Pushing your boundaries and embracing the opportunity to explore your creative and emotional barriers can be both a frightening and exhilarating experience. But actor Justin Long is thriving in the new realistic and relatable turn his career has taken the past several years, as he explores the final maturing into responsible adulthood in his films. Between authentically portraying a newlywed struggling to keep the passion and trust open in his new marriage in the Ted Koland written and directed comedy-drama, ‘Best Man Down,’ or co-writing and starring in the telling tale of searching for true love in the romance comedy, ‘A Case of You,’ both of which are opening in theaters on Friday, Long genuinely showcases what happens when love rules your life.
‘Best Man Down’ follows a newlywed couple, whose obnoxious and over-served best man, Lumpy (Tyler Labine), unexpectedly dies at their destination wedding in Phoenix. Bride and groom Kristin (Jess Weixler) and Scott (Justin Long) are forced to cancel their honeymoon and fly home to the snowy Midwest to arrange for his funeral. But getting Lumpy’s body back to Minneapolis is just the start of their adventure, as the well-intended sacrifice surprises at every turn. When the newlyweds’ path leads them to a fifteen year-old girl, Ramsey (Addison Timlin), in a small, northern Minnesota town, all bets are off on who Lumpy really was.
‘A Case of You’ follows young writer Sam (Long), who has a crush on Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood), the cute and quirky barista at his local coffee shop. When his conventional attempts to woo her crash and burn, he takes his efforts online, creating an Internet profile embellished with all of the details that would make him Birdie’s dream guy: ballroom dancing, rock climbing, a seemingly endless, escalating series of wacky and unlikely hobbies. When the harebrained scheme is a surprise success and Birdie falls for his exaggerated alter ego, Sam must keep up the act or lose his dream girl forever.
Long generously took the time recently to sit down in New York City to talk about starring in ‘Best Man Down,’ as well as co-writing and appearing in ‘A Case of You.’ Among other thins, the actor and scribe discussed how when the morbid angle of Scott’s best man dying was introduced in ‘Best Man Down,’ he became intrigued to play someone who wasn’t so comedic, and was more of a straight man; how as a first-time screenwriter, he was initially subconsciously worrying about penning the script for ‘A Case of You,’ but the story gradually materialized, as he was able to relate to Sam’s story; and as a first-time screenwriter on ‘A Case of You,’ he valued the creative input of the people he trusted around him, such as his co-stars.
Question (Q): You have the two movies coming out (on Friday). Where do they both fit into your career? You’ve said ‘Best Man Down’ is different than anything else that you’ve ever done, and you picked what you wanted to do with ‘A Case of You.’
Justin Long (JL): With ‘A Case of You,’ acting-wise, is a bit more in my reel house, and is something I’m very comfortable with. But we didn’t have very lofty ambitions with it, other than to get it made, which felt ambitious in itself. But as far as with the story, we wanted to tell a simple, nice, authentic romance.
Q: Were you cautious with the script, since you were a first-time writer?
JL: Maybe subconsciously, but not that I was aware of; I wasn’t deliberately simplifying it. But I’m sure that entered into it, since it was our first script. It’s scary, and you want to write what you know. My friend (and co-writer) Keir (O’Donnell) and I were going through break-ups at the same time. We initially did it more as an experiment, and there was something almost therapeutic about it.
Then it kind of snowballed, but it was a gradual thing. We’d get together every once in awhile, and write a little more. It materialized eventually into this thing that we would have readings of. The more people whose creative input we trusted, and who responded to it, the more we started thinking we should start pursuing it in a real way. It was several incarnations later that we finally ended up making it.
Q: Did filming the movie overlap with when you made ‘Best Man Down?’
JL: I made ‘Best Man Down’ before ‘A Case of You.’ We shot ‘Best Man Down’ about two-and-a-half years ago, and ‘A Case of You’ about a year-and-a-half ago.
‘Best Man Down’ was unique because it felt like it was going to be another formulaic romantic comedies, as I’ve read a lot of those. There are a lot of $1 to $2 million movies that they want me to read, where the guy’s a slightly neurotic everyman who gets the girl, but sort of through a diluted struggle. So I saw it going that way.
Then when the morbid angle of the best man dying was introduced, I was intrigued by it. I was intrigued to play someone who wasn’t so comedic, and was more of a straight man, and he kept a lot more to himself. I was excited to play somebody like that, and the challenge of not making them boring was what I thought was intriguing.
Q: You seem like you wanted to get away from your persona a little bit.
JL: Again, I should be more ambitious about things like that, but it just struck me as different. I don’t have a game plan or anything; I always feel lucky to be working at all. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that to do movies at all is such a novelty. But it’s getting less and less so, and I’ve been becoming more aware of what I’ve been doing.
For a couple years, I was just doing everything I could. I was relishing the idea of getting to be in a movie at all. So I would say, “Of course I’ll do that one,” and it was exciting. Some are good and some are bad.
