In Sam Raimi's new supernatural horrorfest, a bank loan officer (played by Alison Lohman) denies the wrong mortgage adjustment, is cursed and forced to flee for her life... and eternal soul. Former Mac guy, Die Hard sidekick and romantic comedy staple Justin Long plays her unconvinced by still supportive boyfriend. Justin recently sat down with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to talk about his excitement about getting to appear in a film directed by one of his cinematic heroes, his desire to do it again, asap, and also to delve a little into the horrors of being thrust unwillingly into the clutches of tabloid journalism, courtesy of his recent offscreen relationship with Drew Barrymore...
[SPOILER ALERT - This interview does cover the ending of a fantastic film, so only read on if you already know what happens!]
Emmanuel Itier: I saw the film last night - it is a long way from the romantic comedies we have been seeing you in recently - was it as fun to make as it was to watch?
JL: Yeah, I loved it. I hate sounding arrogant because I’m in it, but I’m not in it a lot, so I can say that. I’m excited: It’s thrilling to be a part of a movie like that. I’ve been doing a few of things, and I’m proud of everything I’ve done - just to be working, I’m proud... but some movies you’re more excited for than others. I’ve done movies where, were I not in them, I wouldn’t see them. [Laughs] And this is exciting to talk about a movie that I, as a fan, am excited for - that I would be front-row-center whether or not I’m in the movie.
EI: You will be in the second one?
JL: I hope so, Sam [Raimi]. Please!
EI: I mean, he has done trilogies before, but the other trilogies…
JL: Man, I should go looking for her... With my luck, I’m gonna get recast: They’ll be like some Terrence Howard thing in Iron Man...
EI: [Laughs] No, don’t even say that! We want you in the next movie...
JL: [Smiles] Who is Jake Gyllenhaal’s agent?
EI: Come on, they didn’t kill you, so you’re fine - you can be in the next film!
JL: I can be in the next one. That’s my big fear is that, if I’m not, how sad is that gonna be?
EI: You can be the cursed one in the next one.
JL: I’d love to be: I was jealous that I didn’t get to be cursed. Curse me... I’m begging to be cursed: I would love it!
EI: You already got the button...
JL: I have the button, I know. It’s mine now, so sorry.
EI: Did you really keep it?
JL: In life? No. They did give me a coin, though. Sam got me that framed coin and it was really cool. I tried to take as much as I could because I knew it was going to be a special movie.
EI: Who did get the button?
JL: I don’t know... that’s a good question. I didn’t ask Sam about that. I know they had a few different ones, I wonder if Sam did keep it. I’m gonna ask him. Have you already talked to him?
EI: No, not yet.
JL: So you have two things; You have to ask him about the button, and insist that I’m in the sequel.
EI: Okay. Yeah, he’s gonna listen to us. [Laughs]
EI: Ironically, seeing as this is not a romantic comedy, I keep being told by female friends that in this film, they really like your character…
JUSTIN: Oh, good.
EI: And that you’re just sweet.
JL: Very passive.
EI: Not entirely - He is standing up against his mother.
JL: A little bit, yeah.
EI: Clay wants to get engaged, even though his parents think she’s weird, right?
JL: Yeah, he does kind of stand up a little bit.
EI: He is very caring.
JL: She is much stronger than I am, though, I will say that. I thought it was cool that there is a movie where the protagonist, this strong center of the movie, is a female. And my part is normally played by women in these movies. My friends are all really excited that I’m finally, like, “We have to go see all your movies and some are better than others, and we’re glad you’re in a really cool one because we’re obligated to see them…”
They asked me about what I play and I said, “Here’s what I play: I say, ‘Baby, everything is going to be okay; it’s gonna be fine. I’m gonna be in the other room if you need me, but don’t worry.’ I go in the other room and all the hot stuff happens to Alison [Lohman], like all the fun horror movies. And I run back and I go, ‘Baby, are you okay? I’m here. What happened?’ End scene and fade out.”
