Interview with Justin Long (Matt Farrell)
It is almost twenty years since Bruce Willis first portrayed the enormously likeable and deeply flawed New York City Detective, John McClane. In 'Die Hard 4.0' he confronts his must ruthless and insidious adversaries so far, who are attempting to cripple the entire infrastructure of the United States - and throw the world into chaos.
Talented young actor, Justin Long joins Bruce Willis in the hotly anticipated Die Hard 4.0. Willis is back as legendary cop, John McClane, taking on his mostly deadly enemies yet: ruthless cyber terrorists, with the power and technical expertise to cripple the United States – spreading chaos across the globe. The wisecracking cop teams up with Long, who plays brilliant computer hacker Matt Farrell. Together the duo set out to stop the ruthless villains who are attacking the nation's infrastructure. Directed with flair and mastery by Len Wiseman, the thrilling action drama also stars Timothy Olyphant and Maggie Q.
What kind of guy are you at the start of the film?
I'm a freelance hacker and I am very amoral. I get hired out like a mercenary to do jobs and I never really ask questions. They pay me to do my work and I crack security codes. I've cracked one that the bad guys needed to complete their plan, I am reclusive but brilliant and I get inadvertently involved in a nefarious plot to take over world. John McClane, Bruce Willis's character comes to my apartment to pick me up and take me for routine questioning. At the same time, the bad guys are trying to kill me to cover their tracks and they intend to assassinate all the hackers who are involved in this plot. Bruce arrives - oddly enough at the exact time that they are trying to kill me, which is fortunate for me.
How much did you know about this technical field?
I was not an expert before starting this film, but the screenwriter was in touch with an actual hacker who he would correspond with and I was always getting pointers from him about the technical details. I am terrible at math and my mind doesn't work like that, so it was extremely difficult for me to even grasp what my lines meant. It was like a foreign language.
What was the most difficult line?
A mutating encryption algorithm. I would trip up over the very technical language a lot.
What is your on screen relationship with Bruce Willis?
We have a great dynamic. He ends up becoming my protector, but he also needs my help to unravel this terrible plot, because he knows nothing about the modern world and the internet and I know nothing about being a man and using my fists and defending myself, so we have a symbiotic relationship. He's the old school analog and I'm the technical, savvy geek. His daughter ends up getting kidnapped and then I end up getting kidnapped with her. There is some romance, but I don't want to give anything away.
Is Farrell the quintessential computer geek?
Well I guess he is nerdy, but more than that, he is hip and sarcastic, he gets the jokes, but he does not have experience with the ladies. He is holed up in his room the whole time in front of his computer screen and as a result he has no real life experience.
Were you a DIE HARD fan growing up?
I grew up in a Catholic, conservative family so my parents were strict about what movies we watched. I loved DIE HARD, but I did not see the uncut version of the original DIE HARD until I was older. I remember when I saw the film on TV as a kid, I never understood what McClane was saying when he said that famous line …'yippee kayee mother ……' Because they would cut out the curse words on TV so we never heard the word 'f…… '. I just didn't get that line. It really helps a lot when you add the 'f' word. But I really liked all the DIE HARD films.
Were you a big Bruce Willis fan?
I was, when they called me about the film I thought they joking at first. I never even get auditions for movies like this and it was just a thrill to get to go and audition with Bruce. I honestly thought that it was just a one shot thing, that I would do the audition and that would be the end. I thought I had no chance. So I wasn't nervous at all, I was actually quite excited to go in and meet him. My audition scene was very dynamic, my character was abrasive and there was a lot of shouting. I was so excited to be in the room with Bruce Willis and I fully expected to get the call a few days later saying: 'they are going with …… ' whoever . There are so many good, young actors and I saw several guys I knew at the audition. I think I just have a very low opinion of myself. I just assumed they would hire somebody better than me.
How did you find Bruce Willis?
He has a great presence, he is quiet and very cool and I remember thinking that first time, that he looked like an eagle, bald and in great shape. He was regal and just cool, but also down to earth. He said 'how are you doing' and I was disarmed by him from the start.
So when you got the job, how thrilling was it for you?
It was a thrill. Bruce called me himself and I was so excited, I kept the message on the machine. He said 'Justin Long – Bruce goddam Willis here, how the hell are you?' he was so laid back and said he was glad we were working together, he said 'I can't wait' and I shouted 'that's the coolest thing ever', I couldn't believe it and I played that message like a nerd for all my friends. I was such an idiot. At the same time I had been offered a role in a romantic comedy, playing opposite a romantic starlet, so I had two great offers. I chose DIE HARD because I never ever thought I'd get to do this kind of action movie with Bruce Willis. What a chance of a lifetime? He is so iconic.
Can you talk about the action in the film?
A lot of my involvement in the action meant guttural reactions to what was going on all around me. I didn't do anything heroic. We will get shot at and Bruce would throw me behind something to save me. I have an arc as the film progresses, but during the journey I do become more of a man and pick up a gun. For most of the movie though, I am reacting in the way that anyone would react and I tried to put myself into Farrell's situation. It was very difficult to relate to Farrell, because I have never been in a dangerous situation like that, I don't know what it is like to be shot at, and I don't know what it's like to jump out of an exploding apartment. At the end I do get a shoot a guy, but he's not a very important guy, he is henchman number four. But it was cool and I had been looking forward to it after months of being on the sidelines. We were doing the scene and I thought it would be funny to say 'yabba dabba doo mother f….' . I don't know if they will use it though.