My mom (Wendy Lesniak) was an actress when I was growing up. I grew up with this mentality that you go where the jobs are, which is what my mom would do. She was a theater actress, and she would commercials to supplement that. I thought in the best case scenario, that’s what I would do, and then once in a while, get on ‘NYPD Blue’ or another procedural show, fingers crossed.
So it took me awhile to get over that, and I’m not completely over it. But I am enough that I can be a little bit more deliberate in what I do.
Q: Speaking of television, you have appeared on such shows as ‘Ed’ and ‘New Girl.’ Are you interested in returning to TV?
JL: Yeah, I’m dying to, and have really been looking for something in the last couple of years. I’ve been reading a lot, and I’ve been trying to be as thoughtful as possible. It’s a huge commitment, and I’m really afraid of creative commitments like that.
So I’ve done a few arcs on a few shows, like ‘New Girl,’ and that inspired me. I saw how much fun we were having. Zooey (Deschanel) and I talked a lot about what it’s done for her, creatively. I felt like I could really commiserate with her, and that really inspired me to find something like that. So I’m writing something now with my brother for NBC, and we’re hoping it comes to fruition.
Q: Do you feel your experiences as an actor have influenced you as a writer?
JL: Yeah. My friend Keir, who also worked on the script for ‘A Case of You,’ and I were talking one day about ad-libbing on movies. There are certain movies that I’ve done that the powers that be will actually come and make a point of saying, “Keep it up.” They were kind of half admitting that the script wasn’t where it should have been by the time we started shooting. So they empower you to improvise.
I love doing that, and the freedom of it. But I also started thinking, maybe we should try to ad-lib our way through, before we start shooting. So that’s where it came from.
As far as what I’ve done, you pick up a lot. I’m really excited to direct something myself, someday soon. I’ve always wondered how actors can go right into directing, without going to school for it, and taking those baby steps.
But I’ve picked up a lot more than I’ve realized over the years; I’ve been at it for about 15 years now. I love movies, so I always try to be as involved as much as possible, without being annoying. I’ve always loved the process. So I think I’ve picked up a few things.
Q: One of the interesting things about ‘Best Man Down’ is that your character doesn’t try to get any sympathy. But viewers get to like him, because he has a great choice of bride and best man. Can you talk about those two relationships?
JL: That’s interesting you say that. That was one of the challenges-just trying to exist, and be enough.
I was very lucky to be able to play off of (Jess and Tyler). Jess had gone to Julliard, so she’s a classically trained actress. I incorrectly assumed that would make her a little more rehearsal-oriented. This is such a stupid stereotype to indulge, but I thought she might not be as in the moment, and I found that to be completely untrue.
A lot of times with these movies, they come together quickly, and there’s not a lot of time for rehearsal. They’ll bring you out a couple days early, and they call it rehearsal. But it’s really a way to bond with the other actors.
Jess and I had that period where we would hang out. She’s one of those people who I found myself to be connected to quickly. We also had a natural trust. I knew her as an actress, and I had been a fan of her work. So I didn’t feel like I had to do too much.
Q: The relationship between your two characters is interesting; you’re going to bicker forever, but never break up.
JL: Yeah. We had to earn all of that. Like in the aftermath of the argument in the hotel room, which is an important scene, I come back with cupcakes. With a gesture like that, we didn’t want to overindulge it. At the heart of all of it was a real, genuine connection.
I like that Ted didn’t overwrite any of that, and we tried not to over-perform it. I see it in a couple of friends of mine sometimes; it’s almost romantic in the way they fight, and something charming in the way they bicker. There’s an underlying layer of affection. So I’m glad that came across.
As far as with Tyler, it was the the first time we met. He was a force when he played drunk, as that’s the hardest thing to do. I’ve done it a few times, and I think they were unsuccessful. But I love watching him perform. He had a whole physical routine that he did beforehand. I’ve worked with Chris Pratt a few times, and he’s as equally brilliant in that sense.
I think what Tyler did that earned the investment in the movie is that even when he was being a drunken buffoon, there were moments of humanity in it. There was an undercurrent of sadness, and you can see this lost guy. That’s always the case with someone who drinks too much, or is medicating for some reason. I thought that’s what was so genius about Tyler’s performance.
If not for that, it would be hard to invest in the movie. At the heart of this movie, you’re trying to unravel this guy’s live. If he’s just a drunken asshole, who cares?
Q: Going back to the ad-libbing on the set, as a writer on ‘A Case of You,’ were you worried about any of your co-stars changing your lines on the set?
JL: No. I wrote it with two other people, and it was a fairly loose process. We were completely open to everything. It was our first script, so we were open to everything, like notes. We valued anyone we trusted who had something to say about it. So we weren’t precious at all.
Fortunately, we had such great actors play these parts. Since I’m an actor, so maybe I’m bias, but I’m prejudiced to think that the actor can always make it better.
But I’m proud to say that a lot of it, even the funny stuff, we stayed close to the script, like the stuff with (Sam) Rockwell and Peter Dinklage. But Vince Vaughn came in the best way and improvised.
Written by: Karen Benardello