Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are together again. The Five-Year Engagement marks their third onscreen collaboration after The Muppets and Gulliver’s Travels. In Judd Apatow‘s latest production, Segel and Blunt play Tom and Violet, a couple that lives through the ups and downs of a very lengthy engagement (hence the title of the film). We recently had the chance to talk to both actors about their characters and what it takes to make a good romantic comedy.
Check out our interview below…
ScreenCrave: Emily, you seem to put your own spin on every character you play. Do you work hard on that?
Emily Blunt: That’s very nice. Thank you for saying that. I find it really hard to talk about approaching stuff. I don’t know how to talk about it actually. I always get very confused. When I read a script, I’ll have a very visceral gut reaction: what does this mean to me? How does she feel in my skin? Could I play this role? I think I know very instantly, but I can’t list why I know. I do try to pick roles that differ. I love that about the job; the variety that’s out there is to be taken advantage of and I enjoy that element of shape-shifting. I love character roles. I’m happier in them. Really I look for roles that have complexity. For this genre, it was a huge draw to work with Jason [Segel] again because we’re friends. The script was really fresh. I though it was a really original take on a relationship. It felt awkward and loving and flawed and messy and everything that love is. It was a very easy thing for me to jump into working with these guys. It felt like a really effortless experience. It was a blast. One of my happiest experiences.
SC: How were your brainstorming sessions?
EB: They tend to do that with every new actor that signs on. They do a complete rewrite simply for that character. I think that’s why every character is very rich and juicy and there’s a lot to play with. They really spend a few weeks doing new rewrites to who has just signed on. When I signed on, they brought me in and we had a big brainstorming session where they asked opinions and perspective on things. I do think this is one of the most personal movies I’ve done because these guys require you to bring a lot of yourself to the process. They want to make the scenarios feel real and that’s based on something you’ve experienced. That’s why I think it feels quiet fresh and not derivative of another romantic comedy.
SC: Jason, did you rewrite the Tom role for yourself when you realized you would play it?
Jason Segel: I have the easiest task when it gets time to actually act. I’ve done five years of writing at that point. I’ve done all the homework that all the actors have to do because I wrote it. I just have to show up and do exactly what I intended to do when I wrote it.
SC: So you intentionally put yourself through that emotional breakdown?
JS: Absolutely. I like to be challenged acting-wise. I like to do things that I’m scared of so I do write scenes that I hope that I’m capable of doing. It’s also the reason why I would take a part that I didn’t write. I like to feel that it’s going to be challenging.
EM: If you’re playing a historical figure you can do research and read books and listen to music and then when you get on set you just have to do it. As much as you can absorb beforehand, everyone has their own process. At the end of the day you just show up and you just have to do it. There are days when you’ve questioned what you’ve done.
SC: Was there any moment in the film you were seriously nervous about?
EM: The breakup scene.
JS: Yeah, the big breakup scene. But to go back to the other question, this may very well be a delusion, but when I walk on set, I think nobody can act this better than I can. I’m not saying that that is true. It’s an athletic mentality. It’s when you walk unto a basketball court, you think, ‘I am about to dominate this game.’ Doesn’t mean you’re right, but that better be what’s going on in your head or you’re about to get killed.
SC: On that note, was there any competition between the two of you?
EB: Be honest. I’m not competitive. I never think about those things.
JS: Okay, I am well aware, as evidenced by the opening of this roundtable that Emily is a more prolific and better actress than I am. [Laughs] I felt very much in my wheelhouse doing the comedy scenes, but when it came time for the breakup scene or the more dramatic scenes, and I come from an athletic background as you can tell, but I would think, ‘I am not going to let her out-actor me.’
EB: He would tell me this once the scene was done and I was like, ‘Jason, I thought that scene was really fun.’ And he was like, ‘You should, I was getting myself all pumped up.’
SC: So were you comfortable with the Chris Pratt scenes where he kind of stole the show?
