In the film Going the Distance, Justin Long and Drew Barrymore play an adorable indie-music-loving, on-and-off couple who seem remarkably like real-life adorable indie-music-loving, on-and-off couple Justin Long and Drew Barrymore. They were definitely on last summer, when they were filming cute all over Williamsburg and making out between takes. But by the time I met Long for soup dumplings recently, they were (murkily) off again. As the movie’s release date looms, Barrymore has taken the tack of neither confirming nor denying anything about their coupledom. “I’m now in that place where I’m like, ‘It’s not your fucking business,’ ” she told the London Telegraph.
And maybe it isn’t. Still, Hollywood has long concocted fake off-camera affairs to provide publicity sizzle for on-camera ones, and one of the many compellingly sweet things about Long and Barrymore is that they’re an absolutely non-fake couple. Like the rest of us in regular-human relationships, they haven’t always had it so easy. “We’ve been through everything,” Long says, “the whole gamut of the heights of love to the depth of heartbreak. I mean, we’ve been on quite a journey. And the idea that a person that you’re in a relationship with can change you so drastically and have that deep of an effect on your life, just that idea, I mean, what a gift to be able to use that, to be able to create something from it that we can see again. It’s like a little time capsule. It’s a bit of permanence that usually doesn’t exist when you’re with somebody.”
Long, 32, hasn’t quite figured out his talking points about the celebrity relationship, and, to his credit, he never seemed very good at the performance aspects of it. During his heyday with Barrymore, Long’s face was plastered with a perma-grin in paparazzi photos, as if he were gobsmacked by his good fortune.
He is, in person, exactly that goofy, charming wiseacre he played in He’s Just Not That Into You, Live Free or Die Hard, and, yes, those Mac ads. When he decided to learn guitar this summer, he actually called Dan Smith, of “Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar” flyer fame, and rode the subway to his lessons—the five he took before realizing he could just ask his friends in the Bravery to teach him. He talks to strangers. As we lunch, Long keeps checking the time. He’s due that evening in Newtown, Connecticut, where his older brother, Damien, a high-school English and theater teacher, is in a community-theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Long had to go pick up their 93-year-old grandmother.
Long’s gig as the Mac guy ended in May, and while he says, “I don’t regret it at all; I would do it again,” since it helped launch his career, he’s taking a step back for now from Hollywood. “I know that there have been several jobs that I desperately wanted that I lost as a direct result of being that guy—where, for instance, they said, in so many words, ‘We can’t see the Mac guy being in a Western.’ ” He spent part of the summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, near where his family used to vacation when he was a kid (in an uncharacteristic act of checkbook bravado, he bought the lakeside cabins they used to stay in so they could always go there). “To say it was much-needed to do a play is an understatement,” he says. “I’ve been feeling a little lost. I’d gotten caught up in superficial things, like not getting certain jobs or being extremely aware of where I was on the food chain.”
So Long, who keeps an apartment on the Lower East Side and a house in Austin, is choosing to bide his time. He wants to travel, and has been riding his scooter (given to him by Ben Stiller and emblazoned with the words AVERAGE JOE’S, in reference to the gym his character frequented in Dodgeball). He’s obsessed with the camera on his iPhone4 and has been thinking about exploring photography, or writing or drawing or painting. He’ll still act, but he is looking for smaller films or theater parts, or, he says, “maybe seeing if I can do another major computer campaign. Dell? The new Dell guy?”
And while he wants to avoid “too intense personal situations,” he’s got to, well, Go the Distance. “A real pickle we’re in, huh?” he says, laughing. “You can’t say ‘no comment’ when you’re, like, doing several days of junkets. Together, no less.” But Long and Barrymore were dating while filming He’s Just Not That Into You and had broken up when the time came to promote it, and that went okay, so “I know we’re both capable of handling it” between now and September 3, when Distance comes out.
“The truth is, we do love each other. I pray to God she’s always in my life.We were friends before this, and at the heart of what we are and will be is friends. Two good, really dear friends, and that trumps anything else.” And then, shortly before press time, he calls me to say that, well, they might be reconciling.