Dynamic duo Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel continue their tangled professional careers together in The Five-Year Engagement, unlike the last film in which the pair split writing, with Stoller directing and Segel starring, Get Him to the Greek, their new film tackles some tough stuff in name of the comedy – marriage. The film centers on Segel’s Tom and Emily Blunt’s Violet and their stumble to the altar. From the film’s first scenes, it’s obvious that Tom and Violet are very much in love, but a series of big life events that have nothing to do with their nuptials steadily pile up until it looks as if their five-year engagement will be just that, an engagement, with no wedding at the end. In the style of Stoller and Segel’s previous works, the film is both funny and true, and the addition of Judd Apatow as producer and a cast that includes Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mindy Kaling, Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, Chris Parnell, and Brian Posehn only pumps up the film’s improv-influenced laughs.
The press junket for The Five-Year Engagement was a laidback affair, and one that drove home the point that the film was a collaborative effort between people who actually like each other. Comprised of four roundtables of paired talent, your faithful Reject and a group of other online journalist spent time talking to Segel and Blunt, Nicholas Stoller and Judd Apatow, Brie and Kaling, and Parnell and Posehn. Revelations from the junket were not just confined to bits about Five-Year, however, as so many of the film’s cast and crew have worked together on other flicks that stories and trivia about productions such as Anchorman, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and The Muppets all found their place in conversation as well. After the break, check out 21 things we learned at the junket for The Five-Year Engagement (genuine laughs not included).
1. There are no “big plot movements” or contrivances to Tom and Violet’s relationship – as Segel said, “there’s no car accident; there’s no big earthquake where someone dies or something, and there’s also no big contrivance, like ‘I’m a scientist and she hates science.’”
2. Alison Brie didn’t model her British accent after just anyone, she modeled it after Blunt — the pair play sisters in the film.
3. The process was a collaborative one – Blunt shared, “It felt very collaborative…they did a great first draft, and then I signed on, and I came in and I gave a couple of ideas, and 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.”
4. Segel and Stoller approach actors in a different way than most – as Segel explained, “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. Just a talk, its not even about acting, abut how you feel about relationships, how you would actually handle these scenes. Then we do a rewrite to tailor it to the person that’s playing the role.”
5. Blunt’s role was written for her.
6. Segel and Blunt wanted to make Tom and Violet appear to be more than just lovers, but best friends.
7. Segel writes every part as if he’s going to play it – including the female parts.
8. Segel, Stoller, and Apatow like to make their films relatively cheaply, with “everything going on the screen” – Apatow initially pitched Forgetting Sarah Marshall as “a Ben Stiller movie for the quarter of the price.”
9. Segal embraces “passive aggressive facial hair” – in the second half of the film, Tom breaks out a truly angry beard, which Segel lifted from his own life, saying “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 sort of 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.”
10. Segel went to culinary school to get into character for Tom, who is a (once) high-powered chef in the film.
11. The film initially featured a turkey puppet, which was later cut – let’s hope that it pops up on a deleted scenes feature.
12. The film also once included a subplot about Tom and Violet’s different styles of handling money – which ties into that exploding restaurant that’s been featured in some of the film’s ads, stuff that’s not in the final cut of the film.
13. “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison is Segel’s favorite album.
14. Stoller doesn’t get too attached to stuff in his films – the filmmaker commented, “I don’t really get attached to anything. I’m pretty brutal about cutting stuff. With each successful movie, I’ve discovered anything that’s not connected to the immediate story is going to be cut out of it.”
15. Anchorman’s Baxter the dog posed a big problem for the filmmakers – Apatow shared a story about the crafting of the “Baxter gets kicked off the bridge” scene in the film, saying, “Mike De Luca was the head of DreamWorks Pictures at the time, and he said, ‘People are going to go crazy. You can’t kick a dog off a bridge,’ and I said, ‘It’s a stuffed animal. Literally we make sure you can tell it’s a stuffed animal.’ He was like, ‘People are not going to like it. You’re going to have a problem. You’re going to have to do a re-shoot,’ and people were so upset. Then we had to do a re-shoot, where you saw Baxter climb out of the river, and the people were like ‘Yay! The stuffed animal came back to life.’”
16. The filmmakers wanted to Elmo to appear in The Muppets — Stoller revealed, “we tried to get Elmo into The Muppets, because there’s always like a Sesame Street cameo, and the joke was that they’re trying to get celebrities, and they try to get Elmo. In the background you see Elmo, and foreground his lawyers, and they’re like, ‘He can’t do it. He’s not going to do it.’” Funnily enough, that’s what really happened – Elmo’s lawyers wouldn’t actually let him be in the film.
17. The filmmakers aren’t afraid to go past ninety minutes with their comedies — Apatow said, “With that extra fifteen, twenty minutes is where you can get to real character, and you’re not just stuck in plot. There are people who like short movies, and I think they should just watch our movies on DVD, because they can pause and go to the bathroom, eat dinner, and come back to it.”
18. Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor (where Tom ends up working) is a real place — and you can visit them for some of their world famous sandwiches.
19. Like Blunt, Brian Posehn’s role was written for him — though he didn’t know it until he attended an audition/table read for the film.
20. Posehn promises that the cast really did laugh every day — not just lip service.
21. Stoller and Posehn first met each other while writing for a series that never came to be: the Austin Powers animated series — they’ve also written for the Oscars together.
The Five-Year Engagement opens this Friday, April 27.