Interview: Justin Long on His Character’s Vibrant, Hallucinogenic Journey in THE WAVE
Written by Carl W. Lucas, The Wave is a psychedelic science fiction comedy and the feature directorial debut from Gille Klabin. The extraordinary modern-day parable tells the story of a self-centered insurance lawyer Frank, played by Justin Long (Die Hard 4.0, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot), who is expecting to have the time of his life when he goes out on the town to celebrate an upcoming promotion with his co-worker Jeff, played by Donald Faison (Scrubs, Clueless).
Their plans take a bizarre turn when Frank is dosed with an unusual hallucinogen that completely alters his perception of reality, taking him on a kaleidoscopic adventure through board meetings, nightclubs, shootouts, and alternate dimensions. As Frank bounces between reality and fantasy, he finds himself on a quest to find a missing girl, himself, and his wallet. The Wave also stars Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), Katia Winter (Sleepy Hollow series), and Ronnie Gene Blevins (True Detective).
Dread Central had the pleasure of speaking with Justin Long about the intensity of his role in The Wave, his feverish, sometimes hilarious, scenes with co-star Donald Faison, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!
The Wave celebrated its world premiere at Fantastic Fest in 2019 and is heading to theaters and VOD on January 17th from Epic Pictures Group.
Dread Central: Why did you want to play Frank and what appealed to you the most about the script for The Wave?
Justin Long: I really felt an attachment to the story and the journey the character is on. I liked the message behind the movie about ambition and how that can cloud a person’s happiness and their ability to be happy. I just liked the message. The first thing that struck me was how real the dialogue felt, how it flowed really nicely, and how it had a really natural feel to it. I could tell that this person was well-versed in screenwriting and capturing the way real people talk, so that kind of drew me in. After I read it, I sat with it for a little bit and I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the message behind the movie about aspirational corruption.
DC: I think The Wave is colorful, profound, and energetic, and it’s also quite funny at times. Frank, the character you play, is forced to quickly transition from an extremely laid-back existence to being very unrestrained after taking a mysterious drug. How intense was it shooting the movie compared with the intensity we see on-screen?
JL: Yeah, as you said, he goes through these extreme things. What I liked about the story, and the challenge for me as an actor, was that the stakes were so high a couple of minutes into the movie. Ten or fifteen minutes into the movie, the story just goes from zero to sixty. This guy, after he’s taken the drug, is just on this nonstop ride. The stakes were consistently high throughout the movie, which can be exhausting, just because you’re playing in these scenes where the physiological effect the drug has on this guy is such that you have to maintain a very heightened state of being. There’s a hyper state of being. Your breathing changes, your blood is pumping faster, and there’s no way to fake that kind of stuff. You have to get your whole body into it. I wasn’t working in the fields, so it wasn’t that kind of exhaustion; it was a fun, creative exhaustion at the end of the day. I felt a real sense of being very fulfilled, but really tired [laughs].
DC: That’s what I was wondering, because it looks exhausting on-screen.
JL: That’s good! It should look exhausting and it should be exhausting. There’s no way to fake that. My job is to make myself present to whatever the situation is, and in this case, I was just having this conversation the other day on this podcast I’ve been doing called Life is Short, let me interject that plug; but I was asking them a question that I don’t like to be asked, not that I don’t like to get asked it, but it has such a simple answer, which is, “Which do you prefer? Comedy or Drama?” I was talking to Mira Sorvino and we were talking about Mighty Aphrodite, and she’s one of the few actors who has won an Oscar for doing a comedic role. When people ask me that, I often say, “Well, there’s no real difference.” I mean, I enjoy them both because it’s the same mechanism and you’re using the same set of tools to do them both.
She made a good point, which I totally agree with, which is that when you’re doing comedies, it’s less intense; it’s easier to maintain a sense of lightheartedness on set. There’s not as much pressure, God forbid, your emotions aren’t there; you’re not able to connect with something. But like you said, in this movie there are elements of both. Some of my favorite stuff to do is when he was really tripping and he has to go see the drug dealer, and he has to hide the fact that he’s tripping. When you’re not in control because of some foreign substance, the challenge is to present yourself as if you are in control. That to me is really funny. It was an interesting mix of comedy and drama in some of those scenes and I really enjoyed doing that. I really enjoyed having to commit that fully and the comedic value that some of those scenes have.