Was it scary at all doing the tough action scenes?
It was like doing a horror movie, there was a heightened sense of fear that I felt. You can only really conjure up those emotions by running, or somehow building up your adrenalin. A lot of it for me was very physical, I liked using anything real that I could. For example, I always wanted them to shoot the blanks and I didn't like using earplugs because I wanted everything to be as life like as possible. So every time the gun would go off, I would get a natural jolt of adrenalin and fear. When the guns were pointed at us, there was a terror that gripped me. It was not difficult to act some of those scenes, though doing them over and over again was painstaking and quite exhausting.
What were some of the most exciting moments?
The first big scene for me is when my apartment gets ripped to shreds. It is very violent, the bad guys tear it up with machine gun fire and that is when Bruce saves me. We are constantly dodging bullets. There is also a great scene in the cop car, when they are escorting me to the FBI and the bad guys are flying a helicopter that is hovering right in front of us. And a guy is shooting at us and they really tear up the windshield. Bruce is very meticulous and conscientious about safety though, he really took care of me and looked out for me, telling me which way to turn my head or move. If you look the wrong way you get stuff in your eye, you can easily get injured.
Did you have to train for the film?
I was already in good shape because I had been working out for a film about a runner, but basically, I just had to be generally fit, because Bruce did most of the big stunts. A lot of my involvement in the big action set pieces was being the cheerleader. I was the guy on the sidelines going: ' look out look out! Oh my god!' And he was doing everything. At one point, crazy things were happening with a massive explosion and I shouted: 'Did you see that?' I was 100 feet away and he was in the midst of it, so it was a stupid thing to say. He would probably be thinking: 'What do you mean did I see that – it happened to me'.
What was it like getting to know Bruce and working with him?
He is the movie. No one knows the character better or the genre and Len Wiseman, the director, recognized that as well. I would go to Bruce for advice on how to play a scene and he was very forthcoming with ideas. He was very good at giving advice on technical details, everything. He is so good at acting within exciting action scenes and making it look organic. That is difficult when there is so much going on all around. He knows how everything will be cut and I learned a lot just by watching him and observing his style. He is so relaxed, the opposite of me. He would say 'calm down'. I really liked and respected his style and I was in awe of him, he would slip in and out of character easily. Whereas I am so pretentious, I have to stay focused and concentrate on the scene. Bruce can call 'action' and jump right in. I am preparing for the action by running in place and doing jumping jacks. He doesn't need to do that.
Q; What was it like working with Timothy Olyphant?
He was funny – very funny. He had classic bad guy lines and he would say them and sometimes it was impossible not to laugh, I couldn't help it. He plays such a hard-core villain, you know, with lines like 'I'll shoot you in the face and you'll be dead' and I would just crack up. And Bruce would crack up too, we definitely had a lot of fun and laughs.
Was acting a dream for you as a child?
When I was kid, there were phases when I wanted to be a priest or a biologist. I had many different plans. Then I really wanted to be a professional football player. It was in high school that I realized that my dream of being a footballer was not very realistic and was not going to materialize, because you need to have some sort of athletic prowess to do that, which I did not possess. You can't be 4 foot 9 and weigh 89 pounds and be a football star. So I started to get interested in acting and discovered that it was a great way to meet girls and in high school that is all you think about. That was all I thought about anyway. My older brother was in school plays and I would visit him back stage and see how many girls were there and that there was not a lot of competition, because there weren't many boys. And a lot of the boys didn't even like girls. So that got me really interested. I hate to admit that is why I began acting, but it is true. I felt better about that reason when I read an interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman and he said that was why he had started acting too.
Did you know you had talent?
I knew I could be funny and make people laugh. And at school I was always the class clown. We would often get into fake fights and I could really take a punch and I would hurl my body over chairs and desks, I could throw my body around for some reason and take a lot of pain. It is interesting - my dad, who is a philosophy professor and very academic and cerebral, actually came to visit me on the set of DIE HARD and he said with a mix of sadness and pride, 'well those acts you used to do in high school and those fake fights – I never thought they would pay off for you or be useful. I always thought you should be doing your homework and studying Latin, who knew that the real pay off would come from being a clown?' He told me he was very proud of me.
And what made you pursue acting seriously when you were younger?
When I got to college and was studying philosophy, I just fell in love with acting. I remember having moments when I would be on stage and I would walk off stage and people would ask how it went and I would have very little recollection of what had happened. It was great, because I would just lose myself there in the moment, when I was performing. It was the best feeling that I had ever felt and I dropped out of school because of that and said 'this is what I want to do, I want to be an actor.'
Your mother is an actress, was she a big influence on your choice of career?
I am sure a lot of my interest came from my mom, she did a lot of theater in New York, but I never, ever thought I would get to be in a movie. My idea of acting was working in the theater. So I am very grateful for all my jobs. I know that at the moment there is a bit of a window of opportunity for me to make smart choices. I have been very lucky so far and really happy that I have had the chance to work on interesting films, but I still always feel that every job is going to be my last. I know other actors feel that too because nothing is guaranteed. But I love what I do so I hope I can continue for a long time.