Source: The Australian
Michael Bodey, The Australian, reports
Jason Segel is in a powerful place. The star of How I Met Your Mother made the transition to movies confidently with the help of his mentor Judd Apatow, to such an extent that he has co-written the films Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets and now the romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement.
So is he a writer or an actor?
"I'm an actor mostly because I still like to be invited to the party but not have to throw it," he says, smiling. "But I do enjoy the concept of thinking of an idea when you're sitting on your couch and three years later you're watching it in a theatre. That's just a really neat phenomenon."
Also, he adds, he isn't cast in the roles he wants, so he has to write them for himself. The Muppets was a little different; it was a labour of love to rejuvenate Jim Henson's seminal comic creation. He did so brilliantly with collaborator and director of The Five-Year Engagement, Nicholas Stoller, and Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who won an Academy Award for the song Man or Muppet. Romantic comedies are different, he notes: "It's a pretty competitive business"
"There's 10 dudes all vying for three movies so I thought if I didn't write them I was probably going to lose out to somebody," Segel says.
Writing romantic comedy has its own pitfalls. Today's rom-coms are perky at best, tired at worst.
Segel agrees they're "very predictable if you're not careful".
He abhors artificial premises such as "He's a scientist and she hates science! How will they get through it?"
Invariably, a modern romantic comedy will establish a conflict or hurdle between boy and girl and essentially become little more than a chase or countdown movie. Will Katherine Heigl find her love in 90 minutes? Of course she will.
Segel didn't want an artificial premise in The Five-Year Engagement. "If you look at Annie Hall, it's just about two people trying to figure it out," he says. "Same with When Harry Met Sally, it's just two best friends trying to figure out if they should be more than that.
"You don't need one of them to turn out to be an alien or a spy. "And I also don't like plunking two actors together because they both had successful movies the year before, and now let's pretend they love each other."
Segel and his co-star Emily Blunt have had successful movies, or at least been high-profile stars, in the year previously though.
Segel protests they've been friends for four years. Blunt protests a little quicker: "Never an item . . . just pals."
"In my wildest dreams was as close as I ever got," Segel says, sighing.
"It was pretty immediate we discovered we would only ever be friends," Blunt adds.
"It was immediate, you discovered it!" Segel counters.
The premise of their film is simple enough; it's in the title. The duo play Tom and Violet, whose impending marriage is upended by a promotion and a move interstate.
It isn't an artificial romantic comedy premise, as such, because you know the couple love each other. The conflict focuses on how how much of your own identity you sacrifice for your partner's happiness before you realise you've lost your identity. Or, "it's when compromise moves into sacrifice", Blunt explains.
Blunt and Segel work well together promoting the film, which is a relief given work can kill friendships. Blunt agrees. "I've done a film where two people who were friends were not (friends) by the end of it because the process was so frustrating," she says without naming names.
"Oh, Meryl Streep and Adrian Grenier?" Segel asks innocently before adding he wrote the role for Blunt, a first for the 29-year-old Englishwoman.
"It's the most flattering thing," she says. "And I loved the script because I was instantly reassured the comedic set pieces were evened out between the two because normally the girlfriend part can be quite thankless or the straight man role or reactionary."
Segel and Stoller have created relatively solid female characters in the comedy genre distinguished by men behaving badly. Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Sarah was Kristen Bell opposite Mila Kunis and Segel, and the Russell Brand vehicle Get Him to the Greek was upstaged by Rose Byrne's character.
"What I love about Jason is he doesn't write genders; he writes personalities, so that's why his female roles are so cool and funny," Blunt says.
Blunt's character is far more empathetic and active than Segel's in The Five-Year Engagement. And they're surrounded by a terrific comic cast including Community's Alison Brie, David Paymer, Jim Piddock and Australia's Jacki Weaver in her first US role since Animal Kingdom's international success. "I was surprised I'm still in the film because we shot enough for a TV series," Weaver says, laughing. "It could have been four hours long."
Segel harrumphs quietly. The film's length -- at 124 minutes it struggles to maintain its momentum -- was seemingly an issue between he and long-term friend and collaborator Stoller.
"That's accurate," Segel notes. "(But) to tell the story we needed to tell, that's the amount of time that it took."
The Five-Year Engagement isn't a chase movie, he adds, it's about two people who already love each other having a very nuanced problem. It also is another self-exploratory comedy from a generation of comedians willing to explore their own hang-ups. Segel is part of Judd Apatow's posse, having emerged with James Franco and Seth Rogen in Apatow's TV production, Freaks and Geeks, created by Paul Feig, who recently directed Bridesmaids.
This rom-com assesses, with a light touch, the common gen X issue of putting profession before partner. And Apatow's films Knocked Up and Funny People have assessed his 30-something hang-ups before this year's release of This is 40, the self-explanatory comedy starring Paul Rudd, Segel and Apatow's wife Leslie Mann.
Segel observes comedy moves in cycles. The broad Ghostbusters and Stripes humour of the 1980s emerging from teen comedies, then moved into a more socially representative comedy headed by John Hughes's The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Then came the "gross-out humour" of the Farrelly brothers (There's Something About Mary) and American Pie, and broad character movies, starring Jim Carrey based on Saturday Night Live characters.
"They were funny at the time; they don't apply now," Segel says.
"Judd is returning a bit more to that John Hughes style.
"Who knows what the next one will be?" Segel asks before noting he has a hunch and it's the reason he jokes about getting back into shape. The buddy action comedy, such as Beverley Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon series?
"I think we might come back to that," Segel says. "Imagine me fit, I'm 6 foot four, I'm hilarious, I'm lithe and nimble like a gazelle . . . "
"You do have a funny run, though," Blunt says.
"I do have a funny run," Segel agrees. "I got shot in the leg early in my police career."
He has already started writing.
The Five-Year Engagement is in cinemas nationally.