A humorous talk about his furry role, being the MAC guy and Die Hard
Alvin and the Chipmunks, a global phenomenon to generations of fans, becomes a live action/CGI motion picture event with a contemporary comic sensibility. Songwriter Dave Seville transforms singing chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore into pop sensations -- while the out-of-control trio lays waste to Dave's home, wreaks havoc on his career, and turns Dave's once-orderly life upside-down.
The film stars Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl) as Dave Seville, David Cross (Arrested Development), rising star Cameron Richardson, and as the voices of Alvin, Simon and Theodore, Justin Long (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Live Free or Die Hard), Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds, RV) and actor-pop sensation Jesse McCartney. Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties helmer Tim Hill directs from a screenplay by The Simpsons veteran Jon Vitti and Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi (The Tale of Despereaux). The producers are Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., son of Alvin and the Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian, and his wife Janice Karman.
Alvin and the Chipmunks have been wreaking havoc for Dave Seville -- and delighting audiences around the world -- for nearly 50 years, in various incarnations. From the moment they sprung into being, the creative brainchild of singer/songwriter Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., the 'Munks' catchy sound has been a pop culture mainstay, for both young and old.
20th Century Fox held a press junket for Alvin and the Chipmunks in Santa Barbara where we sat in with other journalists to ask Justin Long a few questions about his voice-role as Alvin in the film. The conversation turned from Alvin to being the MAC guy (in the MAC vs PC commercials) as well as his experience in making Live Free or Die Hard:
How familiar are with you with the Chipmunks?
Justin Long: I grew up with them. It was like a staple of my childhood, Alvin and the Chipmunks. Right up there with The Smurfs and Bugs Bunny. Alvin and the Chipmunks was right in the mix. It was a part of my childhood, so it's very, very surreal to now be a part of that franchise ... that dare I say "dynasty".
Was everything scripted or did you get to ad-lib and pull out some really...?
Justin Long: Yeah, they let me do, sometimes, I get a little stir-crazy after a while, doing the repetition, so I start getting a little blue and there's nothing funnier than, cause they would play back in the sped-up voice right after you record a line ... and there's nothing funnier than saying, like "Goooo fuuuuuck yooourseeeelf cooooocksuuuuucker" (i.e. in slow motion speed) and then hearing it back "Gofuckyourselfcocksucker" (i.e. fast speed). It's just instantly funny, like that registered as ... and so we just entertained ourselves, we would always would do a take or two that was kinda more adult, but they did, they let us animating it as they were recorded, there was that freedom to kind of ... and they let a bunch of ad-libs in the movie. I was very surprised. I thought, and that's a credit to that Ross and Janice, because they are so ... I mean, this is their baby and this is like their baby and they created all this and they've been doing this for decades and they were kind of collaborative enough to let us. I recognize a few lines as ad-libs. It just felt like something that came out of ... There was some funny things that they used.
How do you feel when they say "We want you to do a voiceover in our cartoon, but we're going to speed up your voice, so it's unrecognizable?"
Justin Long: Great, I loved it. I was liked ... to be a part of that, as I've said, to be a part of something that is so near and dear to me as a kid, and also then to ... it's not the kind of thing, where you don't risk overexposure, but now I do, because I'm doing tons of interviews for it. It was just a no-brainer in terms of getting the job. It was just "why wouldn't I do that?" I in-fact felt a little guilty ... there was a part of me that was like "Ross and Janice did the original voices and I don't think anybody's had a problem with the voices they created", so its kinda like doing Bugs Bunny with Chuck Jones sitting right there, and there was something strange about ... and Ross was very helpful, it wasn't at all obnoxious. But he was very specific about the tone of the voice and the tone of the character too and it was always get to a point where I was like "Ross, why don't you just do it?". He did it for decades and if it ain't broke. But they were again, it was, they were humble enough to have given that up, and I think they were happy to, there wasn't sort of weirdness about that, but there was on my part, as I said, if you are going to do it, do it, the way I remember it as a kid. And the last thing I want is to taint anybody's childhood memories of the Chipmunks with my nasally Harvey Feirstein voice.
Have you watched the 80s cartoon as a kid? Would you feel that it introduced you to music and did you ever have the situation where you didn't know they were covering a song and then you heard the original artist later?
Justin Long: Absolutely. Yeah. It's hard for me to answer these questions because I, for various reasons, had no memory of anything pre a week-and-a-half ago. There were those moments, it was more with the California Raisons. I was a little young, I grew up listening to my parents very into classical music. I didn't really discover any kind of rock n' roll, until the California Raisons because I was obsessed with Claymation and really felt and that's where I discovered Motown and Motown led to Elvis and then the Beatles. It wasn't so much the Chipmunks though I always enjoyed their ditties.
