The comedy The Five-Year Engagement, from co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek) and producer Judd Apatow takes a look at romance in a very real, funny and often awkward way. When engaged couple Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) keep postponing their wedding, two people who once dreamed of the perfect day just keep spiraling further apart. Meanwhile, Tom’s best friend Alex (Chris Pratt) spontaneously marries Violet’s quirky sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), and they have two kids, all before Tom and Violet even set a wedding date and the two begin to wonder if their relationship is even right. For more on the film, here’s the new red-band trailer, 5 clips, and 24 images.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Jason Segel (who is also the film’s co-writer and executive producer) and Emily Blunt talked about telling the story of a romance that is simply about the fact that different people can want different things, the challenges of getting a movie like this made, their shared pet peeve of having two actors matched together in a movie just because they’ve both had successful movies the year before, how this movie ended up not having a puppet, and the scenes and plotlines that were ultimately cut. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: Most romantic comedies nowadays revolve around somebody concealing something or some ridiculous coincidence. How hard is it to make a romance, which is simply about the fact that different people can want different things?
JASON SEGEL: Yeah, it was a challenge to write, and was certainly a challenge to edit, because there are no big plot movements. There’s no car accident, there’s no big earthquake where someone dies, and there’s also no big contrivance like, “I”m a scientist and she hates science.” It’s a very earnest exploration about how a relationship is fluid, and when you choose a partner and say, “I want to marry you,” you’re not saying it for this moment, you’re saying it for your whole life, and what’s going to be ever-shifting power dynamics. It really is an honest exploration of relationships. It was tricky to write, but the best ones are that. Annie Hall is that, and When Harry Met Sally is that. It’s about taking a good, hard look at relationships, and I think people can relate to it.
EMILY BLUNT: I do think that with a much more simple premise, there’s just so much more room to play amongst that. As actors, there’s a lot you can do to really make these relationships complex and interesting and messy and flawed and loving, and all of those things. It’s a movie with great heart. The situations these two are put in are ludicrous and outrageous and obviously heightened for the spectacle of the movie, but yet you invest in them as a couple, in a very real way, hopefully.
Emily, you are married while Jason is not. Did you ever find yourself going, “No, no that is not how a marriage works, writer boy”?
BLUNT: Nick [Stoller] has been married for a long time as well, so he really gets it. Jason, even though he isn’t married, is a romantic. He’s been in long-term relationships. I think everyone who was involved in the film has had experience with relationships. It felt very collaborative. They did a great first draft, and then I signed on, came in and gave a couple of ideas. They were incorporated or not, but it was very collaborative, with different perspectives of what we feel about relationships. I think it was a very personal movie. Everyone talked and shared a lot, and a lot of that made it onto the screen.
SEGEL: Yeah, it’s part of our process. As soon as we hire somebody, especially to play the female lead, the first thing we do is sit down with them and have a long talk. It’s not even about acting, but how you feel about relationships and how you would actually handle the scenes. Then, we do a rewrite to tailor it to the person that’s playing the role.
Was Violet originally conceived as British?
SEGEL: It was written for Emily. I wrote it for Emily. It’s really true.
Had you had social interactions before?
BLUNT: We’ve worked together.
SEGEL: We’d done two movies together already, The Muppets and Gulliver’s Travels. We were also really good friends, and I’m good friends with (her husband) John [Krasinski]. It’s really hard, in a romantic comedy. We’ve both said that one of our pet peeves is when it just looks like two viable actors have been matched together in a movie because they’ve both had successful movies, the year before. What I thought was most important was that, in the in-between scenes, it looks like they’re best friends. I know we can do the acting scenes because we’re good at what we do, but it’s the in-between scenes, where you’re just walking, where you can feel on screen that we’re buddies. I wrote it for Emily because I knew we would look like best friends, on screen.
Violet is this character that moves to Michigan and her career is flourishing while Tom is not happy at all, but at no point is resentful about her success. How did you go about creating that dynamic?
