Justin Long Discusses Barbarian Amid Horror Movie’s Streaming Release

Dec 27, 2022

Just in time for Halloween, Barbarian is now available on streaming platforms. For fans of horror laced with some edgy humor, the acclaimed new film from writer-director Zach Cregger is not to be missed. Even if a sequel or prequel may not be in the cards, that shouldn’t deter viewers from tuning in to this unique twist on the typical cinematic fright fest. When the film kicks off, we follow rom-com-type characters played by Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård who meet for the first time after both booking the same AirBnB for the same time. As the two attempt to figure out what caused their double booking, they decide to both stay in the house overnight before figuring out the issue in the morning.

The two quickly learn that the house they are staying in is not what it seems — and just as we’re scared senseless, none other than Justin Long enters the picture and sinks his teeth in perhaps his finest role to date. We recently caught up with the actor, who’s usually the one playing said rom-com-type characters. In Barbarian, he takes an entirely new persona.

Subverting Expectations and Tackling Horror

MW: Going back to square one, what drew you to this project in particular?

Justin Long: I had never read a script that seemed to break the rules of scriptwriting like that. I thought it was so bold and was written so naturally. The dialogue seemed to just flow. It was clearly written by somebody who had an ear for the way people speak. I just thought it was so unique and terrifying. I was so engaged with it when I first read it, and that’s so rare, for me to get scripts like that, I think for any actor. The first 25 or so pages read like a very well-written rom-com, which that alone is hard to do. I mean, I know I tried to write those scripts, and it’s very difficult to write realistically, two people falling for one another. It sounds like it’d be a simple thing or an easy thing, but it really isn’t. It really requires sensitivity to the way people speak. And it’s hard to be original. You know, every meet-cute has been done for the most part. And so just that alone, I remember being really struck by.

And then, when it takes that turn, that real 180, I even got confused. I remember, I had to look at the email from my agents a couple of times to make sure. I thought there had been a mistake, that he wanted me to play the rom-com guy who dies early on, and then Bill Skarsgard was going to play more of the character part. And I was so relieved to find, as I’m sure Bill was, to find that we were being asked to do things that neither of us seem to have as many opportunities to do. So it was a real blessing.

MW: Yeah, given Bill Skarsgård’s experience with the It movies, we’re like, “OK, I think I know where this is going…”

Justin Long: Yeah! Zach [Cregger] really plays on those expectations and subverts them, I think, so effectively. And he’s talked about his own casting choice, to cast me, that he felt like it was subverting people’s expectations of whatever they have of me. So whatever the reason for the casting, I was really grateful to be asked.

Related: Exclusive: Barbarian Clip Goes Behind the Scenes with Justin Long and Director Zach Cregger

On Character Acting

Regency Enterprises

MW: Given your experience in the Jeepers Creepers franchise, and then the Tusk movie, which it sounds like there’s going to be another one, but having been in those horror movies. did you sort of feel extra prepared going into Barbarian?

Justin Long: Well, I definitely feel more comfortable than I did in the past with high-stakes scenes. And that’s what horror movies have a lot of, you know? It’s life-and-death stuff, and it requires kind of like a full-body performance, I guess. And that, I suppose I was comfortable with. I wasn’t afraid of any of that stuff except for the scenes that were specific to a character who had done something so heinous, you know? It wasn’t the “gross stuff,” with the breastfeeding or the rat — which got cut — like any of that stuff in the tunnels. I felt like I could somewhat relate to, whether it was claustrophobia or just a fear of being in peril or, you know, being afraid for my life, that stuff that’s pretty universal. But it was the stuff that was specific to that character, when he’s examining the nature of what he had done to another person. Fortunately, I had no frame of reference for that. And so it was just about trusting Zach and trying to be present in that scene and imagining what that shame must feel like. But I was so happy to have the opportunity to explore that kind of darker element of the human psyche. I don’t get that opportunity very often, and so I was just grateful to be asked to be that component in the story.

My fantasy when I was a younger actor, the actors I loved were more character actors. They were like Phil Hoffman and Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn, Ellen Burstyn, the ones you can never really pin down. It’s hard to say, “Oh that’s that’s a classic Philip Seymour Hoffman performance!” They’re just all over the place. And so I relish the opportunity to play different characters. And this was certainly different.

The Small Screen and Future Projects


MW: I also loved your Netflix series Giri/Haji. There were so many different components to it. What was it like shooting overseas?

Justin Long: It’s funny, when I got the offer to do that, I was in Tokyo. And I read that it was being shot in Tokyo and in London. And again, it was such a different character than any one I played that I thought, “They must need an actor in Tokyo. They must need an American in Tokyo, and there are probably not that many American actors in Tokyo.” And they said, “No, all your stuff shoots in London. So you actually have to cut your trip short,” which I was happy to do because it was such a fun part. But I remember having just a couple of days to get ready for that. And I was playing the son of a Pittsburgh mobster. And I thought, “Well, I had been to Pittsburgh and spent time there, and they have a very unique accent.” It’s called a yinzer accent. But I thought it would be a fun chance because I love doing different voices. And I thought that’d be a fun chance to make it even more specific. And so I spent a couple of days watching stuff on YouTube and trying to get the accent down. And I pitched it to the director and the producers and stuff when I first got there. And I said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about this, making him more specific and giving him a little hint of it like.” Not a full-blown pitch because some of them have such thick accents that it’s hard to understand what they’re saying. And so I pitched it a little bit and did some of the lines in the accent. And they all said, “That sounds good to me.” And I realized they were all British, so they didn’t quite hear the difference. I could have really done anything! [laughs]

MW: I grew up reading Goosebumps. Is there anything you’d like to share about the upcoming series?

Justin Long: Oh man, we just started. The scripts are so good. Nick Stoller wrote the first one that we’re working on now. And he’s just such a gifted writer. The kids are also good. I mean, I’m playing the old guy, I’m playing the teacher. And it’s their show. It’s about these high school kids. And it’s my favorite kind of part because I get to come in and do some fun, weird kind of dark character stuff. So it’s such a joy as an actor, at this point in my career, to get to do that kind of stuff. So I think so far, so good.

I’m a little cautious to say anything specific because I feel like I’m gonna get shot in the neck with a dart, you know? [laughs] But it’s funny, I just kind of missed the books. I was just a little too old when the books became popular, but for anyone a little younger than me, anytime I mention it, they’re like, “Oh!” They really light up. So it’s, it’s cool to be a part of something like that, that people are already excited for. And it’s just a matter of doing it justice, really doing our job.

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