You know what? I’m fine with that. I was so happy. When I met Sam, I was like, “I will do anything in your movie,” and I meant that. “I would walk across the screen, s*** my pants, and keep walking if it means being in your movie... absolutely.” So I’m just happy to be part of it, truly.
EI: Why were you so excited? I mean, just to work with him?
JL: Oh yeah. To work with him and to work with him on a horror movie... I grew up watching those movies. I mean... Army of Darkness! I loved his movies. I loved his vision. It was Ellen Page at the time, and I was so into her and I thought she was great, and was equally excited, truthfully, when I heard it was going to be Alison, when Alison replaced her. It was just a no-brainer - a horror movie with Sam Raimi and Ellen. It was easy. And I don’t think that much about what I do. There’s not that deep of a thought process that goes into it, but this one was like nothing required, not even a moment’s hesitation. I was just really honored.
EI: Are you telling us you would take anything?
JL: Basically. [Laughs] No, the difference in the last year or two has been that I’ve been able to actually be selective, in a way. It’s just crazy to be in that position. But in the past, like the first couple of years I was doing this, people would say, “How did you decide to do… What made you choose the role in Jeepers Creepers?” or “What made you choose to do Herbie, The Love Bug?” and I would say, “The fact that I got cast: The fact that they chose me - that really made me want to do it. That somebody said ‘yes’ to me was really enticing...”
EI: Do you think that it helped to be in the tabloids for months with Drew Barrymore in terms of being known by the industry, or that perhaps that also partly has led you to this point that you can begin to pick and choose roles?
JL: I don’t know... I truthfully think that that is not helpful. I think that’s a myth that that kind of exposure helps you. I think it might hurt to be exposed in that way, in terms of acting... being able to play different characters and roles. I remember Billy Crudup said something really interesting in an interview: He said he acknowledged that it was super critical because it was in an interview and he was talking about how much he doesn’t like doing interviews and why he doesn’t like doing interviews. It’s not an egotistical, pretentious actor thing, but he really articulated well: He said, “The more people know about me and the more I expose myself to people, the harder it is for them to believe that I’m somebody else.”
And in the long run, I think it makes it harder to have a career that is sustained through character work and various roles, and I don’t want to just go out there and play myself every time. It ruins that kind of potential. It makes it harder, I think. Not only that, but it’s obnoxious as hell. It’s like that loss of privacy and security, which I cherish. I don’t want to complain, because I love my life and I’m so blessed to be able to do what I do, and I don’t want to complain about any relationships. It was wonderful; it was beautiful.
I made certain choices in my life, and I made them happily and completely willingly, and I would never fault somebody else for bringing that into my life. But, that being said, it’s fraught with a lot of negativity that you can’t really imagine until it happened to you. It’s one thing to theorize about, and I’d always been weirdly indifferent about those gossip magazines. I wouldn’t read them. I didn’t really give a s***. But I also didn’t care in a negative way, I didn’t dislike them in any way. I was just like, well, they’re doing their job. But when you see it affect… she [Drew] gets it on a level that I can’t stand.
I care about her and other people in my life, I see the way it affects their lives, and it’s bred this real animosity in me toward those gossip magazines... those reporters and the people who indulge in it. It’s sick, what it does to people’s lives. You try to rationalize with them sometimes, and I don’t wanna be a dick, I know they’re doing their job. I know times are tough, but I said, “Listen, man. You don’t know what it’s doing to these people I care about. You don’t know what it does…” He says, “Well, what are you talking about? They’re movie stars: They have great lives.” Like that’s the counter argument that I think they justify it with.
So to say that that has helped in any way, I think, is dangerous, and I don’t think it’s accurate. Like I said, I think, if anything, it maybe made it more difficult. I have no interest in being a celebrity or a famous - that never appealed to me really. If it appealed to me, it did in the sense that it meant I got to be in movies - I got to act, I got to work, so I don’t know if there is a way to have one without the other - maybe not, but I do know people who do, I know people who are not a part of those things.
