Jason Segel Discusses The Five Year Engagement

  
Jason Segel

Q: When you were writing the script, what was it about what happens post-proposal that you really wanted to get your teeth into? Because the story starts where most rom-coms end.

A: Yeah, I think what interested us was the idea that this was about a long-term relationship and about how fluid the power dynamics are in that span of time, and how when you say to someone, "I want to be with you forever," it doesn't mean how the circumstances are right now, it means for all of the ever-changing dynamics that are going to come.

Q: It felt more realistic, in that your character was an adult man in a proper relationship. Was that important to you?

A: Yeah, I just think I am growing up quite a bit and Nick (Stoller – director) has a wife and kid, and I think that we are probably moving out of the man-boy phase.

Q: It was also satisfying to see that Emily Blunt's (actress) was a fully fleshed out female character. 

A: Thank you. The way that I approach writing, which started with Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), is that I write all my characters – Nick and I write all our characters – as though I am going to play them, including the females. There is no reason to write a female differently from how I would write a male. I don't think that there's any reason why they should speak differently, or any reason for them to think differently, or to give them different character traits. Men and women are much more alike than they are willing to admit. It's not just about women: your side characters should all be fully formed. They should all be fully formed characters. You should be prepared to play any of them, and if you are embarrassed by any character, then you haven't written it correctly.

Q: Did you set out to subvert the normal rom-com? What were your influences in making this not clichéd?

A: We had no intention in that. That is just, I guess, our tone. We just wrote our tone, and everyone's reaction was, "How refreshing!" So I guess that's a great sign. Annie Hall (1977) is one of my favourite movies, and that movie is just about two people trying to figure it out. That's what we wanted.Another thing that we really don't like is when a romantic comedy doesn't feel like two people who know each other, it feels like they have just matched two viable Hollywood actors who have been plunked together because their last movies did well, and it looks like they are meeting for the first time. You can feel that it's two strangers acting. I have no interest in that. I have zero interest in seeing that movie. I also have zero interest in that artifice of like, "He's a scientist but she hates science!" The most unlikely of pairs – that's not what happens, that's not realistic. Scientists hate people who don't like science!

Q: That's The Big Bang Theory's (2007) central relationship completely screwed then.

A: Yeah, exactly!

Q: You have great chemistry with Emily, can you talk a little bit about knowing her personally and how that makes for a great on-screen relationship?

A: Well, that's exactly why we chose Emily. We had such a familiar dynamic and I knew her and John (Krasinski, Emily's husband) so well – this is our third movie together – that it's the in-between scenes, where you can tell that she and I have known each other forever, that are the most important. I really watch the movie and think that's the reason you want them to end up together, because you can feel that thing, because there's enough shitty stuff that happens that if you didn't feel that, you would be like, "Break up. It doesn't even look like you like each other." I think it's Emily and my dynamic off-screen that makes the movie work.

Q: It's nice to see the guy character actually go through some emotions, he feels emasculated, etc. Is it good to put some real emotions on screen for the male character too?

A: Yeah, well I think that people are the same. There might be some machismo blocking some guys from saying, "Hey, I feel insecure," or, "I feel bad about this," but don't think they don't feel it. They are feeling it; they are just holding it in until their mid-life crisis.

 

 

Q: You write the script, but all the cast have said how open you are to letting everyone improv and try things to maybe make it funnier. What kind of surprises were there in giving everyone a bit of free rein?

A: Everyone is a genius in this film, but watching Chris Pratt and Alison Brie [actor/actress in TFYE] prove to be comic geniuses was the nicest surprise that a filmmaker could hope for. The function of those roles, in addition to some plot function, is also to comedically knock it out of the park. When stuff is getting rough with me and Violet, you need to be able to cut back to them and count on them to hit a home run. They did every time. A grand slam every time.

Q: There is one improv that's kind of shockingly funny where Chris Pratt says, "When she told me about the baby, I told her it's not mine."

A: I laughed so hard that they had to cut to a single of him – they had to move to a single. "There's no way you've having this baby! That's because I was afraid." I was laughing so, so hard. He's a genius.

Q: There must be lots of extras for the DVD. Can you tease a few?

A: Yes. Yeah, there is a whole section that I will be happy that people get to see on the DVD which is a money argument section, where we realize that I am broke and we realize that Violet has thirty thousand dollars in the bank and we have never discussed either of those facts. It's a really, really funny argument, and she gives me the money to open my own restaurant in Michigan and the opening week, the restaurant explodes because the liquid nitrogen was closed too tight. It's a hilarious section, but the movie's already two hours and that would have been an extra half hour, so we just lifted it out and cut half an hour out of the movie, but that will be on the DVD.

