Justin Long grew up watching and loving Woody Allen movies, so it’s no surprise that he absorbed the line from 1989′s Crimes and Misdemeanors, that “Comedy is tragedy, plus time.” When Long and Keir O’Donnell (Wedding Crashers) were simultaneously recovering from painful romantic breakups several years ago, they channeled their pain into the romantic-comedy script that became A Case of You, which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival this Sunday.
Long stars as Sam, a shy New York writer who develops a crush on Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood), the quirky barista at his local coffee stop. When his initial attempts to get her attention fail, he invents an Internet profile for a much cooler version of himself that he manipulates to her likes and preferences. To keep her attention, however, he might actually have to eventually do and be all the things his online alter ego promises.
In an exclusive meet-cute scene from the movie, Sam finally gets up the nerve to speak to Birdie at the coffee shop. “He’s been a regular customer there and sort of watched her from afar,” says Long. “You get the idea that he’s somehow infatuated with her but this is the first time that they’re really having a moment together where she’s aware of him participating.”
They giggle over some doodles and the bond is sealed when a third party interrupts, making them feel like co-conspirators in their own inside joke. “I think the most important thing about a romantic-comedy is that you believe they’d find similar things funny,” says Long. “I think that’s true in relationships too. I don’t think people give that enough credit, how common your sense of humors link up.”
Watch the sweet scene below, and then read a Q&A with Long, who discusses his screenwriting debut and his role in the Funny or Die biopic, iSteve.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is this your first Tribeca?
JUSTIN LONG: This is my first time. I’ve been there to see movies, but I’ve never had a movie there. I have a bunch of friends who [also] have movies there so I’m looking forward to seeing other movies and talking about this movie. Usually that sort of thing can be something that I dread a little bit — QAs and panels and stuff like that — but this was so close to my heart and something that was such a labor of love that I think this will be fun. And it will be good to see everybody who was in the movie; that’s what these film festivals end up being. For the people that act in them, it’s a really nice excuse to get together again and hang out. Especially with an independent movie because you don’t really have time to celebrate what you’re doing while you’re doing it. It’s long hours and for such a short amount of time. And then it’s over. So it’ll be nice to show everybody the movie.
You mentioned how close to your heart this movie was, and you co-wrote it with your brother Christian and Keir O’Donnell. What was the genesis of the idea?
Well, several years ago now, Keir and I were kind of licking our wounds and nursing breakups. We kind of retreated to a little fishing cabin in Massachusetts and were listening to a lot of weepy ’60s music like Joni Mitchell. Her Blue album was very vital in our feeling sorry for ourselves. And out of that, we started throwing around themes and ideas and we were talking about relationships and the pitfalls and intricacies of being in one. It just kind of came from that, though it was in no way specific to either of our experiences at the time.
Is there a stack of scripts in your desk draw or was this the first time you really sat down in earnest with a pen in your hand?
I always had aspirations to write plays and maybe write a movie one day, but I really got sidetracked with acting and maybe I was procrastinating. But while we were going through this process, I wrote a zombie movie where everyone turns into douches instead of zombies. It was called Douches Wild. We were really excited about it. We thought it was really funny and great, and everybody I showed it to was like, “Eh, 10 percent of it is really funny and the rest is boring.” But you know, you learn.
Fans of your work in movies like Galaxy Quest and Dodgeball will smile when they see that Sam Rockwell and Vince Vaughn show up in the movie.
They were so cool to agree to do it. Sam plays a guitar instructor based on this guy in New York that I took lessons from. He was pretty expensive and [a session] was an hour, and he would talk for the first 10 or 15 minutes chit-chatting about movies. Which is fine if you’re going to extend the class another 15 minutes, but he wouldn’t. As soon as the clock struck the hour, he was done. And he would also do this thing where I would try and play, and he’d say, “No-no-no — here.” And he’d grab the guitar and just play for a long time, things that I had not even the slightest chance how to play. I didn’t even know the chords. So he’s eating up more time while I’m just basically an audience for him. That was the idea behind Sam’s character, though it got a lot weirder and darker when Sam came on. He was awesome.
Vince plays my literary agent and his character was kind of inspired by this one agent who would always sign off every conversation with, “I love you,” in a very disingenuous way. Of course, you can’t have Vince in the movie and not just let him go off and do his runs that he’s famous for. It’s like demanding that a great jazz musician play exactly what’s on the page. He found all these great, little funny things, which is what Vince does better than anybody that I’ve ever met. He’s like the f–king Terminator. He scans the room almost robotically for anything that can be used for a potential funny. So we got a couple of those great nuggets, and we tried to use all of them.
I almost forgot that you know Evan from working on The Conspirator together.
Evan’s somebody I’ve known for a long time; we were supposed to do Romeo and Juliet together like four years ago. I had to back out during rehearsals for the least noble reason, which was I was being made by the studio to do press for a movie that got into this big festival. It remains one of my biggest professional regrets because I was almost too old to play Romeo then, and now, I think that ship has definitely sailed. More than that, I just loved working with her. It was just so effortless and creatively fulfilling and exciting. She plays a lot and she’s fearless. So I was so happy that she read it and liked it. Working with her and knowing her, I knew how funny she is. She’s got a vulgar, twisted sense of humor, and you would never know it from her dramas.
In non-Tribeca news, you’re also starring as Steve Jobs in the Funny or Die biopic, iSteve. How did that come about?
It was just kind of this random thing. I don’t know if part of their interest in me doing it was Apple-commercial related, but I got a call from the Funny or Die guys and they said they wanted to do this and Jorge Garcia was playing Wozniak. I have a real reverence for Steve Jobs. Like so many other people, I’m fascinated by him, and I thought it would be a really fun thing to do. I think I kind of took it a little seriously. I wish I had more time to prepare. It’s very meta and weird. There’s even a scene where I get to yell at myself as Steve Jobs.
How much time did you work on it?
It was shot in four days. We went really fast. Part of the fun of it is it’s also a spoof of biopics. So I think part of the humor will be in how unpolished it is and how inaccurate it is, but it’s just close enough so that it’s not super broad. It’s just within the realm of what could’ve happened. But it’s definitely like a wink-wink parody of biopics.
What else is on the horizon for you?
I’m doing another Funny or Die piece. I’m playing Jame Gumb from Silence of the Lambs in a parody.
Can you do the tuck?
I think I have to. I think it would be sacrilegious to not tuck. I’m going to tuck throughout the whole thing just to stay as true to the character as possible. But I don’t how that involves fitting… I gotta practice this. But you gotta tuck. Listen, you can’t play Buffalo Bill without tucking. Everyone knows that.
Directed by Kat Coiro, A Case of You also stars Peter Dinklage, Busy Philipps, Brendan Fraser, and Sienna Miller.