My favorite, Sam Rockwell, is my best friend, my favorite actor: He’s not out there. People don’t know who he’s dating, and he has an amazing career. I think Billy Crudup and Phil Hoffman… Just being in those things scares me, and I’ll say to them, if I have an interview and it’s a press junket or whatever, and somebody says like, “I’m from US Weekly,” whatever, I say, “Please don’t put me in your…” You don’t know if it’s really going to be flattering, I said I just don’t want to be in them. I don’t want to be a part of it. Whatever. I hate even remotely complaining, ’cause like I said, things are good...
EI: In the movie, your character doesn’t believe what his girlfriend says, but he still supports her, which is sweet. But he doesn't believe her even though he sees all this strange stuff…
JL: She does, and then there was other stuff. It was smart of Sam to cut that out, because there were little glimpses into his turn that got cut out, which I think is smart. I think it’s stronger that you go in thinking he made this choice as a leap of faith, purely blind - that he doesn’t even really believe her still, but he says this to her: “This is affecting you. Excuse me, sorry. I love you.” I’ve been in that situation before, where you love someone unconditionally and they are struggling with something that you can’t understand and you just have to support that any way possible. That wasn’t a difficult role for me to play…
EI: In true life, do you believe in any of this supernatural stuff?
JL: I believe a lot of it: I believe in some form of the afterlife, which people may call superstitious; I believe in ghosts.
EI: What about curses?
JL: I hesitate to say that I don’t believe in curses, because then I’m gonna get cursed, I feel, like in some weird way - karma. I do believe in karma, so maybe that is related to curses in some very Eastern way.
EI: Do you think curses wouldn’t work because ultimately, we are the creators of our experience?
JL: Yeah, and we are given free will. I mean, I hope they don’t. It’s terrifying, thinking that you could be controlled by something other than yourself. That’s faith and too philosophic - that’s too heady... I need my dad for that one...
EI: I remember the last time we spoke, you were roommates with Jonah Hill - is that still true?
JL: We’ve been really close. I love him: He’s like a brother. We’ve been playing a lot of tennis and I haven’t seen as much of him as I’d like to, but we’ve both been busy. But we’re not roommates anymore: We did move out. We had to get a place of our own. We got too old. We were living in a college dorm, arguing about recycling and… [Laughs] it got bad! It almost ruined us: He was also living in a converted pantry… and he’s not a little person. He was in this tiny little closet of a room. It was a mess, but it was so fun. Some of the great times.
EI: Sam Raimi is a man with style, he comes dressed up on set, and he’s very meticulous, but at the same time he has this wicked sense of humor…
JL: Great sense of humor! There is a great quality about Sam where he turns into like a kid: He had this childlike enthusiasm for making movies, and he gets like giddy. Like this purity… I can imagine him when he was a kid with his brothers making movies in the backyard, I can see it. It’s on a much larger scale now, but he has not lost… there’s not an ounce of cynicism or jaded anything, and it’s infectious.
He worked the crew like crazy, like long hours. It was a grueling shoot, and people didn’t complain because everyone is so happy to be there. He is so collaborative. He makes everyone feel like they’re equally important and they’re all a part of it. Like... I got to write with him. You would think a guy his level would be on somewhat of a pedestal or hold himself in such a regard that he wouldn’t feel the need to seek out our opinions or whatever, but Sam is so giving and generous.
I’ve had this conversation with people when you consider the phenomenon that happens with some directors and actors, but any creative person, where they have this great beginning, there’s a moment in their career where they’ve just created all these…and I don’t want to name names, but there are some obvious examples where they’ve started out and one, two, three masterpieces in a row, and then now they’re making s***. There are several examples on the top of my head I can think of. But you wonder how that happens. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think you just become corrupted by your own success and that causes you to retreat into your…”I’m right and that’s it, and I’m not gonna allow for outside influences.”
