An actor whose wide, affable grin and heavy eyebrows lend him an uncanny resemblance to Tim Allen, Justin Long unwittingly became a footnote to the illustrious history of Britney Spears' ascent to world domination when he appeared with the post-pubescent entertainer in her 2002 film debut, Crossroads. Cast as Britney's prom date, Long shared a kiss with the singer that earned him breathless adulation on Britney websites everywhere. Three years before he locked lips with the peppy pop star, Long made his screen debut as a sci-fi geek in Galaxy Quest, a quirky genre parody that starred Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Long's would-be doppelganger, Allen. He then landed a role on the TV sitcom Ed (2000), which he followed in 2001 with a part as a lonely bunkmate in Happy Campers. That same year, he starred in Jeepers Creepers, a sleeper comedy-horror outing that cast him as one of two siblings terrorized by an inhuman monster. Long subsequently appeared in Crossroads, sealing his newfound popularity among teenage girls with a kiss. In 2003, Long popped up briefly in the sequel Jeepers Creepers 2 while continuing to appear on Ed. However, the following year saw the conclusion of Ed and Long embarked on his film career full-time. First up was the sports comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Stealing scenes while co-starring with the likes of Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, Long proved to critics and audiences alike that his comedic skills could translate from the small-screen to the big one with ease. In the wake of Dodgeball's box-office success, audience's could next find the actor starring in the independent films Raising Genius and Waiting... and adding his voice to the Bill Plympton film Hair High.
Justin Long is 'a jaded fan of horror movies'
Justin Long, who co-stars in the hit TV series Ed, is pleased that his new feature, the very Justin Longscary Jeepers Creepers, goes much further than the more lighthearted Scream trilogy, which poked fun at the genre. "Jeepers is more like old-fashioned horror, which trusts itself and the genre, and doesn't rely on satire or slasher effects. I think it will be a breath of fresh air for people who haven't seen a classic horror movie in theaters before, or who are too young to remember movies like Rosemary's Baby or Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Jeepers Creepers, set in an eerily isolated corner of middle America, revolves around a pair of squabbling siblings terrorized on a road trip by a supernatural and strangely cannibalistic bogeyman of sorts.
The 23-year-old actor cheerfully confesses to being "a jaded fan of horror movies," who "grew up on films like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and all those. To be perfectly honest, I was freaked out by Jeepers. It truly is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen even after I knew what was going to happen." When Long first read the script, "I was actually alone in my apartment. I only got half way through it, I couldn't finish it, because reading it, the script was terrifying." Long concedes that the film "could have gone either way, but it was testament to the talent of the director who was able to translate it effectively. We just tried to keep it authentic and very real, rather than fall back on any clichés." Long admits that "it was a tense atmosphere shooting, in the sense that because we were trying to keep it real, we didn't let up on the fear factor." The fact that the film was shot "in the middle of nowhere, mostly nights and long hours", helped maintain the sense of reality to which Long refers. "We were staying in these retirement villages, so basically we were the only visible young people around. It was something out of Village of the Damned. We spent our off-time just wandering around Wal-Mart buying all sorts of crap to ease the boredom."
A veteran of the stage, Long appeared in several New York Theater productions including, "The Hot L Baltimore;" directed by Joe Montello and starring Sam Rockwell, "The Shadowbox," "Final Exam," and "Barefoot in Athens" for the Maxwell Anderson Playwriting Series.
While attending Vassar College, Long was a two-year member of the sketch comedy group "Laughingstock" before achieving new found success in Ed. The young actor recently completed work on the first major Britney Spears movie, What Are Friends For, delivering the young pop stars' first on-screen kiss. Asked what was scarier, kissing Britney was or being chased by a weird monster in Jeepers, Long prefers to keep that information somewhat sacred, though he sheepishly confesses that "the Britney Spears movie was just fun and light, but let's talk about that in a few months", he hastily adds, following a cursory glance to his publicist. Justin is about to begin work on a second series of Ed, "which I'm excited about. It's a great show to work on." The usually funny young actor will first help to dramatically terrify an unsuspecting public with the release of Jeepers Creepers.
Jeepers gave two young stars a bad case of the creeps
Rising stars Gina Philips and Justin Long spent a couple of months in rural Florida playing a brother and sister who must elude an evil force in the supernatural horror movie Jeepers Creepers. Shooting mostly at night, the actors found themselves isolated and out of sync with the rest of the world—adding to the film's real creepiness and also requiring them to come up with creative ways to avoid boredom between takes.
Months later, the actors can now laugh about the experience of being trapped in the production. Long—who is best known to SF fans as the geeky Brandon in 1999's Galaxy Quest—and Philips spent many hours at the local Wal-Mart, the only place open on their days off. And they weren't even allowed to hang out with their other co-star, Jonathan Breck, who under layers of special makeup plays a character called The Creeper. Director Victor Salva (Powder) wanted Long and Philips to be genuinely creeped out by Breck when they first saw him—on camera.
Long and Philips took a few moments recently to talk with Science Fiction Weekly and other reporters about the movie.
