Justin Long is in New York this week for the Tribeca Film Festival to promote his new romantic comedy, "A Case Of You," which Long co-wrote with his brother Christian and actor Keir O'Donnell. When we met in the basement of a New York City Hilton to discuss the new film however, our conversation started with some small talk -- which is often awkward. In this case, instead of saying something like "I like your shirt," I brought up my former Movieline colleague, film critic-turned-author Michelle Orange.
Back in September of 2010, Orange wrote a negative review of Long's comedy "Going the Distance," which Long then recited during a taping of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." The conflict went viral, but was settled in November of that year after Orange explained her review in a post for The Rumpus. Still, it's clear all that back-and-forth made an impact on Long; my off-hand ice-breaker opened up a floodgate of self-consciousness about the inner workings of the 34-year-old star.
Ahead, Long talks about the roles he has and hasn't been accepting lately, what "Ed" had in common with "Freaks and Geeks," and what exactly happened on the disaster that was "Movie 43." But, that's not where we start. We start on that day that Justin Long read a negative review on national television, which reveals a lot more about Long then it did any movie that he was in.
I used to work at Movieline...
With Michelle Orange?
Yes. She's a friend of mine.
A good writer!
She just wrote a book.
Oh, that's right.
That whole situation seemed to be handled well by all parties.
Yeah, her response was really classy and funny. And I meant that. I hope it wasn't being taken like I was sarcastic because I really am a fan of her's and I read her reviews. Look, I've read countless bad things about myself.
Why do you do that to yourself?
I don't anymore. I actually stopped with "Going the Distance."
That movie got more good reviews than bad reviews.
It did. But that was the kind of thing where I didn't necessarily want to argue with her criticism of the movie, but it was the stuff she said about [my appearance] ... I mean, people know what I look like and I'm wherever on the attractive scale. According to my mother, I'm a 10. ... She said a bunch of things and it was actually funny and colorful. And, you know, I don't have a very high opinion of my appearance -- my own aesthetic. So, it kind of confirmed all of my insecurities my appearance, especially in movies.
That doesn't make sense to me. You're a successful actor in movies. I get being self-conscious, but can't you push that aside?
I know what you're saying. But, no. And her point that she made -- which is also valid and I agree with -- is that it's different for guys and girls. I think Hollywood is more forgiving of, and they allow for less conventionally attractive leading men than they do with women.
I feel you got caught up in her bigger point.
Yeah. And she does have a point to an extent -- I remember she mentioned Michael Cera as well in there. And I don't think there should be a disparity between the genders. Guys just get away with it. And I think it's also maybe true. Is it true in life? You see that all the time. You see that more often than you see really attractive men with less attractive women. I see the opposite much more. Charlie Chaplin was the original leading man. And he's not, if you just took him. But I find those guys, there's something so charismatic. You know, Woody Allen is not conventionally [handsome], but there's a real sexual charisma that he has. Dustin Hoffman. So, I see her point, and maybe it is a bit lopsided.
Here's my segue into "A Case Of You": Your character is with a beautiful girl (Evan Rachel Wood), but he has to trick her.
Well, yeah. He's got -- this is a good transition for me -- he's got deep insecurities. We cut it down because we didn't want it to seem like he had been stalking her.
There's a fine line.
There's a very fine line. And I noticed [at the premiere] it got a reaction. There's a line she says, "Oh, are you stalking me?"
That got a big laugh.
Yeah! Which was kind of a relief because I felt like it took some of the pressure of off that, the fact that we joked about it -- like, the audience was in on the joke. But, yeah, a fine line. So we had to kind of adjust accordingly.
Your character is kind of a dick.
Yeah, he's really a dick.
There's a great scene in which Vince Vaughn deconstructs the plot, bringing the audience in on the fact that Sam is supposed to be a dick. Without that, I'm not sure it works as well.
