Beyond Vassar

A True Underdog Story

Before I actually spoke with Justin Long ’00, I had—through repeated failed attempts at reaching the busy actor—become acquainted with the unsettling outgoing message on his cell phone. After a few rings the loud, abrasive voices of Beavis and Butthead boom out of the receiver, informing the unsuspecting caller that, “Uh...heh heh, Justin’s not here right now.” I thought it was one of the better impressions I’d heard.

As it turns out, just a few months ago Long spent a couple days on the set of Idiocracy, the new Mike Judge film to be released later this year, playing a bit part as a doctor. After the day’s shooting was finished, some of the cast and crew went out for drinks, and Long got to ask Judge the one question that had been on his mind all day: “Hey, do people ever ask you to do their outgoing message on their phone?” He tried to broach the subject casually. “Yeah, sometimes. Why—do you want me to do yours?” “Yeah, if that’s cool with you.” And that’s the story of how Long got the actual voices of Beavis and Butthead on his phone message.

Such is life right now for the 27-year-old actor who, after winning a part in 1999’s Galaxy Quest, left Vassar before he graduated and has since appeared in a string of movies, including Jeepers Creepers (2001), Dodgeball (2004), and this year’s Herbie: Fully Loaded, playing opposite Lindsay Lohan. He also had a recurring role on NBC’s Ed.

Despite his aborted college career, Long still calls his days at Vassar “the clich�d best years of [his] life.” His time here “was more about what I learned outside the classroom. Most of my effort was concentrated on social life and plays.” Though he never earned a degree, Long credits Vassar with increasing his “ an actor.”

He left to concentrate on his career, always thinking he’d come back. “But things kept happening,” he says. Long, for instance, found himself playing romantic roles opposite two of the biggest young sex symbols of the last five years, Britney Spears (Crossroads) and Lohan (Herbie).

Crossroads ended up being a lesson in fame for Long. He had no experience with the kind of notoriety Spears possessed and didn’t realize that “any little bit of news about her was instant fodder for the tabloids.” He soon found a joking comment he made off the record in the headlines of gossip publications on both sides of the Atlantic. Long felt terrible, but as it turned out Spears had never even been aware of the controversy until Long apologized to her. “My first taste of public exposure,” quips Long.

When pressed on his role in Herbie, and the amount of time his character spends convincingly talking to a car, Long amiably jokes, “I’ve known some people that were not too far off personality-wise from a Volkswagen beetle.” But he knows Herbie is not groundbreaking cinema, conceding that “you have different reasons for making different movies.”

His main reason for making Herbie was that most of the characters he has played have been remarkably similar to each other—the goofy, nerdy, lovable underdog. “At Vassar,” says Long, “you could do tons of plays. It was your chance to explore the entire spectrum.... The reality of Hollywood is that there are so many actors out there you just end up getting typecast. I was just happy to be working.” Long says turning down such roles would have been “biting the hand that feeds you. The hand being my natural, nerdy self.” Still, he now hopes to expand a bit.

He is currently shooting a big-budget, major-studio film called Accepted, directed by Steve Pink, who worked on the screenplays for High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank. It will be Justin’s first attempt at being the “star” of a movie. As he focuses on that task, his thoughts are still not far from Vassar, which he has revisited a few times over the years to reminisce and fill the “Vassar void” created when he left early. He comes back because he’s “still not ready for the real world,” he speculates—“which is why it’s nice to be in Hollywood.”