Sam is just so…I think that’s how he remains at the top…and I know actors like that too. I got to work with Liam Neeson recently, and he was the most generous, giving actor, and always there off-camera, always talking it through and curious, and I never once felt like I couldn’t come to him for something or like he was above it all and just showing up. It was inspiring to see that, after the career he’s had, he could sit back and take it easy, and he’s staying much longer to do one line of off-camera dialogue. He’s really inspiring…
EI: But working with Sam is far from all seriousness - he has quite a sense of humor, I think he’s hilarious...
JL: Sam is one of the funniest, and a wicked sense of humor. We were shooting the ending, and every once in a while, we would just crack up. Sam would be like, “Okay then, okay buddy, so you can just give her the coin. She is gonna fall into the rails and go to hell.” And we started laughing and… Sam is the most gentle, greatest dad, sweetest man alive, and he’s also a twisted f***: He’s a sick f***. He really is! I mean, we would laugh about it...
Again, like a kid, like with this glee. Like, "Hmm, are we gonna put the GI Joe character in the microwave and watch it melt?" He had this twisted glee. I loved it, thoug - it was infectious... I was like, “Sam, you really gonna do this to the audience? Look, I got the ring, I’m gonna propose, their lives are all set. They’re gonna go to Santa Barbara so they can get dragged to hell in the last minute of the movie? You’re a dark f***” Sorry I keep cursing. There’s no other word: He’s a twisted f***. But sweeter than anything...
EI: And doing exactly what he wants to do.
JL: Yeah, like he’s in the playground: He’s in the sandbox. He’s got all the toys and he’s just playing. He’s great. I was, again, so happy to be a part of this. And it’s like surreal to me because he was one of the aspects that caused me to fall in love with movies, and I’m a part of that now - a passive part of it, but [Laughs] a part, nonetheless.
EI: What was the movie with Liam Neeson?
JL: After Life. Christina Ricci… Needless to say, I just can’t stop thinking about Liam recently. That shouldn’t happen to anyone, but he is such a good person and such a good guy — so respectful to the whole crew, and just a decent, great guy. And just so tragic — I can’t stop — it’s just so tragic and sad. But yeah, it’s weird. Sorry, I don’t know how to switch gears now.
EI: Which is your favorite horror movie?
JL: The scariest movie to me is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Donald Sutherland version. It’s always the one that really got me. I think the scariest movies for me are the ones that are more disturbing. Like the Grudge movies…, 28 Days Later - movies that are also somewhat realistic - the idea of that happening. That’s what I loved about that movie, that is it somewhat slightly plausible. I love a good old-fashioned strangers or a slasher guy in the woods. I’m a sucker for those as well, where you don’t have to think too much.
EI: Where something is chasing someone?
JL: Chasing, yeah. Just how is he gonna get them? In fact, I’m better affected by those movies. Like I said, I believe in ghosts, so it’s really like a Sixth Sense or like The Others – a solid ghost story. I really love the genre...
EI: I think we have to end today by talking about Alison, who is the center of this film playing a sweet but, at the same time, very strong person.
JL: And that is her. She gave so much of herself to this role, and I think she is far more overtly sweet. You meet her and your heart melts. She’s just genuinely sweet. Not like, “I’m going in for an audition and I have to play this part and I’m gonna turn it up a little bit.”
She is not affected at all. There is no affect to her. That’s who she is, and there is such an earnest quality about her. Before I met her, I had always thought that just from watching her work. She always seemed authentically down-to-earth and sweet, and she was even more so having met her. It was easy to have that dynamic. My job was to love her: That was it. That was my job, and she made it very easy. It wasn’t a stretch: It wasn’t like, “I gotta go to work.”
Universal Pictures' 'Drag Me To Hell' opens in theaters nationwide on Friday May 29, 2009.