It is unusual to actually learn something about a performer on a set visit, but I had a moment of pure clarity when I went to San Francisco to watch some of the production of “The Five-Year Engagement.”
It was at the very end of the schedule, but it was for the first scene in the film. We spent most of the night on top of a building right by the water, watching Jason Segel propose to Emily Blunt repeatedly, and as I watched them shoot the scene, it was interesting to see how the dynamic between them played out.
In the first master shot, Segel was playing the comedy in the moment. It was a very funny version of the scene, and Blunt played it the same way. When Stoller moved in for close-ups, though, he shot Blunt’s first, and she played the real emotion of the moment. It was still funny, but there was also something else going on underneath, something real and sweet. When the crew reversed the set-up for Segel’s close-up, he adjusted his performance, playing it as real as Blunt did, turning up the emotion.
It was a little thing, and if you weren’t watching every take, you might not have seen it, but it was clear to me that Segel was determined to tune in to whatever Blunt was doing. I’ve spent a lot of time on film sets over the years, but this is one of the most interesting moments I’ve seen happen between performers, where one of the actors adjusted so clearly to the other.
When we sat down recently to talk about the finished film, Segel and Blunt talked about how competitive Segel can be on a set, and I’m sure that was part of what I saw that night. But more than that, it was a very clear creative partnership happening, and they were genuinely in that scene together. It wasn’t just two people throwing lines at each other… it was a duet, both of them tuned in to one another, and I think that plays out in the film itself.
“The Five-Year Engagement” opens today.