Q: That's also something that is sensitive between couples – who's earning the most money, but that's a more common thing now, that it is the woman.

A: It almost felt too big an issue to treat as a sub-plot. We could write a whole movie about that.

Q: Let's talk a little about nakedness: I loved the nude statue apron, which I felt was a little bit of an homage to Sarah Marshall (2008).

A: It was. I was actually given that apron once, as a present. And that is an exact copy of the apron that I had for a long time.

Q: You're naked again! Is it essential for any film that you are in, that at some point you must be naked?

A: Well, they sure make ladies do it a lot, you know. So I thought, "Why don't we give something back to the ladies?"
Q: Well, thanks for that! So when you are writing with Nick, what is that process like? Are there arguments and conflicts? How is your writing dynamic?

A: It's seamless. We just get along great. We really like each other, and frankly, we've both got other shit going on in our lives, we don't want to fight. We want to write for three hours, and then have a drink, then go home to our families or whatever, and then write again tomorrow. We don't have the time – or the luxury of time – to fight.

Q: When you are writing are you pushing each other to make each other laugh, to be more extreme?

A: You know, our movies funnily enough aren't extreme. Occasionally we go to the limits of stuff, but I think we spend more time pushing each other to be honest. Because I think one of the great things about this movie is how honest it is. The all-night fight – while funny, while very, very funny – is funny because it's honest. Like, "This is how I fight: it's sloppy, weird and I want to be alone, but with you here." It's the weirdest line ever. "I need to be alone but with you here."

Q: There is quite a trend for heartfelt moments with broader comedy, which is possibly a Judd Apatow [producer] thing – do you think this is a great time for comedy now, being under his umbrella?

A: Yeah, well what's interesting is that comedy goes in cycles, it really does. There was the Ivan Reitman era of comedies, like Ghostbusters (1984) and Stripes (1981) and that style of comedy, and then there was the John Hughes style of comedy, which is similar to Judd's style of comedy, which is a real reflection on how people are feeling, and then you entered into that Farrelly Brothers, gross-out comedy, and now I think that Judd has ushered in a really fun era of comedy that's sort of a mix of that R-rated raunch, but with a real dramatic core to it.

Q: Do you think it's important for the comedy to have the drama?

A: It's the only reason it's compelling. I think if it's set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline, then you should be watching a TV show. 

Q: Judd has said recently that he's loved you ever since you were a teenager, and you were on his TV show Freaks & Geeks (1999-2000). Do you feel lucky that you met him?

A: I hit the jackpot. I hit the jackpot friendship-wise, and I hit the jackpot mentor-wise, and I hit the jackpot creatively, meeting Judd – all three of those things.

 

Q: You are very successful in Hollywood these days, in the movie world, in comedy. Did you ever think, when you were younger, that you would be in this position now?

A: Yeah. I think, very much like an athlete, when you walk on a basketball court, or any sort of playing field, you had better field like you're going to win, or you don't stand a chance. It doesn't mean you are right, but any good player, when he walks out, thinks they are about to win this game, and so I think if you don't…this environment is cut-throat, believe me. If you don't walk in here thinking you are going to win, then you are going to be fed to the wolves.

Q: I also think that the reason your comedy works is that it draws on pain, and there's an everyman feeling. You're too successful to play that guy now, you have a charmed life and career!

A: Yes, it feels that way. But I also spent five years out of work, struggling, so that's why I write. I write because I wasn't getting cast acting-wise. I am glad it feels that way, but it sure didn't feel that way for a long time.

Q: Did you have a really shitty low point?

A: Oh yeah, I had a moment before I sold my first script where I thought, "Okay, I went in with that mentality of, "Of course I'm going to make it,' and I didn't go to college as a result, and I have now exhausted all of my money and resources, I now have no skills, I have no fall-back plan, I am going to have to move back into my parents' house." It was terrible! It was a terrible feeling. It was the feeling of, "Oh my God, I was wrong." Do you know what I mean? "I took a bet on myself and I was wrong." That was the worst. Then I started writing. Thank God.

Q: See, that's why you can play it, because you've been there!

A: Absolutely.

Q: So when did you have that moment when you felt safe again? Like it was actually going to work?

A: I think it was when I did Sarah Marshall. Once I did Sarah Marshall, I kind of felt like, "Okay, you're going to be alright for… this probably buys you two more movies." "And then from there, one of those had better be good, or you will be back to where you started!"

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