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Justin Long on A Case of You, Playing a Walrus in Tusk, and Hater Jonathan Franzen

When we quizzed Justin Long about rom-coms earlier this year, he passed with flying colors. Because Justin Long doesn't just star in romantic comedies, Justin Long loves romantic comedies. He even co-wrote one of his own, A Case of You, while listening to Joni Mitchell. The movie, on VOD November 6, stars Long as a struggling writer who meets a girl (Evan Rachel Wood), consults her Facebook page, then pretends to like what she likes in order to impress her. Vulture spoke to the actor, who is also promoting a new non-rom-com indie, Best Man Down, about his latest projects, drinking less with age, and masturbating to pictures of present-day Carrie Fisher. Plus: some updates on Kevin Smith's Tusk, in which Long will play a walrus, and his response to hater Jonathan Franzen.

Last time we talked, I quizzed you on romantic comedies. You killed it.
Oh, yeah, that was fun.

I was convinced by the end that you were IMDb-ing the answers —
Cheating, yeah. I remember I was with my friend and I kept trying to get him to verify that I wasn’t on the Internet.

Honestly, I did believe you, because your answers were very quick.
And some were incorrect.

Not many, though. Have you finally seen Pretty Woman?
Oh, right, I haven’t seen that yet, and every woman in my life can’t believe I haven’t seen it — they’re so incredulous.

What is it going to take to get you to see it? Does Julia Roberts need to be there for it to happen?
I’m going to have to know that I’m hanging out with the cast for, like, a reunion thing, and I’d feel really socially awkward if I hadn’t seen it. It would be social pressure.

I thought this [pointing to a poster for Best Man Down, in which Long plays a newlywed whose best man dies] was going to be a romantic comedy, but it was sad. Your character finds out his best friend had all these secrets. Have you had that happen to you, where you realize a friend wasn't who you thought he was?
I’ve never had a discovery anywhere near as drastic as this. It never goes further than, What? You’re allergic to wheat? I didn’t know that! I’ve had friends who have changed and who have surprised me with their behavior, but never to this extent. I actually have a friend who reminds me of Lumpy [the best man in the movie], but he’s a doctor, so he’s far more intelligent. But back when we were in high school and college he had a buffoonish side, and that was often a part he would play up.

Lumpy gets super drunk in the beginning of the movie. Are you the person who has to cut people off when they’re drinking too much, or are you the one getting cut off?
Um. [Laughs.] I don’t drink the way I used to. So I think now I would be doing the cutting off.

Because hangovers are worse now?
Part of it is that. Hangovers are much worse. And I just feel old. Once you hit 30 — I’m now 35 — I feel a much more heightened sense of my own mortality. So time in general becomes so much more precious, so to waste a day because of a hangover is that much more depressing.

So depressing. Physically, though, you don't seem to age. People, at least where I work, have pointed this out.
That’s nice. It’s weird, though, in a way; I don’t want to be, like, a boyish 40-year-old. I don’t think there’s anything attractive about that.

Well, it’s hard for an actor to stay looking boyish.
It’s hard for an actor, yeah. Especially now, because the parts become a lot more limited. It was one thing when I could get away with playing high school, college kids when I was 27, which was great because I got a late start. I think Dodgeball was written for a 15-year-old. And no one wanted me in the movie, and the director [Rawson Marshall Thurber] had seen me, and fought for me, thank God. But I was 24, 25 when I did that.

What made you write the Sam character in A Case of You for yourself?
Well, we started writing in 2008. This sounds, like, self-deprecating, and I’m proud of the final product, but initially it was just kind of an experiment, an exercise — and a therapeutic one. Kier [O'Donnell, who co-wrote the movie] and I were going through these breakups and licking our wounds, and we just thought it was fun. And then we did a reading of it with some friends, and enough people whose opinion I valued were positive about it, so it inspired us to try to actually make it.

There’s a scene where Kier’s character, your roommate, jerks off to present-day Carrie Fisher, and then present-day Kathleen Turner — like, not the younger versions of them. What’s the origin of that?
I forget how it came up, but we were — you know, guys talk about women that they have crushes on, that they fantasize about. And I remember talking about … I don’t know if it was Bo Derek, but somebody like that, who I was like, “I don’t know, they still look really good.” Because I have these images of these women in my head from when I was growing up. Carrie Fisher in particular, because Carrie Fisher is one of the first sexual kind of crushes that I had.

From Star Wars.
From Return of the Jedi. Nice try. I needed a little more skin — when she was in that weird bondage thing. But, yeah. We were talking about just what can happen … how superficial it all is, and how, like, people change, and just the absurdity of that, and how funny it would be to us if somebody just kind of grew with them. I don’t know if it was Bo Derek or Dianne Wiest or somebody like that who I was like, “They’re still really attractive.” And I just feel like I’ve had crushes on them for so long. So we just took that idea — like, kind of growing with your own attraction — we just made it more disgusting.

Today [meaning yesterday, October 21] is Carrie Fisher’s birthday. Would you like to say happy birthday to her?
Oh, happy birthday, Carrie. Thank you for … just thank you. For the awakening that you gave me. I don’t want to get too graphic about it, but you mean a lot to me.