Absolutely. Vince and Pete [Billingsley], they become kind of like the chorus and they allow the audience to forgive him, I think. And they validate the audience's feelings about him being a dick, like you said. And that moment is crucial. You're right, without that it would have been, "I've been sitting here for how long and this guy is an asshole?" Surprise! He's been a dick the whole time!
What kind of roles are you approached for? Is it like "A Case of You" or "Going the Distance," or more something like you did in "Live Free or Die Hard"?
It was that for a while after "Die Hard," but then I did a bunch of romantic comedies. And, now, a lot of it is like the slightly neurotic, he gets the girl after overcoming something. But it's pretty straight down the middle -- a lot of the things I've been approached to do. I guess, as a result, I haven't worked that much in the last couple of years.
I'm surprised you haven't done more movies like "Going the Distance."
You know, that movie didn't do well. That movie kind of bombed, actually, in the theaters. That, I think, had an effect on it. And just, I wanted to write more -- I've started writing more, I've written some stuff. And I just wanted to do some different stuff. So, as a result, I just haven't worked as much.
I feel "Ed" is an underrated show.
Oh, man, I love that show. I miss that show.
You were on a show with Roger Sterling before people knew him as Roger Sterling.
John Slattery. From "Mad Men."
Oh! Oh. God, I got so scared, I was like, "I still don't know who he is!" Yeah, Slattery is doing so well. And Julie Bowen. Those guys were great. It was the best environment to learn in, too. I dropped out of school and I didn't go to acting school, so I didn't have formal training. And it wasn't like a popular show ...
I feel every year it was part of a "save our show" campaign.
Yeah! Yes! Because I remember, as a result, at the wrap party for the year was very bittersweet. We didn't know if we'd be coming back, but I got to learn from Tom Cavanagh and Julie and all of these great actors. For me, it felt like a very significant role, but not a lead role. I was in like two out of three episodes. I think the most important thing is that it wasn't closely scrutinized -- so they started writing more stuff for me, Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman. But they loved "Freaks and Geeks" and I think, secretly, they wanted to write a show about an awkward high school experience.
God, I loved doing that show. We got to shoot in New York and I got to do stuff. I saw an episode recently and some of the stuff ... I grew up idolizing Woody Allen and Michael J. Fox and there are things that remind me of a bad Woody Allen ripoff that I was doing -- and nobody was stopping me!
I saw "Movie 43."
On paper, it sounds something like "The Kentucky Fried Movie."
What happened there?
I'll tell you. I think a huge mistake they made was trying to connect it with that kind of half-baked through-line. Because a thing like that -- and I went at a screening at the ArcLight with a 21 and over crowd, so people were drinking and into it. With a crowd like that, which the movie is made for, you have to keep it moving. I feel like you have to make it clear that you have to just embrace what it is. Which is like a "Kentucky Fried Movie" -- a bunch of vignettes. A bunch of funny, dumb, like sketches.
So it shouldn't have had a narrative?
If they felt like they needed to do that, just make a joke out of that. Go from like Dennis Quaid being like, "I've got another one," then, "How about this one?" -- instead of like scenes in between.
Long scenes. I actually thought some of the shorts were really funny -- I thought there were some that were. I was bracing myself for the worst because I read some of the reviews. I made an exception to read those reviews just because I knew they wouldn't ...
No one was going to focus on you.
I'll tell you, that movie was so fun for us to do. Jason Sudeikis was so good. We're friends, it was just fun to fuck around with all of those guys. And John Hodgeman as The Penguin, I think that was a stroke of casting genius. But it was based on this short that we made, purely for fun with Sam Rockwell, where he plays Batman and I played Robin ... But, somebody had seen that, one of the Farrelly brothers I think. And for us, it was a no-brainer -- I had no idea it was going to turn into that.
I have a feeling that most people in it didn't know it would turn into that.
Hugh Jackman! I mean, if you're going to go down, at least go down in company like that.
Go down with a scrotum on your neck.
Exactly! That's true, it could have been worse. It really does improve your Kevin Bacon situation, though. I'm set. I've worked with two degrees for everybody now.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
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