Why Justin Long and his brother wanted to make a buddy comedy about a ghost

Lady of the Manor
Justin Long as Max in ‘Lady of the Manor.’
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Justin Long isn’t a stranger to comedy, and audiences aren’t a stranger to his comedic chops either. The 43-year-old actor has starred on both the big and small screens in multiple successful features— ‘Accepted,’ ‘Waiting’ and ‘Dodgeball,’ just to name a few—and also has launched a popular podcast with his brother Christian, whom he also teamed up with for his writing and directorial debut.

Justin Long and Writer/Director Christian Long on the set of ‘Lady of the Manor’. Brian James/Lionsgate

Long and his brother’s first feature film, ‘Lady of the Manor,’ —which Long also stars in—follows Hannah (Melanie Lynskey), who we first meet toking up on her couch while in between jobs (aka running weed for a drug dealer.) It’s during one of those runs that her life inevitably changes. We will spare the details for the comedic value of the film, but the ordeal lands Hannah in a new job as a tour guide at Wadsworth Manor, currently run by the Wadsworth family’s very grown, but very spoiled son Tanner (Ryan Phillippe.) It’s at the Manor, which she now lives and works in that she meets the ghost of Lady Wadsworth herself (Judy Greer) who is floored by Hannah’s performance of her during the tour. It’s the dichotomy and relationship of Greer’s prim and proper Lady Wadsworth with Lynskey’s laid-back, no rules Hannah that ultimately launches the story.

‘Lady of the Manor’ however was born in much of the same way that we meet Hannah—with a fresh bowl packed.

“My brother and I had been making a lot of shorts and were looking for an idea that would work for a feature….We would smoke a little bit and get stoned and then the next day, we would look at the notes and see the ‘brilliant’ ideas from the night before—and most of them are nonsense—but there was one that we kept coming back to,” explains Long.

That idea was what Long describes as the comedic version of ‘Psycho.’ One where Norman Bates’ mother didn’t cause him to be the murderous villain we all know, instead, she was just overbearing: Reminding him of his manners, correcting his wrongdoings and generally, just being a mom. That idea paired with the Long brothers’ love of buddy comedies is where the script for ‘Lady of the Manor’ began to form. Then they took that formula and penned the two main roles for women.

“It was less to do with a ghost comedy and more to do with just that traditional formula of an odd couple,” continues Long. “We got so lucky. Judy had been on our podcast so we had her in mind and we were struck with how funny she was and how quick. I love to improvise and she is one of the best I had ever seen in terms of her improv abilities and how inventive she is. We needed somebody who could bring some improv and bring an innate comedic sense to that part…Judy really did, she made that part so much funnier than it was written.”

Judy Greer as Lady Wadsworth and Melanie Lynskey as Hannah in ‘Lady of the Manor’. Courtesy of Lionsgate

We meet Lady Wadsworth at the beginning of the film back in the 1870s with her husband (also portrayed by Phillippe.) But when she comes back in present day, angered at the fact that Hannah plays her on the house tour and attempts to both smoke pot and have sex while in her old room, it’s then that she makes a deal: Wadsworth will teach Hannah how to be more like a lady, and Hannah will get to then be herself when the tours of the day are said and done.

Lynskey herself had a tall order acting as the foil to Greer’s prim and proper lady of the house—but it seemed like a breeze for the actress in perfect effortless stoner fashion.

“Melanie was somebody I had worked with a couple years earlier on a pretty serious dramatic movie…but we laughed so much making that movie. In between takes Melanie and I were two peas in a pod and we would go out and just have so much fun in Louisville. I fell in love with her and her husband, Jason Ritter, they are some of my favorite people and just magical and hilarious. I knew how funny Melanie was, but I had never seen her carry a movie like this—a bro comedy,” explains Long.

The bro comedy normally takes on the form of a few common themes (cue belches and jokes about d*cks), and so does ‘Lady of the Manor.’ But the chemistry between Greer and Lynskey coupled with the comedy silent sniper that is Phillippe brings a fresher look at what a “bro” comedy should be. Even the normal buddy comedies that Long talks about are great in their own respect, but don’t have that women’s touch.

“Having women in this comedy proves it has no bearing on gender—funny is funny. I look at some of the classics, and you could so easily have actresses who are more than capable in bringing that heart and humor. That’s what Judy and Melanie did,” explains Long. “Christian and I had a moment where we wondered if women were going to be turned off by stuff like that—but Melanie and Judy embraced it and they would improv around it, they would lean into it.”

Courtesy of Lionsgate

The pairing of two imperfect fits and the forming an unlikely friendship does have even a romantic aspect to it, as Long puts it. Think of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles,’ ‘Tommy Boy,’ ‘What About Bob,’ what these films did was put together two souls who had no business being together, and the results are hilarious but also a bit heartwarming.

“There’s something beautiful about a person who is different than another person and how they get along in not getting along. That’s always been a real pleasure to watch that onscreen. There’s something really romantic to me about those kinds of movies…we just fell in loves with movies like that,” Long continues. “That’s another thing Melanie and Judy brought to this. We felt the script was funny and we felt like it had enough comedic moments, but there are some moments that are so unexpectedly touching and it was all in the performance.”

Long also stars in the film as Max, a professor at a local university in Savannah, Georgia (where the film takes place) who befriends Hannah and ends up in a bit of a love triangle as a result. But it was the co-directing with his brother where Long was able to stretch out his creative and comedic muscles.

“I loved it. I can’t imagine doing it without my brother, he’s the funniest person I know and he’s also always been very efficient with language…I tend to be, as you can hear, more long-winded. But [for me,] to be in your 40s and still be learning—that’s an exciting process.”

Courtesy of Lionsgate

‘Lady of the Manor’ was a feat the Long brothers wanted to achieve partly to get something of theirs written and released, but it’s also meant to be here to just make audiences laugh. It’s not a film that will emit a message or turn society on its head, but it’s not trying to be. It’s funny and at some moments hilarious and blends together beautifully the reason we all love comedy overall: To provide an escape from real life.

“We made it right before the pandemic and even then our goal was a pretty modest one: To get a feature made,” says Long. “It was to make something that was just funny and enjoyable where people for an hour and a half could detach from the world and have a laugh, nothing too serious. We wanted it to be a fun diversion. Now, we feel like it really will be a nice thing to put into the world.”

‘Lady of the Manor’ is now showing in select theaters, on Apple TV and everywhere you rent movies and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on Sept. 21.