INTERVIEW: Justin Long Signs Up for Seminar

The popular film star discusses making his Broadway debut in Theresa Rebeck’s hit play.

Justin Long
(© David Gordon)
Justin Long
(© David Gordon)

Justin Long is well known for his roles in such Hollywood hits as He’s Just Not That Into You, The Break Up, and Galaxy Quest, as well as his work on the TV series Ed, not to mention those memorable Mac commercials. Now, he’s making his Broadway debut as Martin, one of the students of an intimidating writing teacher (played by Jeff Goldblum) in Theresa Rebeck’s hit comedy Seminar at the Golden Theatre. Long recently chatted with TheaterMania about the play, the steady progression of his film career, and the tribulations of having a potentially unfortunate last name.

THEATERMANIA: What made this the right time to come to Broadway?
JUSTIN LONG: Because I was asked to! I would have done it any time. As far as my own level of confidence, I think it was helped by the fact that I’ve been dipping my toes back in the theater the last couple of years. It’s also a play that I was familiar with and really love, since I had done a reading of it the summer before.

TM: This isn’t your first time doing theater, though. When did you start?
JL: I did theater all through high school and college and I was doing so much of it in college that it inspired me to try to do it professionally. In a weird way, I got derailed from doing theater when I started doing movies. Movies are exciting and thrilling to be able to do, and I didn’t ever think I’d be able to do them. It seemed like such a fairy tale life for an actor. But consequently, I started to really miss doing theater, and I would do little readings here and there. I flirted with doing a few plays, but these movies came up and it felt silly turning down movies to do theater. Now there are moments that I regret when I turned down some plays.

Justin Long and Jeff Goldblum in Seminar
(© Jeremy Daniel)
Justin Long and Jeff Goldblum in Seminar
(© Jeremy Daniel)

TM: Martin is a very layered character. How have you managed to get inside his head?
JL: He is unlike guys that I am used to playing in the sense that he’s a lot more narcissistic, and he’s kind of pompous about his own talents. He projects this air of confidence, as if he’s above everything. I remember saying to [director] Sam Gold about a line he wanted me to do, “I just feel like that’s kind of shitty of him to do.” And Sam said, “Well yeah. He’s a shitty guy.” So I have to kind of play into that and embrace that attitude. There’s something very liberating about playing the flaws in an unlikable character like that. It’s almost in a similar vein to the guy I played in those Mac commercials. He would come out with that white background and say, “I am better than you” to the PC.

TM: Can you tell me which of your film roles have held the most meaning for you?
JL: A Case of You, which I recently finished filming, meant a lot just because it was a more personal story. I wrote and produced it with my brother, and a lot of my friends helped me out on that one. One film that I always go back to that stands out is probably the worst one I ever did: Strange Wilderness. It’s this bad stoner comedy, or good depending on how stoned you are! If you’re stoned enough, it’s brilliant. It was just so fun to do. It was like horsing around with your friends all day.

TM: Are you happy with your career overall?
JL: I don’t have any big regrets, but what may have hurt me was not having that mentality that I should be keeping a closer eye on the choices that I make. A lot of the time that comes from having a certain level of ambition. I don’t think I ever got past that idea that I was so lucky to be in a movie. Every movie I did felt like it was going to be my last. Sometimes I still feel that way.

TM: Has your name ever been an impediment to you — personally or professionally?
JL: There’s actually a soft-core porn star named Justin Long, who I looked up on Cinemax. I remember when I shot the pilot for Ed, they said there’s another Justin Long out there who may get the rights to my name, and that if he did, I would then have to change my own. I played with the idea of being Justin J. Long as a dumb personal homage to Michael J. Fox, who was my hero growing up. My name is so porny that you would just think it’s a pseudonym, but it’s not. Tragically, I do have an uncle named Dick Long.

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Closed: May 6, 2012