We caught up with the actor in between projects to chat about the movie, and we ended up having a heck of a time. Not surprisingly, the guy's a walking punch line with charm and humor for days. And, as it turns out, he's got more than a few opinions on the next generation's fascination with all things social media. Call him nostalgic, but he longs for the days when people got to know each other face to face and actually spelled out all of their words. We have to admit we see his point, especially after we heard his hilarious dalliance with his dad's text messages. Justin Long's parents — they're just like us.
We really enjoyed A Case of You. It was your first time writing a screenplay, and you produced as well, along with your brother. What was that like for you?
"Well, it started off as just, with my friend Keir [O'Donnell], we would do a lot of ad-libbing in parts that we had played and movies, and we started thinking we should try to write. It was more of a whim; I wish it had roots in something more concrete, but it was just wondering if we could do this. So, we started as we were both going through breakups, and there was something sort of therapeutic about it. I had this cabin in Massachusetts, and there's something so conducive to writing there. We were listening to a lot of '60s folk music, like Joni Mitchell and Peter, Paul & Mary. And then, we'd get together every couple of months and work on it when we were all together, and it started kind of taking a shape. We did a couple readings with friends, and enough people that we trusted creatively seemed to respond to it so we tried to get it made. I hate to say it was a lark because it sounds kind of self-deprecating, but at the time, it wasn't as much of a thing."
Sam, your character, struggles with the writing process in the movie. Was any of that autobiographical?
"I had tried to write other things before and I just stare at title pages, and it can be that until you get the ball rolling a little bit. My brother's good at motivating me; I can get a little lazy. But, Sam's stuff was more generally speaking about feeling a little lost at a time in your life when you're supposed to have everything figured out, and that's definitely something I've related to, and the three of us related to. But, with the other characters, we wanted to depict funny characters that we knew from our lives."
Were the other characters in the movie based on your friends or acquaintances?
"They were. The guitar instructor — I'd always wanted to play the guitar and I called a guy from a flyer and he did some pretty insane things. And, Peter Dinklage [the hipster barista] is modeled off this guy that we know who's sassy. He found out that Dinklage was playing him and he got upset — he's a real malcontent. Vince [Vaughn] — I had an agent once, and there are a lot of people I know about in the business, who use the word 'love' very freely, and inappropriately. I had this one agent who would say it to me all the time and he would say everything in this kind of disingenuous way, and he might as well be saying 'okay, go f*** yourself,' but he was really saying 'okay, I love you.' And, you know you feel this weird pressure to respond with 'I love you, too.' And, every time I said that I would feel like the importance and the power of that word — because I don't say it easily — would get diluted a little bit. And, I felt, like, my soul dying a little bit every time I said it."
What about Birdie? Who was she inspired by?
"She was an amalgamation of a lot of people. Somebody asked me the other day if she's representative of that Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it hadn't occurred to me that it might be an incarnation of that. But, she's just somebody that seems unattainable, and for all the reasons that you feel you're lacking. It was just a foil to bring out Sam's own insecurities and I think that's a pretty relatable concept."
What role did you have in bringing on or picking the cast?
"With Evan [Rachel Wood], she is not like her character, Birdie. I had worked with her a couple years ago, and we got to know each other when we were doing Romeo & Juliet...and I really admired her — she's incredible, a great work ethic and professional and all that. But, the part we had written felt more like, well, like that manic pixie dream girl, and I had just never seen Evan do that but I knew that she was just so funny. Just having gotten to know her a little bit, she's got a great sense of humor, kind of vulgar, and she's got the mouth of a sailor in the best way. And so, we took the script to her just crossing our fingers that she might want to try something more comedic, and so we got really lucky in getting her. And, once she agreed to do it, I think that really helped attract other people. We got lucky with this cast."
Have you ever dabbled in online dating or Facebook stalking?
"You know, I had a Facebook account that I used a little bit to find old high school friends and people I went to college with, and I kind of stopped after I dabbled with it for a little while. And, I do Instagram but I do it just with friends on a private account. And, no, I've never really tried online dating — the closest I've come to this whole new arena is just texting and trying to figure it out. It's a whole impossible thing…reading into things, oh my god. You start wondering what an exclamation point means; it's ridiculous. It's gone in this whole new direction now that I can't quite relate to.
