The 'Mac guy' is an actor, not a computer nerd
By Mary McNamara
Los Angeles Times
By Mary McNamara
HOLLYWOOD — Justin Long has an appointment to shoot some footage for the Web site of his upcoming movie "Accepted."
But over a quick bowl of soup, he dishes about having a half-dozen films in various stages of postproduction while, even as we speak, his pop-icon status grows with every "Get a Mac" TV spot released by Apple.
"If I had been egotistical about the movies, I have been brought back to earth," he says. "Nine out of 10 people who recognize me recognize me from the commercials."
Although he plays Jennifer Aniston's gallery co-worker in "The Break-Up," Long was previously best known for his role in the TV series "Ed" (unless you are a horror fan, and then it would be "Jeepers Creepers"). But now, as he prepares to ratchet up his film career (two of his movies, strangely enough, deal with Bigfoot — "What are the odds," he says with a laugh), he is fending off computer geeks who find his Mac guy either righteous or maddening.
"I had a guy come up to me, in my face, saying, 'You think you're so cool? You're not cool' and I'm saying to him, 'Dude, it's a commercial.' "
There have been seven spots so far, with Long playing the slacker-hip Mac guy to John Hodgman's nerdy PC guy, and there are almost 20 more in the can, guaranteeing that what is the hottest campaign on TV can last as long as the heat does.
"It's not even a good story," he says of how he came to embody a computer-obsessed demographic. "I got a call from my agent about it, and at first I was very wary. I was in this false arrogance, deluding myself that I was beyond that — 'I'm doing movies.' " He laughs sheepishly. "Seriously. I thought that. But I grew up in a house where my mom was a commercial actress; she made a living making commercials, so I recognize the value of them."
He learned that Phil Morrison was going to direct the spots, and that swayed him. "I loved 'June-bug,' " he says of the indie director's film. "It was one of my favorite films, my favorite type of film. And he wanted it to be very uncommercial, so I said, 'Yeah.' "
Long, a Connecticut boy who has been ambivalent about the fame part of the job since his breakout role as the young sci-fi geek in "Galaxy Quest," was shocked at how deeply affected people have been by the ads. "I didn't really know about computers," he says. "I didn't even have one — though I do now," he adds quickly, "a Mac, of course. But I was very surprised at how passionate people are about their computers."
The young actor is about to find out if he can carry a movie. "Accepted," which Universal will release next month, follows high-school loser Bartleby as his scheme to rig a Web site that will fool his parents into thinking he has been accepted into college backfires. When people actually begin enrolling, Bartleby and his best friend are forced to create their own university.
Although he has been a successfully employed actor for seven years, Long found life as the star quite an adjustment. Before filming started, he turned to some of his higher-wattage friends for advice and was pretty much floored by what they had to say.
"I'm asking 'How should I prepare for my character, what research should I do?' and they're saying, 'Sleep a lot, drink a lot of water, take care of your body.' " He snorts. "I thought they were just blowing me off."
"And then," he says, "about 10 days into the shoot, I got insanely sick. I mean, they had to have a medic on the set. It was highly embarrassing. I had to keep trying to convince the director that he hadn't hired some sickly weakling."
Now he understands what his friends were talking about: the 12- and 14-hour days are indeed a marathon, especially when you feel like you should be on the set even when you're not in a scene. But it was worth it, at least in this case, he says.
"I hate saying this, because it sounds very arrogant," he says, "but I saw it, and I love it. It reminded me of the movies I grew up with — you know, with John Cusack and Michael J. Fox, who is my hero. Now of course people will read this," he adds, "and say, 'How dare he compare himself to Michael J. Fox?' But those movies inspired me, and now I am doing things that remind me of them."
He's adjusting to life in Los Angeles. He came out two years ago for the standard reason — it's easier to get film work here — and has been following the standard industry arc: enthusiastic determination to hit every premiere or party in town followed by the realization that they are called industry parties because they are work.
"I used to go to premieres when I first got out here," he says. "Free popcorn, free soda, people knew me. ... Now it just feels like part of the job. Which makes me wonder if I am really cut out for this."