Do you have either nieces or nephews or relations that are really excited by the fact that you are a voice character in this movie and are they going to the premiere with you?
Justin Long: I have a lot of little nieces. I have two aunts and three uncles and among them they have just -- they're breeders, I come from a family of breeders -- and there's tons of them and this all happens so quickly, this job and It was a matter of couple of days, maybe a week or so, that I went from like hearing about it to getting it and then we were done recording in the course over a month and so, and I was working on another the project at the time, so it wasn't really, and not that I didn't consider it a job, I definitely, but it wasn't something that I was constantly focused on and so, and because of that, I just didn't alert my family and lot of my relatives didn't know, so my Mom's been hearing from my relatives that how excited their kids are to see it and without even knowing that I was the voice, so a lot of my own family members up until very recently had no idea I was at all part of the movie and were independent of that, and now they refuse to see it! ... knowing that I was a part of it. But yeah, I was doing this over the course of, while involved with something else, so it just wasn't, I just didn't let people know, and there was a part of me that was like "I kind of want to do it and not really talk about it" ... and you do it, and know it and also not also feel like super judged for like "Oh he doesn't sound exactly like the other", but I hear it and like, and when that thing is sped up, truthfully, and this is not to be self-deprecating, but like, anybody can really do it. Tom Sizemore may as well recorded the voice and then you just speed it up and it all sounds the same.
Was there anything that you feel like you imprinted into the character to make it your own, to put a little signature on it.
Justin Long: Aside from those adlibs that made it into the movie ... they were very cautious that it would not come off snide or mean-spirited at all. I don't know why I keep getting cast in ... there were a couple of adlibs that were, I kinda like, was saying these lines to make the guys in the booth laugh, and that was my sense of humor I guess ... They like my sarcastic, and I hear this a lot on the MAC things too, I've been playing these characters who are kinda, there's a danger in playing them smug, there's kind of an obnoxious quality to them, and Alvin is the one that always bags on the other two and he's kind of more of the aggressively arrogant one, and they were cautious that it did not come across snide or mean-spirited at-all, and I don't know why I keep getting cast in those...
Are you saying the Mac guy can be kinda passive aggressive?
Justin Long: Absolutely. That's the tenor of those commercials. It is and I always had a huge problem with it. I always like really went out of my way and do my best to whether it be to changing the lines altogether, or just playing a certain way that was not as kind of arrogant, like the smug, and that's the danger of that dynamic and I always felt the strength of that PC-MAC thing is that MAC really likes PC ... they're friends and he doesn't have to rub anything in his face the fact that he does things better ... it's just apparent, and PC's the one that's kind of like, that was always, that's how it was established and I think sometimes they kind of lose sight of that, but we're still doing them.
What do you use ... a MAC?
Justin Long: Yeah, they gave me a MAC. Yeah, they did (BTW, Movieweb was not the one that asked this question ... jeesh!). It's broken now though. I dropped my iPhone in a swimming pool about a week ago, so that's on the fritz. But they did give me a 15% discount which is been hard for me to use. I've been going to the Apple store and it's always like slightly embarrassing and I've been trying to use my discount, but they never gave me documentation. I have no card or anything and I always say ... awkwardly have to bring up, like ... I actually have a discount, to which they usually say "Yeah, we know you". It's like " I don't have any card" and then every time they ring me up, they take off 10% and I'm then faced with the difficult choice of insisting on the extra 5 or like just hush and shut my mouth and save myself the embarrassment of...
Where do you normally go then?
Justin Long: I go the extra 5 ... but the past couple of times, they haven't been able to authorize it, it's sort of been a funny situation: "I can't authorize it for 15%", which says something about the product that it's so well-liked, I guess, that although then I heard Jeff Goldblum got some crazy ... he gets for life free Apple stuff, and I was like "really. How do I get the Goldblum clause?"
Is that still going? ... and how long are you signed to work with that?
Justin Long: Yeah, ... I don't think I can actually say that ... there's always, I'm always talking a mile-a-minute about it.
Any chance of doing another Die Hard?
Justin Long: I haven't heard anything. I just hear rumors, I hear the same thing as everybody else. I hope, it would be fun. I'm unemployed.
How fun was the last one?
Justin Long: It was a lot of, in five months and it was not the easiest shoot because the script was in constant state of flux and there was a lot of stunts and there's a lot of waiting around. It was one of those things, you hear about one of those experiences ... I thank god I did it at the end of the day, I got some great stories and really enjoyed the movie and I think (director) Len (Wiserman) when it was all said and done, I think he did a great job with it, and I met Len and some people in the movie that I have remained very close with, so it was a bles