By: Carter Bays
The moment Marshall (Jason Segel) found out his father died was the hardest scene we’ve ever done. The show had gone to sad places before, but they were all kind of “romantic comedy” sad —break-ups,rejections, a runaway bride,that sort of stuff. You always figured whatever life threw at these characters,they’d get over it and go back to being funny the next week. That was the point of having Ted narrate from the future. If our show had a message,it was,“No matter how bad it seems now,you’ll be laughing about it 20 years from now.”
But this was different. This was irrevocable,shocking,and painful on a level that’s not funny no matter how much time has passed. And what’s more,it was happening at the end of an episode,on a night of comedy. We imagined the worst moment of Marshall’s life,interrupted by bright perky graphics and an announcer’s voice blurting: “Comin’ up on Rules of Engagement,Russell learns to breakdance!”
When it came time to perform the scene,Jason wanted to feel Marshall’s shock as palpably as possible,so he chose not to read Lily’s dialogue beforehand. All he knew was the last word of Lily’s line: “it.”
The first part of the scene involved a number of moving parts that had to be just right on a technical level: Marshall steps out of the bar,a cab pulls up in front of him,Lily gets out and gives him the news. The first four or five times we did it,the cab overshot its mark,ending up out of frame. Poor Alyson kept steeling herself to get out of that cab and deliver the most devastating line of the series,only to hear the Assistant Director yell “cut,” sending the cab lunging back to its original mark. It was a little extra torture in an already torturous moment.
Then we got one where the cab landed in the right spot. The moment Alyson stepped out,and she and Jason saw each other,it sort of made you marvel at what they’d spent five and a half years building together. Later in the season,when Lily would get to give Marshall the best news of his life by saying she’s pregnant,Jason brought Alyson flowers at the table read.
As the last words of Lily’s line —“he didn’t make it” —left Alyson’s mouth,I had to look away,as did our director Pamela Fryman. It’s our job to watch what happens,but in this case,what Jason and Alyson were going through was so unbearably real…we just had to trust that when we got back to the edit room it would all be in focus. (It was.)
The last line in the scene was something Jason came up with in the moment. He said,“I’m not ready for this.” None of us were.