Interview: Justin Long

He stole his scenes in movies like Galaxy Quest and Dodgeball, but the solo comedy career has been a struggle for Justin Long. Waiting was destined for the discount DVD bin, so it was back to funny bit parts like The Break-Up.

Now Justin Long is the star of this summer’s college comedy Accepted. If Universal was confident enough to open it opposite Snakes on a Plane, it just may have a shot of launching Long to the next level.

In it, Long plays a schemer who gets rejected from every college he applied to. So to get his parents off his back, he invents a fake college. The fake school actually picks up steam and before long he’s making up classes and accepting enrollment. All of this with a teen-friendly PG-13 rating.

“I can truly say that yeah, I was hoping that it would be [R-rated] and was kind of very apprehensive about doing it when I found out it wasn’t,’ Long said. “I had real hang-up about it having to be R especially because Lewis Black was involved and my college experience, just personally, to say it was R-rated would be sugar-coating it. It was NC-17. If you’re making an accurate, realistic college film I felt it was sort of necessary, not only because of the sexual stuff but just the ease with which college kids say the F word. It just sort of rolls off the tongue.”

Now that he reigned himself in from improvising F bombs, Long is glad that the final cut is PG-13. “Had they gone for the R rating, it would have been a hard R, and in that case, you have to make a concerted effort to show a lot of boobs and fuck this and that and that might detract from what the movie is which is not about sex. It’s nice. More people can watch and it has more the tone of like an ’80’s comedy like a John Cusack or Michael J. Fox movie and those were pretty much like PG-13. Those were movies that I grew up and I loved with that inspired me.”

It also means his own family can see Accepted. “My family is Roman Catholic and kind of conservative and I did this movie Waiting which is a very hard R, kind of crude about waiters putting pubic hair in food and stuff, just gross stuff. I was like to my mom, ‘You really don’t have to see it.’ She was like, ‘I have to see it. You’re in it. want to support you. You’re in it. I’m gonna love it.’ She’s of the mentality that I’m better-looking than Brad Pitt and so she saw it. She’s been an actress and has been so supportive, but she called me and said, ‘I saw the movie and you were adorable but oh my God, it was awful’ and she just tore the movie apart, just hated it.”

Mrs. Long attempted to warn Grandma about the content of Waiting but the nonagenarian ignored her pleas. It was her grandson, dammit! “Oh God, she heard me talk about testicles and pubic hair. My grandmother saw The Break-Up and I’m only in like four scenes and she didn’t realize it was me until halfway through the third scene. I’m playing very effeminate. He’s very proud. She said to my mom, ‘He was very good at that’ but not liked she liked it. She was questioning maybe I am a little fruity. But, I love you, gram.”

With an ode to the harmless movies of Cusack and Fox, Long can see all of his childhood viewing seeping into his performance, all unintended. “Naturally I grew up with John Cusack and Matthew Broderick and Michael J. Fox. Those guys were my idols, specifically Michael J. Fox. I was so obsessed with him that I just naturally picked up a lot of his mannerisms and I still have a lot of his hand movements. As a kid I was obsessed with Marty McFly and Alex P. Keaton and doing the movie reminded me so I think I kind of slipped into that naturally. I think, with other parts I have to fight to not do those guys but yeah, I wasn’t conscious of it but I think my subconscious was working overtime.”

The other part of the scheming college reject is just natural Justin Long. “I was always the wiseass, sort of the go-getter but for the wrong reasons. I was kind of like the slacker guy who concentrated too much on ways to get out of things. That sort of typical Ferris Bueller type guy. Had I put as much concentration into studying, I would have gotten into MIT and I’d have a great job as some kind of engineer right now. But I focused on sicknesses to come up with and ways to get out of writing papers and charming my teachers that I feel like that was sort of the seed of what I’m doing now. It did come naturally.”

Those old schemes also relate to the Long family tree. “This will be like morbid and not funny but I used to kill off a lot of relatives to get out of school. As the school year went on, it would get higher up on the closer to me scale. In September it would be like, ‘Oh, my great uncle is in the hospital.’ Then, by the end of the year you would have to move up to like, ‘My uncle was in a serious car crash’ or ‘my nephew has tuberculosis’. You would have to get closer and closer to your immediate family. Then you keep the grandparents in your back pocket for the day when you have to bring out the big guns. And I would go to migraines if I had to get out of being sick. That’s one thing that you couldn’t really detect and also serious enough that you would have to stay home. I would feel so guilty about lying that I would try to stress myself out and work up a headache so I wouldn’t have the guilt of not having a bit of the symptom.”

With that much free time, Long must have been a party animal. “I wish but I had no social life. I just didn’t like going to school. I really hated school and so I just wanted to stay home and watch I Love Lucy and watch the movies that inspired me to the point where we are sitting here.”

Accepted opens August 18.