BLUNT: I think it’s a very fine line to tread. You want to understand everyone’s predicament. You can see that Violet isn’t fulfilled, at the very beginning of the movie, and then she finds her place in the world, she feels, when she moves to Michigan and has this fantastic job. Yet she can see that it’s making her other half suffer. And, even though she wants to embolden him and help him and be there for him, he shouldn’t martyr himself either. It becomes quite complex, as to how she feels, in the moment. I think that is a credit to how it was written. It doesn’t necessarily side with anyone. You understand their positions. It’s no bad thing that Violet is a tenacious girl. It’s no bad thing that Violet is following her dreams. I don’t think she’s heartlessly doing so. I think she defiantly gets swept up in it, and she’s hoping that Tom will be able to survive in this environment, as he’s promised her he would be able to. It’s complex.
SEGEL: The only reason you question if it’s heartless or if it’s selfish is because it’s a woman. Honest to god. That same plot, if it were the man that was moving, everyone would be like, “Well, of course. It’s his job. You’ve got to go support him.” I try to write every part, as though I’m going to play it, including the female parts. I don’t think of how a girl would speak or talk. People are all the same. I really do think that. It’s going to be a female, by the fact that she is biologically a female. No one is going to be watching that and thinking, “That doesn’t seem very much like a woman.” She’s a woman, and people talk the way they talk.
How much harder is it to convince a studio to make a movie like this?
SEGEL: We have Judd [Apatow] behind us. We have a good track record. Also, our movies are relatively cheap to make. I don’t demand a giant fee, and Nick doesn’t demand a giant fee.
BLUNT: Everything goes on the screen, which is great.
SEGEL: Yeah. I remember when Judd first pitched Forgetting Sarah Marshall to them, he said, “I can give you a Ben Stiller movie for a quarter of the price.” That was his initial pitch, and we still stand by that idea. There’s no reason to get greedy about it. We’re so lucky. We’re all doing fine, financially. There’s no reason to cut off your nose despite your face just to prove that you’re worth it. It’s about that we really love doing it.
SEGEL: That’s something that I do, that I have done in the past, which I call passive-aggressive facial hair. I’ve done it to make a point, when I was unemployed. It was kind of like, “Really, Hollywood, you won’t cast me? Well, watch this. I don’t give a fuck either.” That’s where it came from. I’ve done it in a relationship. It is a weird, passive-aggressive move I have that I’m trying to move past.
The two couples in the film are polar opposites with one being super-spontaneous and the other being more calculated. Which did you relate to more, or are you in the middle?
BLUNT: I don’t know. What I liked about that storyline of the supposed fuck-ups, (played by) Alison [Brie] and Chris [Pratt], who are actually the ones who don’t over-think and just go for it, is that they end up having a very successful relationship and are very in love. We’re the ones who over-think everything and strategize everything, and I think that gets in their way as much as their life circumstances get in the way. They get in the way of themselves, trying to wait for the perfect moment. I’ve always been quite a spontaneous person, so I would lean more towards, if you feel it and you know its right, then do it.
SEGEL: I know this sounds strange, but having written all the parts, I see everyone’s point of view. That’s my job, in terms of writing it. We think they’re the idiots, going in, but it turns out that they’re exactly right. That’s what’s interesting. That’s what we were going for.
How was it to shoot that scene where you’re in bed, fighting?
BLUNT: It was so much fun to shoot.
SEGEL: That’s how people fight. We really didn’t want anything perfectly worded. That’s not how a fight goes down.
BLUNT: Yeah, it should be messy and ugly. It was fun shooting that scene because I think we were really trying to make it real, like what really happens when you can’t stop fighting. You make up, and then someone says something that just tips it over into that awful descent again. It just goes and peaks in troughs, all night. We actually shot that all night, and it was so much fun.
BLUNT: I think you improvised that bit where you were like, “Don’t leave. Stay, but don’t look at me.” And that awkward hug.
You looked like you really knew your way around a kitchen. Are you much of a cook, yourself?