Justin Long, this is a very scary movie.
Long: The first time I read the script, I was alone in my apartment. And I only got halfway through. I couldn't finish it. I had to wait until ... daybreak. ... It was a terrifying read. But, you know, it could have gone either way. I think that's just testament to the talent of the director. He was able to translate it. We just tried to keep it authentic. We just tried to keep it very real. And not sort of fall back on any clichés. ... It was a very tense atmosphere shooting, in the sense that because we were trying to keep it real, and we were supposed to be fearing for our lives, we didn't really let up on that. ... And we were shooting in the middle of nowhere, at night, mostly. Long, long hours. And it was just ... It culminated in this very, kind of, tense atmosphere.
Your character, Darry, and Gina Philips' character, Trish, had a real rapport on-screen. Did you have a lot of chance to rehearse?
Long: We had a week of rehearsals, which was mostly us just improvising, which helped more than I thought it would. It just helped to sort of establish that rapport, which I hope translates. And not only that, we spent a lot of time together [off camera]. We were the only two, really, young people certainly in the cast, and we were staying in these retirement villages. So we were really only the two young people in sight. It was like a ... Village of the Damned kind of thing [laughs].
Wal-Mart ... was sort of like a bastion of ... sanity. We'd be doing all these intense things, and the only thing open [on our days off] was Wal-Mart. ... And we were shooting nights. On our days off ... we didn't want to reverse our schedules, so we would stay awake all night. And I'd literally spend, like, three or four hours just walking up and down the aisles of Wal-Mart. They all knew me by the end. They're like, "Justin!"
Did any of the improv make it into the movie?
Long: Yeah. ... Victor used some of it in the script. We ended up just doing like vital improvs. I remember it was excruciatingly hot, you know, like Neil Simon said, Africa hot. We were in the car, and the car scene, we shot that for about two weeks, and with all the lights, and it was the middle of August and the middle of Florida, it was like the bowels of hell pretty much. And I remember, one time, in a take, I said, "Jesus, it's hot. God, it's hot." ... And I think that made it in. ... And sibling things, we'd sort of just rib each other, and that kind of stuff stayed in.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
Long: I do. I have an older brother and a younger brother. They're both actors, actually.
Did you use anything based on your relationships with them?
Long: A lot of it was. ... My parents have a station wagon with the wood paneling. We call it the Dragon Wagon. And I think the first line of the movie—you can barely hear it, we're going over these hills—but I'm talking about the Dragon Wagon and about how we used to do circles in the parking lot when we were learning to drive. And that was all stuff that I did with my brothers. Just the dynamic, having brothers myself, it was sort of easy to fall into.
Did the isolation help with your performance?
Long: Oh, yeah, most definitely. It would have been a lot harder to jump back into that atmosphere if, at the end of the day, if we went back to a hotel or some kind of metropolis or went back to friends and family. But, as you said, we were completely isolated, and it helped just retain that focus and that sort of tense energy.
The old song "Jeepers Creepers" plays a major role in the film. How do you feel when you hear that song now?
Long: I'm waiting for the musical to get into development. ... It's going to happen [laughs].
What's your favorite horror movie?
Long: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Donald Sutherland ... remake [from] 1978. That is the scariest movie I've ever seen. I in fact watched that a few times before I went to shoot Jeepers Creepers. Veronica Cartwright in that movie—she was also in the original Alien—she does fear better than anybody else, I think. She and Leland Orser. I don't know if you know him. Leland Orser was in Se7en and Very Bad Things. I really tried to study them. She has great eyes, Veronica Cartwright. I was sort of thinking a lot about her when I did Jeepers.
What's it like playing fear?
Long: It's tremendously hard. What I've found is that it just takes an enormous amount of physical energy. I was amazed at how depleted I was at the end of each day. Because, you know, you have to maintain. It's not like doing a play—you know, you get to do it straight through. You have to maintain this over the course of several hours. And I suppose I don't trust myself enough. ... You know, there are some actors who can go in and out, and relax between takes. I had to kind of maintain that energy. And like I said, I think it was partially because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get it back once I got to that point. ... I was thinking of horrible things in my own personal life that could potentially happen. ... And it was destructive, because you feel like these are your own private ... sacred temple, and you're kind of exploiting it, you know?
You didn't get to meet Breck, the guy who played the Creeper, until you played scenes with him?
Long: It was difficult. It turns out he was a really nice guy, and I wish we had been able to hang out. But it helped tremendously, because I didn't shoot my stuff with him until the very end, until the last few days of shooting. And we had had no contact. We went out of our way, in fact, because we lived down the street from each other, and like I said, we were living in this strange sort of Twilight Zone-ish retirement village, and there was nobody to talk to. And so, whenever we'd go for lunch, they'd have to sort of escort us around each other. It was difficult, but I think it paid off. For me, I'm glad I didn't know who it was in that suit. It was a lot easier to sort of pretend that he was what he was supposed to be.
But you did kind of meet him?
