Sunday 25 February 2018

Art imitates life in the Long run

Justin Long tells Evan Fanning how his on-off relationship with Drew Barrymore was an asset in his latest starring role

SHARING A LAUGH: Justin Long and Drew Barrymore ad-libbed in 'Going The Distance'
SHARING A LAUGH: Justin Long and Drew Barrymore ad-libbed in 'Going The Distance'

Evan Fanning

Justin Long is not easily embarrassed. It's probably just as well. In his new film the 32-year-old gets put through the mill so many times that it makes Gaylord Focker's meeting of the parents seem like some sort of lesson in in-law etiquette.

It's a role Long excels at and, even though he has some serious acting chops under his belt, he may well be on his way to becoming an heir to Ben Stiller's brand of uncomfortable, seat-shifting comedy. In fact, his first big break came in a Stiller film (Dodgeball) and, as he sits, dressed in a suit and tie, he even bears a passing resemblance to the king of American comedy.

But for now, Long has his own hang-ups. Actually they're not so much hang-ups as statements of facts. In Going the Distance he's required to take part in a series of scenes (often completely naked) which are so cringeworthy that you'll be watching them through your fingers. One in particular, a trip to a tanning salon, leaves little to the imagination.

Long sheds his clothes so often that he jokes that the crew had their own special relationship with his genitalia, a relationship which existed independently of him. "By the time we did the tanning salon stuff the crew was sick of seeing my bits and pieces. They were just over it and knew them in great detail. They gave me the option of whether or not I wanted to wear what they call a 'c**k sock'."

Hmmm. Is that what it sounds like it is? "It's an industry term," he says. "Let me explain -- it's a deceptively little piece of material ... It's an elastic material so it just bunches everything up. It's really uncomfortable ... but it's also just incredibly unflattering because everything is just squeezed together.

"By the time we did the tanning salon I remember going to my trailer, and it's so disconcerting to show up for work at seven in the morning and go to your wardrobe and the only thing that's hanging there is little band with a little elastic piece, so I opted not to use it. By that stage the crew was very familiar so I went sans c**k sock."

It is probably just as well that Long's barometer for shame seems to be quite high as not only did Going the Distance require him to strip with alarming frequency, but it also had him star in his first role as a leading man opposite his on-off, on-again, off-again girlfriend Drew Barrymore.

The story of the film -- a sort of post-Knocked Up romcom where the protagonists drink too much, hate their jobs and generally muck about -- is whether the characters played by Long and Barrymore will end up together as they attempt to manage a long- distance relationship. As a case of art imitating life it couldn't be closer to the truth.

Long met Barrymore three years ago while they were working together on He's Just Not That Into You, and were together for more than a year before their relationship started appearing in the likes of Heat magazine in the "on again or off again" section.

As they travel the world, together, the status of the pair's relationship inevitably comes under scrutiny. They have each mastered the art of batting away questions about it while gushing platitudes about how wonderful it was to work together. Conveniently, and some might think cynically, the intrigue around their real-life status has done wonders for the promotion of the film.

Although Long is reticent to declare whether their relationship is now on or off, he does feel that their past enabled them to fully immerse themselves in their characters and their relationship, free from any of the obstacles that might exist had two actors with no history been thrown together.

"I think it did [help]. I'm sure it did. Having that connection I could just look at her and I felt like I was there. I didn't have to do much work in terms of being dialled into somebody. This is really my first big role in a movie like this. We had such a natural comfort with each other ... we also have a very similar sense of humour so in terms of the riffs that we would go on and the ad-libbing we were very compatible."

Another aspect of Going the Distance which rang true for Long, was that of trying to maintain a relationship while being hundreds of miles away from your loved one.

"I feel like most of my relationships have been long distance. I've been working as an actor for 11 years now and I don't think there's a single year in that time where I've been in one place for more than six or seven months."

For Long, the thrill of living out of a suitcase has worn off. "Getting to travel has been a luxury and a real blessing ... but as I get older I'm thinking a lot more about wanting stability and domesticity ... putting down my own roots."

Settling down shouldn't be too much of a problem. Justin Long is now in a position where the work will come to him. All he needs now is someone to share it with it. Drew, anyone? Or maybe they're leaving that to the sequel.

'Going the Distance' is in cinemas from Friday

Sunday Independent

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