SEGEL: I like to cook and I did go to culinary school for it, but I wasn’t allowed to eat anything because they needed me to trim up. I was around the best food ever, and just suffered. It was really neat to learn how to cook. I can do some cool stuff now.
Does that muddled awkwardness come from the script directly, or does that really come from the improv?
SEGEL: It comes from the improv, but it really was in an actual thought-out plan. We wanted things to be messy and feel real. My big pet peeve is perfectly-worded fights. That’s just not how it happens. If you had that kind of composure, you wouldn’t be fighting.
Emily, with both Your Sister’s Sister and this film, is your dream to have that small film nimbleness with bigger studio films?
BLUNT: I love being a part of these small little gems. I think they’re extraordinary. We shot Sister’s Sister in 12 days. The movie was made for $80,000, and it’s just extraordinary and completely fresh. That was completely improvised. There wasn’t really a script at all. I signed on for the experience and I thought, “Wow, you can really stretch your limbs on this one. It will be really cool.” It was challenging and exciting. We all took a leap of faith with the movie and it has turned out to be really good. You just don’t know what will come of it because improv can be really messy and unstructured. I think those movies are made in the editing room. I do hope that there’s a place for those films out there. My personal feeling is that audiences are crying out for stories they can invest in and feel. I see a lot of big movies that leave me feeling rather numb. I think the reality is that they’re not going to be on 3,500 screens. But, if there’s enough word of mouth, then they can get around. If you look at something like Little Miss Sunshine or Precious, and any of these movies that were made for no money, they get a broad appeal. I think word of mouth is huge. They need a lot of pushing.
SEGEL: Lars and the Real Girl slaughters me. You couldn’t make that movie in a studio.
Jason, you’re not afraid to get naked.
SEGEL: No, I love it!
Was that real snow that you were rolling around in?
SEGEL: It was. They tried to put a layer of fake warm snow that they developed, but I was fucking freezing. There were people with camera phones watching. It was horrible. It was not my best moment. It may be why it was cut out of the film.
Do you tune everyone out, when you’re doing those kinds of scenes?
SEGEL: Between action and cut, I’m pretty tuned out, in general. I’m pretty focused on what I’m doing. I’m not thinking about much else.
Was it nice for you to do a film without puppets?
You had a puppet in this film?
SEGEL: We did. This is my first film without a puppet, in years and years and years. I was ready to take a little Muppet break. I did that for almost a decade. It all started with Sarah Marshall. It was nice to be acting next to a human
What was the turkey puppet?
SEGEL: There was a Thanksgiving scene where I end up taking mushrooms, and the turkey came to life and ended up giving me a long talk about being way too old to be taking mushrooms with kids.
BLUNT: Yeah, and it was Brian Posehn’s voice as the turkey.
Emily, how long did it take to learn the Cookie Monster voice?
BLUNT: I looked him up on YouTube. I’d watched a lot of Cookie Monster before, but I was like, “Oh God, I’ve got to do the table read today. How scary!” It was really nice that people laughed and loved it. We had a blast doing the scene. It was really fun. Our voices were just gone to shit, by the end of the day. We had no voices because we’d done it all afternoon.
Are there scenes that were cut that you miss the most?
SEGEL: We had a whole subtle plotline that became about money, about how I turn out to be broke and she has a huge reserve because she’s much more responsible than I am, but it ended with her taking me on a date. We have the sweetest dance to Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing,” done by a live jazz musician.
BLUNT: It was so cool!
SEGEL: It was really beautiful, but it was just a whole plotline that took half an hour, and we just didn’t have time for it.
BLUNT: But there was a very funny fight in this jazz club with the reveal about money, and that he had nothing. It was great. There was another plotline, which I loved, with an ex-boyfriend of mine named Gideon, who was British. He kept arriving at things, like our engagement party. That was really funny.
SEGEL: She also bought me a restaurant, which then explodes.
BLUNT: There’s like a whole other movie.
SEGEL: We shot a huge explosion. That was probably the most expensive thing we did in the movie, and it got cut.