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Five years is a long time. It’s the difference between a newborn and a kindergartener; an eighth grader and a college freshman; and someone in their mid-twenties and another in their early-thirties. It’s a time period lengthy enough to become a completely different person. So, as you can imagine, it’s a long time to be engaged, particularly if you didn’t expect the engagement to last more than a single year. This is the world of Tom and Violet, the characters played by Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in the upcoming comedy The Five-Year Engagement.
Last summer, a group of journalists including myself took a trip up to Sonoma, California to visit the set of the upcoming comedy (you can read more about it HERE) and as part of that lovely trip we had the chance to speak with the two stars of the film about both their relationship between their two characters as well as the experience making the movie. Read our interview below in which Segel and Blunt talk about the pressures put on their characters by various family members, fake male orgasms, and an incident on set that had everybody in hysterics.
Can you talk about the scene you were just filming?
Jason Segel: We are filming our first engagement party. So all of the families are together for the first time and are getting to know each other. It is the first time we get to know all of the different characters. As you can see they are all hilarious. We have the best cast around. So that is what is going on.
Nicholas Stoller was telling us that there are some comically bad sex scenes.
Blunt: We have a really bad one with a fake orgasm happening on Jason’s part, which is even funnier. You guys were like, “Yeah. That happens a lot with girls.” but this is actually from a guy.
Was there a lot of talk trying to figure out how to do a fake orgasm for a guy?
Blunt: How many takes did you do?
Segel: I did quite a few takes, but I can’t give away my secrets or the context in which it happens. So you will just have to watch.
Are there any sort of jokes revolving around flatulence?
Segel: Yeah. One of our actors…we’ve had a few actually. One of our actors stood up and just accidently farted.
Blunt: He was wearing really tight pants. His costume is supposed to be a guy in a midlife crisis. It’s Jim [Piddock], who is playing my dad. He stood up and let one go.
Segel: Yeah. He had been complaining about his pants all day and how tight they were. Then that happened. Then there was this one time where the sound guy was trying so hard not to laugh that he just continuously farted. [laughs] We were not in the scene.
Blunt: It was the guy holding the boom.
Segel: He was shaking and crying so hard trying not to laugh and just farting the whole time. [laughs] It was amazing. That was my favorite thing on set.
Segel: It was amazing.
That has to be on the DVD.
Segel: I’m sure it will be because it’s very loud. It was so funny.
Is it very rewarding as an actor to have your crew get so inspired that…
Blunt: That is how we sort of judge it.
Segel: That is how we gauge it.
Blunt: It’s how funny something is by how many farts you get out of the crew.
So are you both beyond laughs?
Segel: Yeah. We want physical.
Blunt: We want physical outbursts.
The film is rated R. Can you talk about where you guys feel comfortable with where the boundaries should be? We’ve seen some R rated movies involving male nudity. Where are your boundaries in the scheme of other films?
Segel: Our boundary is reality. That is where our…we don’t try to do anything to push the limits of taste at the sacrifice of reality. The story, for as funny as it is, is very grounded. So there is never an effort to try and show how gross we can be or how far you can push any limits.
Blunt: It’ll tonally be wrong for this movie as well. There is so much heart in this film that it would be weird to compromise that for the sake of a gross laugh.
Segel: Absolutely. It’s got its share of big laughs and odd scenes, but they are all stuff that we have experienced in some way or another.
Blunt: I don’t feel like it restrains people. I found it really freeing. I think that the Nick Stoller way of doing things is to just try it because you never know. I think that that is a really liberating way of working. I think often with comedy it’s so much about stretching a scene around and finding the best way, line, joke, and you don’t know. Everyone has to work together. I think the openness everyone has to play in is crazy. It’s something that I have never experienced before really.
Segel: We learned a lot in the editing room for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. You really just never know what you are going to use until you start throwing stuff together. You craft the tone of the movie in editing to some extent. A lot of it happens in writing and then when we are filming you are trying the scenes in a lot of different tones sometimes. Then the final crafting goes in the editing because you don’t know what is going to get cut yet. You don’t know what is going to get laughs in the test screenings. So you want to have everything in your tool box when you get in the editing room.
