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On The Set: The Rewrites, Evolution & Accents That Come With A ‘Five-Year Engagement’

On The Set: The Rewrites, Evolution & Accents That Come With A 'Five-Year Engagement'

Last year, during filming for the upcoming “Five Year Engagement” The Playlist joined a group of press to visit the production on one of its more beautiful locations, a vineyard in northern California. While there, we had the opportunity to sit down with the film’s impressive ensemble cast, as well as get a sneak peek as their characters attended an engagement party for leads Tom and Violet (played by Jason Segel and Emily Blunt). Following are a few hints on what to expect from Nicholas Stoller’s third directorial effort when it premieres at Tribeca Film Festival this spring, before arriving in theatres on April 27th.

‘Engagement’ is Stoller and collaborator Jason Segel’s “evolution as a team.”
After writing together on “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek” (amongst others), Stoller and Segel are stepping away from their previous films, which were heavy with pop and Hollywood culture references. “I didn’t want anyone to have jobs in the entertainment industry, I wanted them to be…normal [laughs]. Normal situations,” Stoller said. “Our boundary is reality,” said Segel, “We don’t try to do anything to push the limits of taste at the sacrifice of reality. The story, as funny as it is, is very grounded.” The two have been working on the script for over four years, selling the pitch (along with their “The Muppets” script) right after the success of ‘Sarah Marshall.’ “But this is the one that was of the truest to our evolution as a team,” says Segel. “It’s more adult, I think, than ‘Sarah Marshall’ or [‘Greek’] in that it explores relationships in a pretty indepth way and it’s also really, really funny, I hope.”  

The first of many rewrites for Stoller and Segel is after a character is cast.
Part of the on-set culture of Stoller’s films is improvisation, doing multiple takes and frequently going off script. But the evolution of the character doesn’t start there. “We rewrite. That is part of our thing. We rewrite every time we cast somebody,” said Segel. Even for the supporting roles, the writers and producer Rodney Rothman met with the actors to form a better picture of the characters they’d be playing. “You talk to people and you just start to shape out what their instincts are with the part, things that their lines or their part makes them think of, and that usually guides us,” explained Rothman. “We’ll have conversations, like with Kevin [Hart]…he has this whole run with this character that is a post-doc candidate who’s basically deeply afraid that he’s going to end up getting a job in North Dakota where there’s no black people.”

One actor that did need to take on a whole new voice, however, was Allison Brie, who debuts a British accent to play Emily Blunt’s sister.
Brie, an American, had help from a dialect coach before filming, but once on set found that her British co-star (Blunt) was a great guide as well. “Emily is so great about it, she’s so helpful…we didn’t want to go too far and just sound super British, because they live in America. I wanted to sound like Emily sounds,” Brie said. The on-set improvisation and re-writes also made Blunt an invaluable resource for Brie, “Normally working with a dialect coach you memorize your lines and it’s really easy to finely tune an accent for those specific lines. But here, so much of it is improv, not just improv, but collaboration I think…I just have five minutes to rework [the new dialogue] in my head and run it past Emily maybe, and give it a go.”

The filmmakers took their romantic comedy notes from genre classics of the “When Harry Met Sally” and “Annie Hall.”
“Our model was ‘When Harry Met Sally’ or ‘Annie Hall.’  Our taste is obviously a little bit broader than those movies, but shooting-for-the-stars-wise, that is what we were modeling it after – those classic romantic comedies,” revealed Segel. But they didn’t just find inspiration in tone, both ‘Hall’ and ‘Sally’ span several years, much like ‘Engagement,’ which doesn’t skimp on the five years its title promises. The star added: ‘ ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is very seasonal, ‘Annie Hall’ too. Their dress changes, their hair might change a bit, they might look a little bit more sophisticated, but it’s the seasons that are changing, everyone around them is maturing, and that’s what we tried to do with it.” 

“The way they would constantly cut into the future and you just catch up,” Rothman added, “It doesn’t introduce every event, it just sort of skips the event sometimes and that’s something that [they] did in the script a bit.”

Sorry superfans, no Infant Sorrow Easter Eggs in ‘Engagement.’
While Stoller’s first two directorial efforts featured the pelvic thrusts and swivels of Aldous Snow, the filmmakers regret to say that the fictional rock star didn’t fit into the world of ‘Engagement.’ “Jonah [Hill] wanted to be in this movie playing a third person who likes Aldous Snow,” said Rothman with a laugh, but unfortunately he doubts the scenes they filmed will be left in. “But we do tease the fourth Batman at the end of this one,” laughs Stoller, “So just sit through the credits and you’ll see a teaser. We just threw it in there. We’re just Batman fans.”

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