi-day interview — tests the boundaries of privacy,” Ponsoldt said of “The End of the Tour.” “There’s a performance aspect to interviews; as much as you want to be honest, to be truly vulnerable, to not be boring, it’s really hard to completely forget about the audience. So as intimate and revealing as Lipsky and Wallace’s conversation became, there was always a tension, a sort of game being played.”

Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg star as Wallace and Lipsky. In real life, the two writers never met again, and the interview tapes were packed away in Lipsky’s closet for more than a decade.

One of Ponsoldt’s professors was intrigued by the book Lipsky ultimate published.

“Donald Margulies, my professor in college, wrote a stunning screenplay. It moved me deeply,” the director said. “I already admired David Lipsky’s book, but I was in awe of how Donald turned it into a subtle, riveting script.

“I’ve also been a massive David Foster Wallace fan for my entire adult life. His writing has meant so much to me over the years. I couldn’t stop thinking about making this film, which is always a good sign. Lipsky and Wallace’s conversations about their hopes and struggles were incredibly relatable, personal, and very moving to me.”

Ponsoldt hopes the men’s story intrigues audiences as much as it does him.

“I hope that people are still thinking about the film after it’s over,” the director said. “And if it emotionally affects them, well, that’s fantastic. I’m especially looking forward for audiences to see these wonderful performances — Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg were both incredible. I was blown away. They both give intense, emotional, nuanced performances.

“This film was a labor of love for all of us. I hope the audience can sense that.... And I hope our film inspires people to seek out the writing of these two remarkable authors."

“The End of the Tour” (USA, 106 minutes, not yet rated) screens at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at Perry’s Egyptian Theater.

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