We know that when you move to Michigan you get kind of bitter because Chris’ character becomes successful.
Segel: I think the difference between the two relationships is that we represent a relationship of over thinking and they represent a relationship of spontaneity. For a long time we think that we have it right. Slowly we see that there is something about their freewheeling attitude that they are just taking life as it comes. That means that maybe they had babies before they wanted but they are living life and they're married. They are way ahead of us we realize at some point in the middle of the film.
Is that both of your characters doing or is that just yours? Are you looking for the perfect wedding?
Blunt: I think that Tom and Violet sort of strive for a perfect scenario in most cases. I think that unfortunately that is the thing that bounds them in some ways. It kind of holds them back. Things remain unspoken between them. So I think that is always quite dangerous if there are issues simmering beneath the surface because everyone is trying to play nice whereas Chris and Alison’s characters are very tempestuous and bogged down with each other.
Segel: What is interesting about this movie is that it takes place over five years and five years is a long time. So when you ask questions about “Whose doing is this issue?” you can talk about moment to moment about whose driving the problem but over five years that dynamic changes.
Blunt: It shifts. It is ever shifting. I think that is a very real thing within a relationship too.
Segel: That is one of the themes of the movie. It’s just how especially at a young age when you are just getting to know each other to some extent because we get engaged very early – that dynamic is really fluid. Like the power dynamic and…
Blunt: And the self-fulfillment dynamic shifts. One partner will be happy and then the other and that might shift. You see how that might affect them as a pair. So that is what is quite true about the movie I think.
Segel: Yeah. I think that is right. There is a line that Rhys says. He says something to the effect of “How much do you compromise your own happiness before you realize that you’ve become unhappy.” and I think that is one of the themes of the movie as well.
Is there pressure from everyone around you about why it is taking so long? Does that add to it?
Blunt: Because we keep putting it off. Sometimes it is for a positive reason and sometimes it is for a negative reason. I think people around us are like, “Just get it done already.” It’s basically that people are like, “Shit or go home.”
How much rewriting did you do once you started casting these other people? Can you also talk about getting these other people in the cast?
Segel: We rewrite. That is part of our thing. We rewrite every time we cast somebody. We sit down with them and go through the script literally scene by scene. We talk to them and get a sense of how they speak and stuff. I had worked with Emily before and I knew her. So I was kind of writing it in her voice. Then once she signed on…thankfully.
Blunt: [laughs] Can you imagine?
Segel: Yeah. That would’ve been rough. We really sat down with her and found out how she wanted to play this character and how she saw it. We did a hefty rewrite for her. Then we didn’t know what the Winton character was going to be like until we found the dude. If that had been someone else…even just the fact that he is Welsh. You can’t just ignore that as a character trait. So you do a lot of rewriting once you find the people. No one can write a character as interesting as Rhys can think of it. You know what I mean? Rhys is going to do it better than I can write it. We believe in our actors when we cast them.
Blunt: I think you cast very specific people too. So I feel like there is real distinction with the characters. Rhys’ character’s voice is utterly different from Alison’s or someone else. That is what I find really refreshing about the movie. Rhys put it really well. He said, “Every scene is just so juicy.” The characters are so juicy because they are very specific. Some of them are larger than life but yet you feel that you have met people like that.
Segel: This is going to be a hard movie to edit because honest to god every scene is so good and so funny. And a movie like this with all of this improv always turns out with a first cut that is like 2 ½ hours long and you have to get it down to 98 minutes or something like that.
Are we seeing time pass one year at a time or is it all five years at once?
Segel: We have some time markers throughout the movie. But it’s not all necessarily “One year. Two year. Three Year.” We use different devices like hair, facial hair, wedding invitations, wedding cancelations. It’s just to keep track of time moving along.
Is it tough figuring out how to do it without using too many flashbacks or too many…
Blunt: We didn’t do any flashbacks, did we?
Segel: We didn’t do any flashbacks. One of the tricky elements was if you know this is a movie that takes place over five years – at year three are you starting to think, “Okay. I have two years left of this movie.” [laughs] You know what I mean? So we tried to keep it interesting and we played with time. Not every year of the movie takes as long as each other. So we just tried to hit the interesting parts in a relationship.
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