Justin Long for “Accepted”

Justin Long, recovering from a cold, happily admits that at 28, he was more than reluctant to take on the role of a senior high schooled in the new comedy Accepted. “That was definitely a concern,” Long says in a Los Angeles hotel room.

Not that the young actor feels that he’s so mature and worldly at this point, “but I do feel like there’s just this inherent kind of innocence and naiveté that comes with being in high school and going into college and I feel that I feel somewhat jaded and a bit more understanding about things.”

But it was precisely that sense of cynicism and worldliness that the makers of the film wanted to convey, not your typical teenager. “The character had a different kind of perspective, a bit more of a sense about himself and his place, more so than the normal 18-year-old. I think that’s something that either comes from having experience and being older or once in a while you’ll have a rare sort of 18, 19-year-old who just has that kind of understanding.”

Given that perspective, Long says it was easier tapping into a character such as this. “But there were aspects that I just had to draw on my past experience, which entailed a lot of confusion about your place in the world and college. I feel as if there are moments throughout your life where you’re lost and kind of looking for some sort of direction and meaning.”

Long stars as Bartleby Gaines in Accepted, who discovers he’s been rejected from every college he’s applied to, so creates a fake university in order to fool his overzealous parents, a university that inadvertently becomes a refuge for hundreds of other rejected kids. More than just a typical adolescent outsider, Long sees Bartleby more as someone with “this sort of inherent kind of maturity I and I think that’s what makes him an outsider. I think he’s surrounded by a lot of apathy and detachment, he’s a bit of a nerd.”

Given his utter reluctance to do the film, and the extent to which the script changed during production, Long says he is more than pleasantly surprised as to how well the film turned out. “While we were shooting I had no idea, but because they let us do a lot of ad-libbing, a lot of what’s in the movie I’m very proud of because we wrote on the day, were doing rewrites and we made up a lot of stuff. Even some of the broader, shtickier set pieces that I kind of resisted doing, worked.”

It’s been quite a rollercoaster career for the actor, who initially established himself in the four-year sitcom, Ed, before scoring early big screen successes in the likes of Jeepers Creepers and Dodgeball. Never that interested in playing conventional leading men, Long says those kinds of characters had somehow seemed out of reach. “Even the rare occasion that I did have an audition for the leading guy, it would go to somebody with a name or somebody more recognizable. Also, it’s not as enjoyable for me to play that kind of character as I did in Waiting. Honest to God it was boring as hell, because to play cool or normal is not as interesting. I’d much rather play some like corny, nerdy, flawed guy who’s messed up, because it’s just more interesting and dangerous.”

Yet these days, Long says, opportunities are knocking louder than ever. “I feel like I have a weird moment right now where I have this window where things are opening up to me; but I want to make a conscious choice.” His dream career is to balance the weird and the mainstream, and for the latter, they don’t come bigger than his next project, to which he confessed during this interview. “It looks like I’m doing the new Die Hard movie, playing an amoral guy who becomes teamed up with Bruce Willis. If it works out, it’ll be cool.”

Long will first be seen in one of his more Indie films, The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang, which premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival. “It’s sort of a quirky kind of comedy about these kids who are really into fantasy and role playing games who kind of stumble into these legends like Bigfoot and UFOs.” And Long also got to work with Mike Judge on his much delayed Idiocracy. “Mike is sort of one of those big influences for me, from Beavis and Butthead. I love his work, so just to meet him and get to know him has been a thrill.”

It seems that Justin Long is finally ready, for acceptance into Hollywood’s big time.