Today I had the opportunity to interview director Jonathan Levine and June Diane Raphael for their awesome new film, LONG SHOT. We discussed the film’s production design, improvisational dialogue, balancing romance with politics, and my personal favorite…chatting in-depth about the Real Housewives franchise, including June’s recent appearance on Watch What Happens Live.
After being fired from his writing job at an alternative magazine, Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is in a rut and looking for a new writing gig. At a party, he reconnects with Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who just so happens to be his former babysitter. When Charlotte asks Fred to help punch-up speeches during her upcoming presidential campaign, the long nights and bonding sessions lead to romance. But with a presidential nomination within reach, her staff, including loyal assistant Maggie (June Diane Raphael), are concerned that the relationship won’t be good for optics.
At its heart, LONG SHOT is a romantic comedy set in the world of politics. I appreciated that the film felt cut from the same cloth as one of my all-time favorites, THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, which never clobbers you over the head with politics but instead makes you fall in love with President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) and his lobbyist girlfriend Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). Of course, politics were an underlying theme of both films, but both excel more as a character study. Jonathan explained the aspects of THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT that they wanted to focus on for this film. “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT is obviously a movie we watched for this. What I found so remarkable about the movie was when I saw it, I was like ‘what a rousing Hollywood movie.’ Not ‘what a Liberal scream from Aaron Sorkin.’ But when you really analyze it, it’s about an environmental bill vs a crime bill… a classic dichotomy between liberal and conservative. It obviously takes a position, but they don’t hit you over the head with their politics. And they find something to promote morally, which is what everyone can get behind; this person needs to be true to himself. That is what we were trying to find, those universal things that every American can get behind.”
And when you see the movie, you will not only love the humor, but will feel the positive energy emanating from the set. With such a funny cast, I asked June about that dynamics of the set and whether there was room for improvisation. “[LONG SHOT] started off with a funny, tight script that told the story really well, which was great because you don’t feel that you need to find the scene out of nowhere. The scenes and jokes were there. I think there is value in improvising even in surprising each other on set. I would never want to waste anyone’s time, but I think there is enormous value in keeping the crew alive, keeping the energy up, and trying something because we are ultimately playing and not forgetting that. I am always shocked on comedies when people don’t improvise. So yeah, there was a lot of improvising and it was a lot of fun.”
I also enjoyed nerding out about the production design, which did a great job capturing the look and feel of the State Department. Jonathan explained how they recreated it, “We had a consultant on set, John Feiner, John Kerry’s Chief of Staff. We went to the State Department 18 months ago. Myself and Kalina Ivanov, our production designer, spent the day there. It was very important for us to get that right. We wanted to make sure it met a certain level of intellectual scrutiny and felt real.”
It’s not often that I have used my interview time to nerd out about Real Housewives of (insert city here), but today was that day. I know June Diane Raphael is a big Housewives fan like myself, so I enjoyed hearing her take on the state of the franchise. “I really look at Bravo, and specifically the Housewives, as feminist television. There is just something so amazing about seeing these women age into insanity, making terrible decisions and living out loud in a way that’s so wild. But also having full sex lives, looking great, and there’s just something about it. And I think it is opening up opportunities for women who are told all the time that our prime is in our 20s.”
And of course I had to ask her what Housewife she thinks her character Maggie is most like; I suggested I could see her turning into a Bethenny Frankel. “Maggie? I can’t imagine her as any Housewife. That is a great question. I can’t imagine my character being a Housewife, but there are the Housewife-adjacent characters that I’m almost equally interested in, the sort of support staff. So I don’t know if I would be one of Sonja’s interns… As an actor, I can’t believe we get to have these character studies.” Could this interview be any more of my dream? A deep-cut chat about Sonja Morgan’s interns bringing her toast in bed?
LONG SHOT is easily the best comedy of the year, and I am so happy to see another hit from Jonathan Levine. I have been a huge fan of his since seeing WARM BODIES, one of the first zom-coms (zombie romantic comedy). And it was interesting to hear him speak to the similarities in both movies, “LONG SHOT strangely reminds me of WARM BODIES: the romance between two people from two different worlds, the tricky tonal balance, the fact that I got to use 80s and 90s music. Both movies are romantic comedies.” It was all of these elements coming together that takes both films to the next level. Oh, and did I mention Boyz II Men makes a cameo? Buckle up.
My Review: A-