Like Tinder, my friend was showing me…it sounds like I'm on it, but it's really my friend. I swear I'm not on it. But, my friend is and he's going on dates and everything, and I'm just fascinated by it. There's something really scary about it, that people are so invested in this, but on the other hand you could argue that it's useful and it cuts through a lot of the bullish*t, and you save some time. That's why I hated the idea of dating. Some people love it, but it just feels like going on job interviews. And, people say, 'Oh whatever, it's just dinner,' but time to me has become so precious that I'd rather just spend that time with my friends and people I know I already like. You know, there are so few of them that it's a commitment. So, anyways, the whole thing has found a life in that world."
Did you mean for the movie to have a commentary on social media?
"I think if anything we wanted to comment on the danger in overinvesting in some of these profiles. And, investing in them as though they were the people themselves and not really trusting yourself or not having confidence in what you bring to the table. It's more of a general thought, and I do think there is that danger. Even in texting in the limited form that I've used, you can misrepresent yourself so easily.
There needs to be different fonts for different tones. You know, a different typeface if you're using sarcasm.
"All the tone gets lost! There's no way to establish tone! I've gotten into so many things where it's like, 'Oh no, I was being sarcastic!' I just started Twitter about a year ago. I fought it for so long since I don't consider any thoughts I have to be worth that much."
Your Twitter is funny! It helps when you retweet Olivia Wilde a lot, because her tweets are really funny.
"Ha! I do retweet her a lot. She's really good and she's so funny. But, I did one the other day that was about LOL, because I have a thing about LOL. People are using it so much that it's starting to seep into common vernacular. And, I think this generation — I sound really old here — but the apostrophe is also going to die soon. Not that I have such a connection to the apostrophe, but just thinking about how people speak now, and Twitter doesn't help it at all because you only have 140 characters.
But, I've seen LOL and all these abbreviations everywhere. My dad is 74 and a philosopher and not at all tech-savvy, but he got a phone a couple of years ago and texts, and he's the smartest guy I know, but his texts are so curt and juvenile-sounding. He'll abbreviate whenever he can, and he texted me something that was kind of serious, like 'Got the test results back, won't know for a few days, LOL.' And, I thought, why did he write LOL? And, I forgot to mention it to him, but then one day he said something very serious again; I was getting on a plane or something and I always get scared before I fly and he texted, 'Everything will be fine LOL.' So, I figured I had to ask, because I didn't know if he was sarcastic or what."
Is he making fun of your fear of planes or does he think that flying is funny?
"Right? Is my plane going to crash? But, it turns out he thought LOL meant lots of love. Which I guess it can be, but still. And so, I have this thing about LOL and I sometimes attempt to text someone when I'm genuinely laughing out loud, and I feel the need to write the whole thing out…'I'm laughing out loud.' So, I tweeted this thing about wishing there was an equally shorthand way for actually laughing out loud. I want there to be a separate abbreviation for that."
Speaking of another abbreviation: rom-coms. Did you have any that were inspiration for this movie?
"I actually am a fan of rom-coms. There weren't direct influences, but I grew up just idolizing Woody Allen. His movies, not his personal choices."
Yeah, that Vanity Fair article was a doozy.
"Yeah, my girlfriend just read Mia Farrow's whole book. She loved it, but I don't know...based on what she said about it, it's going to be hard for me to read it. I just love him so much, and I know you're supposed to separate the art from the artist, but it's difficult for me to because it seems like that's just him. But then, if you look at it, you kind of see it coming. If you look at Manhattan, that's romanticized, but she was 17; she was a kid. And, he's like early 40s, and he's exercising all of it. So anyway, but to me there's nothing more romantic than those movies. And, Charlie Chaplin, too, I just grew up loving Charlie Chaplin movies. I'm in no way comparing my movie to those movies, but I think if we had any ambition, it was just to tell a simple story that felt real."
What do you take into consideration when you're choosing your roles? Do you have a different perspective after having been a screenwriter?
"I think I'm reading scripts a lot more carefully. And, I'm seeing what works and what doesn't. And, for my own writing, too, I can feel myself getting better, which is what's really exciting to see in evolution. So...I'm looking for things that I haven't really done. I'm looking for people…I don't know how to say this without sounding like I've thrown in the towel, but I don't really care nearly as much about the business as much as I did, even five years ago. I feel like I have much different priorities now; they're personal priorities.