DC: You and Donald Faison have some crazy, and sometimes hilarious, scenes together. What was it like working with him, Sheila Vand, and the rest of the cast?
JL: Donald and I have known each other for a long time. We didn’t hang out often, but the few times we would hang out, we were completely with each other. He’s one of those people I really see and I really love being around, if that makes any sense. It’s just rare for me. But then again, I’ve seen him have that affect on other people. He’s just one of those rare, charming people who everyone gravitates toward. He’s somebody who walks into a room and people want to be around. He’s got such a great spirit and light and he’s very generous with it. He’s a big, lovable bear of a guy. So, I was so excited when he agreed to do this.
I knew it was going to be so easy to have a friendship onscreen with him because it’s so easy in life. And he’s such a good actor. He doesn’t change when the cameras turn on. He’s just a really solid, natural actor. And Sheila Vand, I hadn’t met, but she had, I think, the most challenging part in the movie. You can’t really find that character in life. There isn’t a real frame of reference in life for a character like that who exists in this strange dreamscape and may or may not be real. So, as an actor, I imagine she had a difficult time answering some basic Acting 101 questions about who her character was. Despite that, I think she was still so present and good.
I think Ronnie Blevins is a brilliant character actor. I think he’s one of the best that I’ve ever worked with. The part of the drug dealer could have so easily been a cliché. You’ve seen that character before; it wasn’t written as anything special or different and that can often lead to some melodramatic acting. Ronnie found the humor, and even the warmth in the guy, and how fucked up he was, but he played him in such a real way. He really fleshed out that character and we were so lucky to have him. Katia Winters is a gracious Swedish actress. She doesn’t really show it in the movie, because it’s not the part, but she’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. She has an incredible sense of humor. So, it was just a joy to be on set. You never know. It’s such a crapshoot when you work on a movie like that and fortunately, we got really lucky with the cast. They were all just so fun and committed to this thing.
DC: Aside from the comedic elements, The Wave has a vital, metaphysical message. What are your thoughts on karma and the universe correcting itself?
JL: [laughs] That is a really good question, but it’s such a heavy question and one that might require me to take some Ayahuasca, or at least smoke a little weed and sit with it a couple of hours to answer properly [laughs]. I don’t know. I don’t know that I can encapsulate my thoughts on it. I’ve organized my thoughts about karma and the universe. I think it would require a little bit more time, but that’s a very pretentious way of saying, “I don’t know [laughs].”
DC: [laughs] Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but do you agree with the message in the movie or do you have different thoughts?
JL: Yeah, I think what I really connected to, and what I think is of value, is the idea that we have to humanize everyone and consider everyone’s histories and damage and see them as people. This guy happened to be stuck doing a job where he wasn’t able to do that. If anything, it was in conflict with the job he had, to see these people as human beings, rather than numbers. I think that’s very common of people in certain corporate positions who put money above all other things. I don’t think he’s a bad person; I just think he got stuck doing a job and had ambitions that were leading him down a very selfish path.
DC: Can you tell me what you’re working on next?
JL: I’m actually directing my first movie with my brother. My brother Christian and I have been writing together for years. We have several web series on our website theothercabin.com. So, this will be our first feature and we’re really excited. We’re going to shoot in Tampa, Florida in January and February. It’s an odd couple comedy about two women, one of whom is a flapper, stoner character, and the other one is the ghost of a very proper, Southern woman from the Civil War era. I’m very excited about that. I also have a series on Netflix called Giri/Haji, that was on BBC and will be on Netflix in January, that I love. It’s just a really fun, epic gangster series about the Yakuza in London and British gangsters. I play the only American. It was such a great cast to be a part of and a great experience. And then I have the podcast I’ve been doing, also with my brother, called Life is Short. Some fun stuff.