JS: Part of my strategy is to setup people to be their best. We want everyone to come in a nail it. Ego-wise, I’m very happy to be the straight man in a movie. I’ve played the best friend before and the job of that is to be the person with the huge comedy pop in every scene you do. That’s the job of Chris Pratt’s role and he nails it. He knocks it out of the park.
EB: Chris Pratt is a comedy savant. He’s so spooky good.
JS: That’s the function of that part. And same with the Alison Brie part. They have to come in a kill it every time out story line is starting to bring you down a bit. You want to be able to cut to Chris Pratt or Alison Brie or her study mates – Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Chris Parnell – they’re suppose to lift the script.
SC: Was there any fear that Emily’s character would come off as unlikable?
JS: It’s so funny when you do testing on any movie, people have a lot less leniency for a woman straying from a relationship than they do for men. They feel like they can understand why a man would leave if the woman is bit naggy, but it’s very easy for them to look at a woman and start saying that she’s cold or whatever. She’s human. I write every part as if I might play it whether it’s a man or a woman. People are all the same and I don’t think we should treat those characters differently.
SC: What inspired your transformation into ‘Mountain Man?’
JS: I call it passive aggressive facial hair. It’s a move that I’ve done in relationships. It’s a move that I’ve done when I’m unemployed like when people won’t hire me. I’m like, ‘Well watch this I don’t care either.’ It is a form of defiance.
SC: It’s one of the most disturbing beards I’ve ever seen.
EB: I loved it. I thought it was so cool.
JS: It is. If you saw me, not in a sweater, you would think, ‘He’s right up there with Chris Hemsworth.’ [Laughs]
SC: Was there ever any temptation to keep Tom and Violet apart?
JS: We knew that it was going to end in a weeding, however, seeing the movie, I am incredibly impressed and surprised at how much people think there might not be a wedding. I have always felt like romantic comedies are incredibly predictable, you look at a poster and you know those two are ending up together at the end of the movie.
EB: Even if they’re back to back. [Laughs]
JS: There is a legitimate section in this movie where you’re not sure if they are going to get back together. It was not planned. We really thought everyone would just be waiting for them to get back together, but it’s kind of interesting to see them with other people.
SC: Were you trying really hard to avoid cliches?
JS: Yeah, absolutely. Trying to avoid cliches or also just not defying this movie by a genre. I don’t know that it’s just a strict romantic comedy. I don’t know how you would label a James Brooks movie or how you would label Annie Hall. Is that a romantic comedy? I don’t even know what you call that. That’s what life is like, it’s the tone of life. That’s sort of what we were shooting for.
SC: If you’d written the script earlier, when you didn’t have as much street cred, would it have been difficult to get made?
JS: Yes! There’s no big plot movements. It’s about exploring relationships.
EB: We had one explosion, but it got cut out of the movie. All the movie for the budget went –
JS: At one point we have a talk about money and I can see that I’m broke and she admits that she has a huge amount of money saved in her bank account and I’m like, ‘What the fuck? Why didn’t you tell me this?’ And she feels terrible and she gives me money to open my own restaurant in Michigan, and within two weeks it explodes.
SC: Can you talk about what you have coming up next?
EB: I’m not sure what I’m doing next actually.
JS: I’m going to take my first break. I’ve been churning them out. I think this year I had Muppets, Jeff Who Loves At Home, this movie, and then I’m in Judd’s [Apatow] next movie This Is 40. Plus a full-time TV show [How I Met Your Mother], which sometimes you forget is a full time job.
EB: That’s how I felt last year. I haven’t worked this year yet. I’ve been doing press. I don’t know when I’m going to work.
JS: I was doing a radio interview for Jeff Who Lives At Home and this reporter was like, ‘Well you must be exhausted.’ And I say, ‘Well, why do you say that?’ ‘Well you have four movies coming out over the span of a year and you wrote two of them and you’re doing the TV show.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, reporter. You’re right! I’m exhausted. You’re right reporter!’
The Five-Year Engagement opens Friday, April 27th.