This is gonna sound pretty heavy, but I'm 35 and going into my 30s and seeing my parents age, I just have a stronger sense of my own mortality. I don't mean it in a dark way, but time becomes a lot more precious and it affects the professional choices I'm making. I'm not taking jobs just to work, which I would do to a fault, really. You can play the plucky, slightly nerdy everyman so many times before people get kind of sick of it. So, I think it's ultimately a good thing, and I still love working and all that...but working for the sake of working is not the thrill that it once was. Like, the next thing I'm doing is this out-there horror movie with Kevin Smith. Hence the mustache. [Ed note: It was awesome.]
Well, soon it will be Movember, so you'll blend right in.
"That's true. If I could just grow it, it's just so half-grown. But still, it's something different and working with people who I like. That was the other revelation with this, and it sounds so simple, but what a premium I've placed on just working with people that I like and have fun with. With A Case of You, the whole cast was so great and going to work was just such a joy. I just feel so lucky to get to do these things. I've saved up a little bit of money so I can actually go and do these projects I enjoy."
Do you set goals for yourself? Is there anything that you really want or need to accomplish?
"I'd like to direct something. Soon. My brother and I bought the rights to this book that we're adapting now. I don't have overly ambitious goals, though. [Early on] I just couldn't believe I was getting to work, and so that's why I did so many movies. The novelty of getting to work in a movie took a long time to wear off. And, it hasn't completely yet, but the actors that I knew growing up — you would go where the jobs are. You were like carnies. You wouldn't pick and choose things, because we should be so lucky to be in a movie at all.
The one thing I would say is just wanting to direct. And, there's certain people I really want to work with, but those are more just fantasies. I still feel so lucky getting to work in this business so having goals almost feels, like, too lofty and ambitious."
You recently shot Veronica Mars; were you a fan of the show?
"You know, this sounds terrible but I didn't see it really when it was on. But, I'm such a huge fan of Kristen's [Bell]. We're old good friends, and I just think she's the funniest lady. And, she just asked me to do this fun thing with her, and we just improvised and stuff. It was so fun, just getting to do stuff like that. I'm a sucker for it."
How was it different acting in this movie, considering you were so close to the script and the story?
"Well, I think that's why I was afraid to direct, and that's why it felt too daunting. I didn't know how I would balance it. But, I guess writing was easier because I knew it so well. I mean, I try to know everything I do; I try to know the script as well as I can, but I'd been with it so long. If anything was hard, which I hope I didn't do, it's hard not to circumvent anything the director was doing. I really liked and trusted her, but I sometimes had a temptation to butt in. But, she got it really well; she really impressed us with how good she was with the script and how much she knew about music, as well."
The soundtrack for the film is awesome.
"The soundtrack is good; I just wish we had a bigger budget for it. I remember when we were shooting it, we had a track of The Lumineers song "Hey Ho" when we were going to a retreat and we had a big camera pan, one of the few big shots that we could afford. And, we wanted something really anthemic and energizing and Keir found this Lumineers song and I had never heard of them, but Keir was telling us to jump on it because they were going to get big. And, I wish to god we had; he was right. We couldn't afford them several months later."
You chose to base and shoot this movie in New York — is it safe to assume you're a New Yorker at heart?
"I grew up about an hour away in Connecticut, so I've just lived here so long that if I'm away more than a week or two I start climbing the walls a little bit. I can be in L.A.; I have friends out there and I find joy in it as I do anywhere. I shot one of my first movies in northern Florida. It was flat and there was nothing out there. On our days off there was nothing to do, I would go to Walmart and wander the aisle. I'm going to Charlotte for my next project and I'm looking forward to that, but New York — I just love more than every other city. And, there's an inherent romanticism to it that we wanted to capture.
It was tough; we couldn't shoot outside that much because it was too expensive. But, I remember we did Going The Distance in New York, and it was such a nuisance. I get very sensitive and distracted really easily, which I shouldn't, but when I'm in a scene I don't like noises and stuff. Maybe it says something about me, but there would be paparazzi there because of Drew [Barrymore], and I could hear the clicks of the camera and immediately I started thinking about them taking my picture. But, in general, we were so lucky to shoot here for A Case Of You — it was a thrill."