I have to ask about Tusk [Kevin Smith's walrus horror movie, about a guy who gets kidnapped and turned into a walrus].
Oh, yeah!

I want to know what Kevin’s e-mail to you actually said, when he offered you the part. Did it mention your expressive eyes? Because he's since said that's why you work as the walrus.
No, he didn’t mention that to me personally. I read about that. It was very flattering to me, actually. That meant a lot to me. He had said he was going to use something that I had texted him.

What did you text him?
I forget exactly. It was about my reticence to do the movie.

Oh, I only read that you said something like, “Let’s go down this rabbit hole.”
Uh, yeah. Maybe I didn’t express how reticent I was. I didn’t have to think much about it. My agents were like, “Are you sure?” We’d had this whole conversation about being a little bit more deliberate and aware of what you put out there, and I was like, “I’ve gotta do this.” I just feel like, whatever happens with this, it will be interesting. However it turns out. It’s going to be an experience.

Have you seen the Walrus costume yet?
Yeah, I saw the mold that they’re building, and it’s actually incredible. Rob Kurtzman is doing the special effects makeup, and they took the mold already of my body, and my head, and my legs, because he  … well, I don’t want to give too much away, but, spoiler alert — he cuts off my legs at a certain point.

The maniac man?
The maniac man, Michael Parkson. I can’t say who it is, but Kevin got this actor to play the French-Canadian detective who goes looking for me, who’s such a thrill … Kevin will murder me if I spill the beans and tell you who it is, but it’s really exciting. So, it’s just a weird thing, but it’s something that I felt like I couldn’t pass up.

So are you, like, studying walruses?
Yeah, yeah. I’ve been watching a lot of walrus footage and at a certain point — he cuts up my tongue, so it’s going to be a lot of just trying to vocalize as much as I can.

Without a tongue?
Without a tongue, yeah. I like the idea of — walruses make a lot of very expressive sounds. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a lot of great footage that you can find on YouTube.

I should have YouTubed walruses before coming here.
You should have. I’m insulted. You didn’t do your research. But I also had an idea … I had the walrus burned in my head and I thought about growing a mustache for it, just because the character is a kind of a slick — he has this podcast, and he’s kind of unlikable, and he has this podcast where he sort of makes fun of people who become famous on YouTube. You know, like the kid with his light-saber, people who become national practical jokes. He goes in search of these people, so there’s something sort of D.J.-ish about him. Like, he has this morning D.J. quality — sort of slick, phonier. So I had this idea about a mustache. So I started growing one, and I asked Kevin, and he said, "Great idea, sir."

So you’re explaining your mustache to me.
I’m defending my mustache, is what I’m saying. So I send him a picture of it, and I say, “You know, maybe we need to do a fake one, because it’s not coming in very well.” He said, “Sir, I love it, it’s great.”

Sir?
He says sir a lot. So I’m kind of stuck with this now. Until the end of November.

With The Younger Man, are you writing the show with a particular actress in mind to play the older woman?
Yes. We’re really hoping to get — I’ve always had Catherine Keener in my mind. I love her so much. She was kind of the inspiration.

Oh, I love her. Have you pitched it to her?
No. [Laughs.] So ...

So [holding the recorder up to him], "Hello, Catherine Keener ... "
Hello, Catherine. Big fan. I love your work.

Have you seen Enough Said?
I loved it. I love Nicole Holofcener, but this was my favorite of her movies. I want to see it again.

Do you have a response to what Jonathan Franzen said about your Mac guy? That he was smug, insufferable.
I'm a huge fan of Franzen's, so on the one hand, there was something oddly flattering about just being mentioned by him. I wasn't that insulted by it. I actually understood his point.

But he particularly picks on your character.
He does. He calls me insufferably smug, that I played the part with insufferable smugness. Which I think is a little heavy-handed. But he's not wrong. I mean, the whole point of those ads was — there was an underlying arrogance about them. I can't defend how I played the part except to say I did try as best I could to work against that inherent arrogance by really trying to engage with PC and be as friendly with him as the script would allow. I mean, my control over that only went so far. God, I'm — I kind of understand his point. I don't mean that in a self-deprecating way. To his point, just as an actor, I was always kind of jealous of [John] Hodgman. Because John always got to do the fun underdog stuff, and that's what I always loved to do and the parts I'd been playing. And it's far more fun to do than set him up — I was playing the straight man.

I remember when we started the campaign, they wanted me, when I would say, "Hello, I'm a Mac," they wanted me to be very proud and declarative. They would give me line readings, like, Try it like you love being a Mac: "Hello, I'm a Mac." Like you're happy about it. And I'm never like this — I take direction very well and I actually love getting direction — but I was so afraid of being the pitch guy and selling something that I just kept throwing it away, I kept saying, [less enthusiastically] "Hello, I'm a Mac." And I have a friend who worked in the same editing house where they were editing the commercials and an editor said [to him], "Your buddy's killing me. The executives are here all the time; I'm sifting through take after take where they want him to be really proud." And it sounds kind of shitty, like I was digging in my heels — again, which I rarely do — but if I'm proud of anything about it, it was that moment. And had I not done that, Franzen would have hated me even more. [Laughs.] He would have thought it was even more insufferable. Can you be more insufferable? I guess so.

Photo: Patrick McMullan