Very rarely does a comedy shine as bright as Long Shot. With its charismatic cast led by Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan, its biting hilarity and natural sweetness, the film is set up to be the surprise comedic hit of the summer. Theron plays Secretary of State Charlotte Field, caught at a career crossroads when she plans on running for President. Before announcing her candidacy, she reconnects with Rogan’s Fred Flarsky, a passionate but reckless reporter – turned speechwriter, she used to babysit in high school. As they reconnect on a press tour, sparks fly and cause a media storm in Washington. I sat down with Long Shot’s director Jonathan Levine and actress June Diane Raphael in D.C. to talk about the benefit of an improvised take, subverting rom-com troupes and having a family on set.
Jonathan, I know you’ve worked with Seth Rogen.
Jonathan Levine (JL): Yes.
This is your third time?
Two times previously on 50/50 and The Night Before. What exactly drew you to the project and June, what drew you into the project as well, besides knowing each other and running in the same circles?
JL: Yeah, I mean honestly knowing Seth and Even (Goldberg) and James (Weaver), who are the three producers, is really what drew me to the project because I think with Seth if you’ve had a good experience with him and he will continue to hire you. It’s because making these movies is hard work and he likes to surround himself with people who have the same taste as him, but who, he knows, isn’t going to go crazy. He just knows what he’s going to get and we get along really well. And so they gave me the script and me kind of fell in love with it and Charlize was attached too and I just, imagined how great they would be on screen and they were as great as I imagined.
June Diane Raphael (JDR): I was just sent the script and was told “You have to audition tomorrow and they start shooting in four days.” And it was a very quick process. Actually I think I got the script on a Friday because I was preparing for an audition on a Monday and I just remember trying to learn my lines like in between taking care of children and I just loved it though and the lines came easily, which I think is always a good sign that you’re probably supposed to do the role when it’s not painful to memorize it.
JL: But can I ask you a question?
JL: So you have these two kids. Were you ever like, I just can’t, I’m not going to be able to get my life shit together.
JDR: Paul (Scheer, her husband, and fellow actor) was away that weekend and I called my friend Matt McConkey and I asked him to come over and take care of them because I couldn’t. I remember just feeling like, “Oh my God, this is a huge opportunity and I would die to be in this and I can’t believe I’m not going to have the time to learn it.” I remember being actually being rather depressed about that. I just remember it being a big chunk of dialogue and I was like, “Fuck, how am I going to do this?” And then, and then it came quite easily. To me it was not like, “Oh, should I do this or should I not do this?”
JL: Right. I didn’t even mean it like that! I was just like how?
JDR: Oh I know. It was just like how can I get myself in there? And then also the process of auditioning is always so painful for actors because you want it so badly. I actually had to go into a kind of an important meeting when I got a text from Weaver, from one of our producers, James Weaver saying, “You got it.” And I had to immediately walk into a meeting and I spent the whole meeting just like levitating.
CJ + JL : (laughs)
JDR: Yeah. I was so excited. It was so thrilling.
JL: That’s how Joseph Gordon Levitt came to 50/50. It was like he literally read it on a very similar timeline and I think in both of those instances it may have been a good thing to have to just kind of go in and not, not really intellectualize it that much. I remember Joe saying like, he’s really glad he didn’t have time to like immerse himself in it because he might have just hit it too hard. Obviously, it worked out in both circumstances.
Sometimes over analyzing can actually hurt you rather than helping you.
JL: Yes. Actually probably most of the time. (Laughs)
JDR: I also think it’s nice when you know, “Oh, they have to start shooting.” So they’re just excited someone’s arriving.
CJ + JL: (Laughs)
JL: We were very excited when June’s plane landed.
JDR: Someone will be here!
You guys both mentioned that like the script was a huge draw to you both. This is one of the tightest comedy scripts. I was so thrilled after watching the movie to find that the best comedic moments are not in the trailer.
JL: Yes, that’s cool.
What I also loved about the script was that there were certain rom-com conventions that we see like with O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s character playing off of the black best friend archetype, he twists that on its head.
June, you play the coworker slash “could be very much like the bitchy adversary is instead such a supportive friend”, very much like women are in real life.
JL: Oh Wow. You’re making us seem smart!
Well, there are layers to it!
JDR: I’m learning about myself. I finally found my motivation today.
(Laughs) so my question for you guys, is how did you guys decide to bring out some of the more feminist and diverse aspects of rom-com genres?