Long: Yes, I got to say, he kind of screwed up a little bit. He was playing a cop, and he had one of the Teamsters come over to me and say, like, under the ruse of his wanting to meet me, because he was a fan or whatever, and that's when my suspicion piqued right away, because I didn't think I had any fans. So I knew something was up, and I met him, and I'd seen his head shot, and he was just playing that he was trying to pull one over on me, which was weird, because we had done this for more than four weeks. ... But I put it out of my head, and we never really talked about it.
What did you do for fun?
Long: We threw moths in spiders' webs. That was a blast. And what else did we do? We had sweating contests. We'd go jogging and see who would sweat more. I won most of the time. Gina's not much of a sweater. Good times.
Justin Long: Jeepers Creepers
Justin Long played the unsuspecting Darry in last year's surprise horror hit, "Jeepers Creepers", now out on DVD. He can currently be spotted smooching with Britney Spears in "Crossroads".
Q: The tension in the first half-hour of "Jeepers Creepers" is tight. Did you ever get spooked out?
No. What spooked me out was the prospect of having to carry a movie. That's what scared me. A lot of our reactions were to a piece of tape that a grip was holding with the director saying, "The monster is pulling his tongue out of his head", and we'd have to react to that. We never knew how far to go, as we didn't know what we'd eventually be looking at, until we saw the final cut.
Q: This is one of many movies where a drive across country goes horribly wrong. Have you ever driven across a big stretch of nowhere in America?
Right after we finished shooting, I actually drove right across the country and for most of the drive, it's just miles and miles of nothing. I was with a buddy of mine and we definitely got spooked out a few times, and I wonder how much of that had to do with my experiences on set.
Q: Is Gina Philips as sussed and forthright in real life as she is in the film?
That's Gina. I think Victor [the director] also said something about that on the DVD, and mentioned to me during the shoot that he has trouble writing as well for girls. I think that Gina brought a lot of herself to the part.
Q: Is there any truth in the rumour that you'll appear in the sequel?
Yeah! I didn't know anyone knew that, unless at the premiere of "Crossroads", I had nothing to say and just blurted it out. I don't think I can say anything about that but it looks as if I'm doing a cameo.
Q: What do you think of Britney not meeting her fans at the London premiere of "Crossroads"?
It was probably her handlers that made that decision. At the New York premiere, I went out into the crowd and you feel loved for a few seconds, then it just gets scary. It was a very surreal moment but it occurred to me that she has to deal with that on a constant basis. She's so warm and giving and I've seen her around her fans, she really isn't a pretentious diva.
Q: What do you think might be better for your career, kissing Britney or winning an Oscar?
(Laughs) That's a tough question but I think that both events would bring me a lot of joy!
"Jeepers Creepers" is now available on DVD and VHS from Warner Bros.
Justin Long Talks About "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story"
One of Justin Long's first roles was playing a nerd in the Tim Allen comedy, "Galaxy Quest." Long returns to nerddom as 'Justin' in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
At the World Premiere of "Dodgeball," Justin Long was so talkative it took him a lot longer than any other cast member to make his way down the red carpet. Animated and enthusiastic, Long probably would have been willing to continue answering my questions while the movie screened without him, had there not been a publicist close by 'gently' prodding him into moving along.
INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN LONG:
How tough was this role?
I get slammed with balls.My acting teacher from college is going to be very proud.
All their Stanislawski training is really paying off.
How long did it take for you to recover?
It took me awhile. I hate to say it but I literally had dodgeball injuries.
Why the sport of dodgeball?
It’s just one of those things. There’s a dodgeball tournament going on and we need to raise $50,000 and the winner of the dodgeball tournament gets $50,000, so why not play dodgeball?
What was your worst sports experience as a child?
As a child? I can tell you this for sure, it was when I played baseball in high school and I was in the outfield and I would literally pray to God – I’m not joking, it would be like “Dear Lord, please don’t let the ball come to me.” I’d pray to God not to let the ball come to me. I was so bad, I was just terrible. I played soccer – I was the goalie. I would pray to God it didn’t get kicked anywhere near me. I was an awful athlete. I know it is a big surprise now, judging by my ridiculous physique, my stunning pectorals belie the fact that I actually was a bad athlete in school (laughing).
Working with Vince Vaughn in this movie, does the script pretty much just go out the window or did you stick to it?
No, he let the script go a lot but he was smart about it. He wouldn’t like fly all over the place. But his adlibs were some of the most genius things in the movie, and there’s a lot of them in the movie. He’s one of the best. Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell ["Anchorman"]are the best ad-libbers I’ve ever [encountered]. Just getting to work with them and see how they work was incredible. It was like watching a god. They have sort of inhumane powers when it comes to that.
Were you able to keep up with them?
It was rough because they would throw these things out there. But I hope so. You’ve got to ask them that. Ben [Stiller] was the one guy who would make me crack up. I would pride myself on being able to keep a straight face. But with Ben, I would lose it a few times. Just looking at his face with the handlebar moustache and the hair - it was absurd. He’s hilarious. He could read the phone book in this movie and I would crack up.