‘Lady of the Manor’: Justin Long and Christian Long Talk Their Supernatural Buddy Comedy with Christian Long – No Relation (INTERVIEW)

Lady of the Manor is the kind of lighthearted comedy romp harkening back to the slightly more carefree days of 80’s summer cinema. It stars Melanie Lynskey as Hannah, a part-time weed dealer/full-time stoner who ends up in one of those classic comedy sendups: losing everything important to you in the span of a few hours. Before long, she’s roped into hosting tours at Wadsworth Manor, a local historic landmark. Which also happens to be haunted by Lady Wadsworth, played by Judy Greer.

What ensues is a delightful romp with its mismatched leads, both of whom are a fish out of water. Hannah because her stoner ways are appalling to Lady Wadsworth, who herself is out of place because she’s, well, a ghost. Along the way, the two cause a myriad of hijinks. The film’s co-writers and co-directors, brothers Justin Long and Christian Long (who happens have the same name as me), spoke last week about making their feature film debut as a team, the 80s comedies that inspired their work, and the joys of meeting your name twin.

My name twin. Finally.

Christian Long: You sound a little bit like me.

Justin Long: YES!

CL: We’re not that different.

Well, we have more in common than what separates us.

CL: Oh no. We dated the same girl?

JL: Similar sense of humor…

Not that I’m aware of. Anyway, I suppose we should talk about what made Lady of the Manor the first project you two decided to not only collaborate on but also be the first foray into writing and directing a feature?

CL: I would say the simple answer is people let us make it, which is always helpful. People gave us money to make it. But we tried to come up with an idea that was small and scope that we can make for a relatively small budget, but could potentially feel like a bigger, commercial movie. 

And we love buddy comedies, those were our favorite movies growing up, from Laurel and Hardy to, Planes, Trains and Automobiles to What About Bob?, so we felt very comfortable in that genre and we thought it’d be fun to see two women [in one]. We’ve seen two men in that type of movie so many times before, but we thought it might be fun to see two women in this. We originally conceived of it taking place in one house, in the manner, and it was more limited, but it ended up being a bit more than that.

JL: We were looking at elements that would allow us, like Christian said, to make it. I mean, there was the practical hurdle of just getting the money getting somebody behind it. And between us we knew a lot of really talented actresses who we thought might be into the idea.

Speaking about knowing all these actresses who could potentially take one of the two leads, there’s this sort of Christopher Guest ensemble vibe here. You get the sense that everyone sort of knows each other off-screen. It’s filled with people you’ve seen in ‘that one thing.’ What did casting these characters look like?

CL: It helps to know people and to trust people’s sensibilities. So, even though just Justin had only worked briefly with Melanie Lynskey, he learned very quickly that she was a very funny person. And obviously, everyone knows she’s a great actress and Judy was on our podcast, and again, there was an instant chemistry between Justin and Judy and. And Ryan we loved from MacGruber. We thought he handled being the straight man in that movie so brilliantly. Then Louis Guzman was a friend. So, yeah, I would say it varied the reasons why people were cast, but the common link was we trusted all of them with the material.

JL: Well, also, because it was low budget, we knew that we’d be pressed for time, having to move so fast and having a limited amount of takes. But we also needed people who weren’t only good actors, but were patient and game and, you know, fun to be around. It took me a long time to learn how important that is, especially on a lower-budget movie. If you have somebody who’s kind of troublesome or any sort of diva behavior on a lower budget movie… it really impinges… [to Christian] Impinges? Really impinges the ability to move. That was part of it too. We really wanted people who were easy to work with. I mean, they were all so game. And they didn’t have big trailers to go back to it. It wasn’t a cushy job for them, and they were also patient. Especially Melanie, she was breastfeeding at the time. She was so depleted from that and having to do that and having to work it into the schedule. I mean… we’ll always be in her debt for how much she gave to this.

With those limited takes, how important was sticking to the script? Especially when you’ve got a talented roster of players like this, was there room for any last-minute changes or spontaneous ideas on-set?