JL: What is nice about the genre is there are so many great tropes within the genre that are, that are really tried and true things that we know work with audiences and that we love about romantic comedies. Um, but then there is this kind of strain of like regressive stuff that we wanted to subvert and we wanted to let the audience know that we knew that, that those are not the parts of romantic comedies that really get us excited and those are in fact are things that we can use to sort of subvert your expectations.
A lot of times we found great comedy in subverting those expectations and in subverting those genre tropes. And it was really important for us to do that. But I think the thing that really allowed everything to coexist was at the heart of this movie is this strong female character (Theron’s) who was like, you know, dealing with all this adversity. Really the movie adopts her point of view and you really empathize with her and you feel for her as she’s trying to get what she wants and deserves. So that throughline, I think, allows the movie to feel and be progressive.
JDR: Yeah, I agree. And I think ultimately, for me, the movie is made by a number of people who would just love women. I think you just could feel that on set. Like you either feel that or you don’t. Most of the times I really don’t. And so it was nice and really refreshing to be on a set where you just felt like, oh, these all, everybody who’s working on it loves this character and, um, loves Charlize and is inspired by her and in awe of her and enjoys her. And, and that I think really comes through in the movie. I think it’s so successful and so much of that is also Charlize’s performance, but from Jonathan to Seth to Evan to, you know, we’re just surrounded by a lot of men who really love and admire women, then I think that that just, that’s in, that’s in the movie.
It definitely permeates throughout the entire thing. It makes it more enjoyable to watch it. I’m not rom-com person and I adored this movie because there is that air to it.
JL: Thank you. We also did work hard to make it not feel like a bunch of guys telling a story about something they don’t know anything about. You know, Liz Hannah is a brilliant writer who brought a female perspective. We also are very conscious of integrating everyone’s thoughts and point of view into the collective thing that becomes this movie. It’s like a very thoughtful set where we listened to people and we try to be reflective of like eight diversity of point of views.
Speaking of, you don’t really show them in a positive light of a different point of view there is a Fox News-like organization in the movie. June, your husband Paul Scheer actually plays one of the pundits on it. What was it like parodying an organization like that? Also, can we just talk about Andy Serkis for a second? He plays like the Roger Ailes/Rupert Murdoch character perfectly and I didn’t know it was him until the end of the movie.
JL: Yeah, he does! That was all his idea, going in that makeup. It just reminded me of like when I was a kid and I went to see like Dick Tracy and I didn’t know Al Pacino was in it or I went to see, or like even an Eddie Murphy kind of thing. But what was so great was the makeup was so realistic seeming. It struck a nice tone between like being reflective of reality and also like a little bit pushed. I think that that it was kind of consistent with the tone of the movie and it really helped Andy in the character. I was so grateful that he’d decided to sit in make up all day. Well, let’s talk about Paul!
Yeah, let’s talk about Paul because he’s great as the smarmy Fox News host!
JDR: Paul is able to slip into playing like the worst person in the world so quickly. It’s at a startling rate.
JL: (Laughs). I mean, Kurt Braunohler too, they just dove into it.
To be fair to though, June, you can also do that!
JDR + JL: (laughs)
JDR: Thank you.
Like I’ve followed your career for a while. Tynnyfer is one of my favorite cameos on Parks and Rec. So, you know, it’s a good pair.
JDR: It’s true! No, I mean, I think that Paul is such a gifted improviser. I improvise, but I have really learned from him and he’s just super quick and facile and really funny. He was with me in Montreal and he was helping me with our family, along with our nanny who was there, kind of making this happen. So many of us were making this movie with small children around and just, you know, our lives were also happening. So I had his support and then he also got a job out of it.
JL: What was so funny about that, like when we talk about improvisation, the fox news stuff is entirely improvised. No one really needs that much inspiration when talking about Fox News. It’s such a fertile ground for comedy. We probably shot them for 90 minutes and like a lot of it is in the movie. The ratio of what we shot of them to what is in the movie is pretty good.
JDR: I remember saying that to him. “When they go into their edit, they’re going to need these cuts. So I bet you end up being in a lot of it.”
JL: Yes. And he was, and he was so funny. All three of the pundits, but as like, and when you’re making a movie as a director and like, just to know that you have like these kinds of hard comedy pops, then you can pepper throughout is really helpful.
Long Shot is in theaters now.