He’s Just Not That Into You is by far February’s biggest movie—a romantic comedy stuffed with stars like Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Scarlett Johansson, and Ben Affleck and based off of a wildly popular book, which grew out of an equally hyped episode of Sex and the City. Which means that a whole new cadre of American women will be introduced to Justin Long (otherwise known as “the guy from the Mac commercials” and from Waiting and Zach and Miri Make a Porno). He plays Alex, the romantic lead and dominant male voice in the film, who can’t seem to commit to one woman. Alex does, however, take it upon himself to help Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) learn that men never give any mixed signals—when they aren’t calling, it means they don’t want to call. He says there are no exceptions to this rule. Of course, he makes Gigi the exception later on in the film—but it wouldn’t be a rom com without a healthy dose of unrealistic fantasy. We caught up with the newly single (post-Drew Barrymore) Justin to discuss his thoughts on romance, his fervent love for Sam Rockwell, and what he thinks about Steve Jobs.
Hi Justin. How’s it going?
I’m doing a voiceover for an animated film today and I love it. But...we had the premiere the other night, and it was sort of a late night for me, so I’m not necessarily in tiptop shape right now to be doing work.
So basically you’re telling me you’re hungover.
Where are you getting that? You’re really stretching there, you’re really reading between…ok, yes. I’ve just been working hard, and one night of celebration is allowed.
He’s Just Not That Into You presents a fairly harsh image of women at times, as oversensitive, overanalyzing, and kind of terrible. Do you really think women are that crazy/pathetic/insane?
You know, a couple of people have mentioned this, and I want to say that there are characters in the movie that are not necessarily presented as much as the wanting-to-be-with-a-man women. But those women aren’t desperate; that’s not the right term. I think it’s hopeful. Ginny [Goodwin]’s character in particular is someone who is just filled with so much love, and wants to find someone she can give that to.
Ginny pulls it off because she is such a good actress, but beyond that, Ginny naturally has such a big heart, and so much love. And people like that are more desperate to share that love and do something with it. I’m closer to that. I go through cynical periods, but when I jump in, I’m in. And sometimes my heart will betray my head.
But you have to admit that if Ginny’s actions were reversed, and a man was doing what she does in the film—endless phone calls, minor stalking, checking for messages every 30 seconds—we might have a restraining-order situation.
You know what’s funny, I find myself relating to most of the characters, and Ginny is included in that. Men go through the same things that women do—so had the male perspective been more represented in the film, that may have split that up a little bit, I agree. But I’ve been on both sides of the fence.
I’m 30 years old; I’ve grown out of my random hookup phase. I’m not a very good single guy. I can’t get numbers. It’s not in my nature.
So you’ve been a man with no dignity?
Absolutely, oh my god. Shockingly, I wasn’t the coolest kid growing up. I was a tiny kid, a late bloomer, and the runt. I was 4 feet, 10 inches going into high school, and I weighed 89 pounds. There was only one kid smaller than me, Judy Loschun, in my entire grade. So I had a lot of those issues to deal with, and my family was very Catholic and didn’t talk a lot about sex or dating.
So you were hung out to dry, sounds like.
I was definitely on my own there. But when I figured it out, that was it, I hit the ground running. But along the way, you know, that’s what life is about, getting your heart broken and putting it back together and giving it to someone else. It’s in a constant state of flux, and I guess the goal is to find someone you can just keep doing it with, keep fluxing with.
Why did you think Alex ended up wanting to flux with Gigi? They didn’t seem to have much in common until the end?
Well, I know Ginny, and in real life she is ridiculously charming and sweet and hilarious. So maybe it was easier for me to organically like her. But Alex is a guy who clearly has women issues and has been dealt heartbreak of his own and has emotionally detached from women so as to not get hurt again. And he invests in some way, even if it’s just on the surface, just helping this girl. He’s making out with a beautiful woman one night, and Ginny’s character calls, and he picks up! That’s big.
