Fantastic Fest Interview: Justin Long Sinks His Teeth Into Kevin Smith’s ‘Tusk’

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10686782_10154635213420311_4195454427841322118_nCole Clay // Critic

Justin Long, best known for his roles in ACCEPTED and LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD, is no stranger to Kevin Smith’s world. Having worked with him before in ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, Long showcases one of his strongest performances in the pleasantly ridiculous TUSK.

Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to sit down with Long before last night’s premiere at Fantastic Fest. We talked about going full walrus, the art of a good interrogation, revisiting the horror genre and the toll it takes on you.

Also check out our review of TUSK (here).

The movie has a lot of heart, and with the internet being an infinite sandbox of humor, was this a meta-way to say that this is what happens if we treat the world as a constant joke?

“Kevin [Smith] describes it as pushing towards whimsy. It happens for me when I’m stoned, and I know it happens for Kevin that I look at my notes I wrote that I thought were hilarious, or profound, and I look at them the next day and think, ‘Man, this is ridiculous. What was a thinking?’ But Kevin doesn’t have that next day; he is still stoned. ‘Yep, still looks goooood [inhales].'”

Right [Laughs]

“So, I think it is the result of somebody who not only functions in this capacity, he flourishes!”

I basically make a living asking questions, as does Wallace in the film. What qualities make for a good interrogator?

“Actually, that’s true. I think the key is alternating in between questions that are general and more specific. General questions can illuminate a lot of the specifics about a particular topic. There is a great book by Malcolm Gladwell called ‘Blink’ that uses a technique called ‘thin slicing’ that ables you to hone in on personalities within just a few minutes of meeting somebody.”

He wrote the book “Outliers” that I really enjoyed as well.

“Also, back to your question, a good story-teller has to be a salesman and Michael Parks is that completely. I always felt that Vince Vaughn is a good story-teller because he is the best salesman I know. He is a great rapid fire speaker. That is the direction I wanted to go with my character.”

Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton in Kevin Smith's TUSK. Photo courtesy of A24.

Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton in Kevin Smith’s TUSK. Photo courtesy of A24.

When I left this movie, I felt more heartbreak and empathy than anything else. What are some tear-jerking films that have resonated with you?

“I love movies so much, so it’s hard to say. But lately I have been on this 1960s and 70s kick, going back and watching the movies I have never got around to seeing for some reason, like DOG DAY AFTERNOON and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. It’s cliche, but they really don’t make them like that anymore. In terms of effectively making me cry, it had to be earlier this year with BOYHOOD”

Man, that movie really hit home for me growing up in Texas.

 “Ya know, the truth is I am actually pretty soft.”

Speaking of Richard Linklater, did you see Wiley Wiggins downstairs?

“No! Wiley lives around here, though. Man, that movie, DAZED & CONFUSED, just gets me full of pure nostalgia. I go for the movies that I can watch a couple times a year, and it feels like hanging out with an old friend.”

Yeah absolutely. That’s kind of the whole point of why I go to the movies. Even with several of your films. For example, watching TUSK made me remember your role in JEEPERS CREEPERS.

“Oh My God. That’s so old. [Puts head in hands].”

It is so old, but man it’s a raw performance, and that translates into TUSK. I love it.

“The thing about that movie is I can’t believe that not only it came out, but that people are responding well to it. But it had a relatively low budget ($8 million) with no bankable stars. I was even just at the airport standing in line and the security guys – what are they called?”

THC?

“[Laughs] No. Gah, I can’t remember! [Pause] Oh, TSA! Anyway, they come up to me and they still bring up JEEPERS CREEPERS. But, that’s the only thing they say.”

Gina Philips and Justin Long play brother and sister in 2001's JEEPERS CREEPERS. Photo courtesy of United Artists.

Gina Philips and Justin Long play brother and sister in 2001’s JEEPERS CREEPERS. Photo courtesy of United Artists.

A lot of the terror in your voice seems to come from such a dark place of emotion in this film, and it has stuck with me. Was it tough re-tackling something like that?

“First of all, the actors in horror movies get zero credit for their performances. But I knew there wouldn’t be any real pats on the back, and that is always a little hard on the ego of an actor. But I forgot how exhausting it is to illicit that emotion, and when it’s all over you just want to sleep. There is something so fulfilling to know that you have just emptied yourself for the sake of the craft. I love that.”

So you didn’t hold ANYTHING back?

“No! You can’t! At a certain point in this movie I have to completely give myself over to this primal instinct. People ask if I did any method studying; what I did is I watched tons of Walrus footage while I was preparing for the role. Once I was in the zone, it’s all about trying to communicate my agony and pain for the camera which ended up being a cathartic experience.”

How many days did you have to suit up for that?

“I believe it was just five.”

How long was the shooting schedule? Like 22 days?

“No, it was 15 days in North Carolina, and then two with Johnny’s character.”

Is it a spoiler that Johnny Depp is in the movie?

“Well, not anymore!”

Whoops! I loved the line from the film, “this talisman is a draw-bridge to history.” It was so deep and above my pay-grade.

“Yeah, every time I watch TUSK I admire that line. It’s a wonderful way to articulate the haunting charm like in something so mundane as a thrift store item. I did find out that my dad had this little artifact from Catholic iconography that seemed so macabre and I could never get past the fact that this belonged to a human being. It never occurred to me until Kevin showed me the script that this is why I am so drawn to this idea.”

Michael Parks plays Howard Howe in Kevin Smith's TUSK. Photo courtesy of A24.

Michael Parks plays Howard Howe in Kevin Smith’s TUSK. Photo courtesy of A24.

You and Michael Parks go toe-to-toe as story-tellers in this film and are both typically the ones in control. Where did the juxtaposition of these two characters come from?

“My goal when we were shooting was to extricate as much information from this character as possible. Wallace (my character) is used to reporting on stories that are a little more superficial. And Howe (Michael Parks) has these stories that are so fantastic with all this historical relevance so it was always important to me to starkly juxtapose these two characters. One who speaks of something greater and the other is just looking to obnoxiously titillate people.”

That came across great in the film.

“Yeah, in a lot of ways Michael’s character is far more human than my character, even before the transformation. I can’t speak for Michael, but I found myself really putting it all out there.”

The most intimidating characters are ones who are in total control and I saw this quality in Wallace and Howe.

“Yeah, they are truly badass.”

In the early scenes, you are the gravitating force behind the film, and seeing those two characters collide was something special.

“Thanks, man.”

TUSK is playing in theaters now.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.

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