Christian and Justin Long talk new film ‘Lady of the Manor,’ filmmaking advice, creating an effective comedy

Noah Levine, Life and Arts Film Columnist

“Lady of the Manor,” a brand new comedy written and directed by sibling duo Christian and Justin Long, premieres Sept. 17 in select theaters and video on-demand services. The film stars Melanie Lynskey as Hannah, a newly hired “actor” tasked with giving tours of the historic Wadsworth Manor. As Hannah struggles through her daily routine pretending to be a historical figure, she comes face to face with the ornate yet fiery spirit of Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer). 

The Texan spoke with the Long brothers about the process of creating their supernatural comedy. 

The Daily Texan: I just have to say, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” was like one of my favorite childhood movies. Kind of full circle meeting Alvin!

JUSTIN LONG: Whenever parents would be like, “Oh, my son or daughter loves (the movie),” the kids would always look up at me so confused. They would hear my voice. I’d always have to apologize. “Sorry I don’t sound like him, we use a machine…” It’s like a ‘there’s no Santa’ moment.

DT: Where did the idea for “Lady of the Manor” come from?

CHRISTIAN LONG: One night, we were talking. One of us said, “Do you think it would be a funny idea to do a comedic version of ‘Psycho’ where Norman Bates’ mother, instead of driving him to murder, she just like annoyed him.” That was the genesis of what we ended up making.

JUSTIN: I don’t want to advocate drug use. I know this is a college paper, but we were probably pretty stoned … We started thinking about how much we love odd-couple comedies, “What About Bob?” “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” movies we grew up with. Then, we married those two ideas. 

DT: What is the secret sauce for making a good comedy?

CL: The number one thing is when the people in the comedy aren’t playing the comedy, when they are playing it straight and natural. In these absurd situations, the actors are playing it like it’s a drama almost and then the comedy feels real and organic.

JL: When you’re putting a movie like that together, they expect that you go out to certain comedians or people who are known for comedy. Melanie Lynskey and Judy Greer are mostly known for just being solid, wonderful actresses. We knew we needed that in order to ground the absurd concept of this …The thing that we wrestled with when we were coming up with an idea was just making their points of view very clear. The movies that we love have a clarity to the characters’ intentions. 

DT: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers or actors?

CL: Do it because you love to do it and not because you have some heightened ambition of being known or famous … If you make something, don’t be concerned with what other people think. Make sure you like it. 

JL:  Make sure you just enjoy the doing of it … If the movie doesn’t turn out well or doesn’t win whatever bullshit award, none of that should come into play. It’s the experience. That’s true of anything in life. Make sure you’re finding joy in the doing of it.