CL: We definitely weren’t adamant about people sticking to the script by any means, but at the same time, because we had such a limited amount of time and we only had time for, you know, two or three takes per person, we wished there had been even more time to play around and explore and try different things. But within this tight window of time we had, the actors felt very comfortable to change things here and there, if something didn’t feel right coming out of their mouth.

JL: Sometimes we had so many limitations on this, but I think some of what we tried to do, and I hope we succeeded, is use those to our advantage. And I think the limited amount of time, we used that in that way. I think we put more pressure on ourselves to get the script right, to make sure it was as tight as it could be. We worked, during pre-production, every night we went home. We were really diligent about the script and that’s also always the best place to improvise from. And all of those actors were so good at it. I mean… Melanie, and Judy is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Ryan has very funny instincts. But I think they felt confident about the script and, so they weren’t going off too far. It wasn’t, as you say, improv from necessity, it was just bonus stuff. And we did get some great bonus stuff from, from all of them, especially Judy. Because her part, I think, was probably slightly underwritten. It just wasn’t the funniest, she was playing the straight woman, and she made that so much funnier than it was on the page.

There’s a natural funniness to her, but she’s in total control of it. You see her in something like Halloween, it’s not there. But when the situation calls for it, she’s hysterical.

CL: When she wants to be funny, she can turn it on like nobody else.

JL: She’s present. She plays the intention of the scene. Those are my favorite people to watch improvise because it doesn’t feel like they’re going off story at all. It doesn’t feel like they’re going outside. It doesn’t feel like they’re looking for laughs. That was another thing that was really important to us: the movies that we love, the movies that inspired us, you talk about Christopher guest movies, Waiting for Guffman is one of our favorites. Those movies, what they have in common, I think, is that they all feel so real. I mean, as outrageous as some of the characters are… like Corky St. Claire is such a real person, you know. They’re very grounded actors. So that’s what we were really looking for with the acting is to keep it grounded, natural.

Melanie has absolutely those same characteristics too. I knew I’d seen her on-screen before but I couldn’t place it. When I went back and saw she was in Heavenly Creatures, you realize the incredible range she has, too. I don’t want to call her a scene-stealer, as that would be an insult to everyone else, but she definitely holds her own against some comedy vets here.

CL: I would say she’s a scene-stealer. I mean…

JL: She’s a script stealer!

CL: I’m so happy she was our lead actress. There’s no one else I could picture playing that part, because there’s something potentially unlikeable about that character and the audience has to root for her for the movie to work. And Melanie brings such natural charm and likability to the character, it really makes it easy to root for her, I think. And that’s what the movie needed, I think.

JL: That’s such a rare thing for an actor to possess. That’s a thing like you can’t be taught in acting school. I don’t think you can really write that — and if you can, we didn’t — that’s, that’s just a person’s innate charm that, that Melanie has in spades, She’s just so likable and sweet and charming. And so to Christian’s point, even when she’s doing these kind of unlikable, unsavory things, you root for her.

Well, I’m about out of time. It was great to finally meet you, Christian.

CL: Likewise, you’re my Christian Long that I’ve ever met, this is very exciting.

Same for me.

JL: Oh, really? You’ve never met a Christian Long?

I’ve rarely met another Christian, let alone a Christian Long.

CL: Yeah, I’ve only met a few in my life. It’s rare. It’s not a very common name.

JL: It’s true.

It is an uncommon name.

CL: It’s very exciting. And it’s probably won’t happen again for the rest of my life.

JL: Wow. That’s cool. I’m glad it was recorded.

CL: And I feel I like it worked out. We’re getting along.

Yeah, I had a great time.

JL: It was nice to watch.

CL: Oh really? Did you feel like an outsider? Being a Justin?

JL: Yes.

Lady of the Manor is currently available in Select Theaters, on Digital and On Demand, as well as on Blu-ray and DVD. Find out more here.

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