So that’s a sign: Men don’t pick up when they are with another woman unless they really like you.
That’s absolutely true.
Wait, I’m confused now. Isn’t the whole movie about how there are no signs? OK, here’s the thing. There always has to be exceptions, because something as ambiguous as love cannot be restricted by some rigid set of rules. I think love is limitless and by its very nature it's undefined, and so to try to define it or ascribe a set of outlines or regulations to it is sort of pointless. But in terms of meeting someone, there are always signs, that’s all we do as human beings.
Have you been on both sides? Have you made it clear to a girl that you’re just not that into her?
I’ve had the rejection of rejection—you know, when you in the most possibly nice way try to break up with someone and they will just deny that it ever happened? You say, “I’m so sorry it's not working out,” and ten minutes later the person says, “No, but I’m so glad we talked!”
You’ve dated a lot of actresses—Drew Barrymore, Kirsten Dunst—does dating within the industry have its perks?
I work so much that I don’t go on dates. I’m 30 years old, I’ve grown out of my random hookup phase. I’m not a very good single guy. I can’t get numbers. It’s not in my nature. I have to know someone before I jump in, and there’s no better way than working together and sharing the same interests. It just happens naturally. I’m definitely a relationship guy. I’m OK on my own, it’s good to go through a period of self-examination. But I thrive when I’m with another person. I love trips to Target and the farmers’ market.
Are you unhappy to be single again now?
No, not every character gets a quintessential happy ending. I think sometimes just being on your own is happiness. And you can make as many masturbation jokes off of that as you want.
You’re doing more dramatic films this year ( Youth in Revolt, Drag Him to Hell), as opposed to your comedy work.
Yes, but I’m not like Daniel Day-Lewis, obviously. Or actually, I taught him all his tricks.
I heard him say the inspiration for There Will Be Blood was the Mac Guy.
Yeah, that’s been a really good deal for me.
Are you thinking a lot these days about Steve Jobs' illness?
I haven’t been asked about that! I don’t have any inside information or anything. It’s not like you can pause on set and say, 'Hey, one quick question!' But my heart goes out to him and his family.
I love doing the ads, they are fun, and they’re not hard. John does all the heavy lifting. In fact, I’m jealous of him because he gets to do all the fun stuff while I stand there and do a variation of the same three things. The hammy actor part of me is always more excited to play John’s character, the underdog. It’s always better.
But can you stand being called “Mac Guy” everywhere you go?
I had a moment where there was a part of it that bothered me, but that came and went. I really don’t care. There’s nothing really all that bad about being called Mac Guy. The one concern I’ve had is that it would affect what kind of movies I could do or how I was perceived in the industry, but it hasn’t been a problem. People can call me whatever they like. There’s not all that much in a name, anyway.
Do you have actors out there whose careers you covet?
The guys I love are Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sam Rockwell’s my favorite actor, I think he’s the greatest of his generation. Only thing is, you can’t identify him from one role to another—he’s a good friend of mine, and we’ll be walking around and people will stop us, because I’m the Mac Guy, and people will give Sam Rockwell the camera to take a snapshot. It’s amazing to me, because he’s so great, and I learn something from watching him.
What did you watch to prepare for HJNTIY?
Ha—I watched a lot of Vince Vaughn films. This was a guy that was very straightforward, matter of fact, a stronger Vince-type character. This was a very different opportunity, I’d never been a romantic lead before. I have to thank Drew for recognizing that—I never got to even audition for parts like that.
Any parting shots to the ladies?
I just hope the movie opens productive conversations about dating—we are all trying to figure it out, and it’s hard to navigate the strange murky waters of relationships. I hope this movie helps that cause a bit, it honestly did for me, and I’m not kidding. That’s when you know you’re doing a job you really love—when you’re being healed while doing it.
Rachel Syme is culture editor of The Daily Beast.
Correction: This article originally reported that Long appeared in Pineapple Express. It has been updated.