Actor Justin Long (Galaxy Quest, Live Free or Die Hard, Tusk) and his younger brother Christian wrote and directed the comedy Lady of the Manor, which opened in theaters around the country Friday.
Filmed in Tampa and St. Pete early in 2020 (production squeaked by just before the pandemic), Lady of the Manor stars Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, Two and a Half Men) as Hannah, a potheaded loser-in-life who stumbles into a job leading tours through a 19th century Savannah manor home.
Hannah’s a trainwreck, which means she’s easy pickings for the opportunistic and perpetually horny scion of the house-owning family (played with unctuous glee by Ryan Phillipe).
Into her life comes the ghost of Lady Wadsworth, who was murdered there (by her sleazebag husband, also played by Phillipe) just after the Civil War. Lady W wants to right a couple of historical wrongs – and she also can’t abide Hannah’s foul mouth and sloppy alcoholism (among other things).
And so the trainwreck and the apparition form an unlikely bond.
Judy Greer (Jurassic World, Ant-Man, Halloween) plays the prim-and-proper lady, and Justin Long assigned himself a major role as an unlikely love interest and ally for Hannah – a college history professor.
Lady of the Manor is available to stream, and in St. Petersburg, it’s on screen at Green Light Cinema and the Seminole Studio Movie Grill.
St. Pete Catalyst: Melanie Lynskey is so good in this. It was only when I saw the gag reel running next to the end credits that I realized that she normally speaks in a thick New Zealand accent. Her character sounds like quite a few American women I’ve encountered over the years.
Christian Long: Among other things, she’s really good at covering her accent. But that’s like the least of what makes her impressive. She’s been one of our favorite actresses for so long. Justin had worked with her on a drama, and they had so much fun in between takes, just laughing with her. He just loved her sense of humor. We didn’t think she would agree to do this movie, but we thought why not throw a Hail Mary and throw it out there to her? She hadn’t gotten to do a more raunchy type of comedy before.
Justin Long: I knew how funny she was. But because of the raunchier elements, we were a little afraid to send it to her AND to Judy – I mean, I know they’re funny women, but as actresses they’re just so classy. They have such classy reputations. And what we were surprised by was that they actually really embraced some of the raunchier elements of it. That’s the stuff that they really leaned into and were excited to do. But it couldn’t have been a better combination of talent and senses of humor.
Watching and hearing Lady Wadsworth fart was one of the highlights of my week.
Justin: That was one of the things we were on the fence about. Sometimes when you write something like that, it’s like once you get there on the set, and once you have a great actress like Judy Greer saying the words and embodying the character, sometimes those things change. Those two, they are so truthful that whenever they were hesitant to do something, we always listened to them. It always meant there was a flaw in the writing. And we just trusted their instincts.
I sort of thought that might be one such moment, where Judy would be like ‘Yeah, it might be a little too much if I fart right now, when we have this kind of heart-warming moment.’
Christian: It became a fart-warming moment.
Justin: Judy coined the phrase ‘A fart-warming comedy.’ She was just so into it.
What’s the genesis of this story? Were you guys batting it back and forth for a while?
Christian: One night a couple years back now, one of us said ‘Do you think it would be a funny idea to make a comedic version of Psycho? Where Norman Bates’ mother, instead of inspiring him to murder people, was just like really annoying and interfered with his personal life too much?’
We couldn’t really get our heads around that. It seemed inherently too tragic, because, you know, you’re talking about someone’s dead mother. But that sort of led to what became Lady of the Manor. Which was that dynamic, the more proper, school-marmy character and the opposite, a modern-day character.
Justin: And Christian and I both just really love odd couple-type comedies, buddy comedies. We grew up watching Laurel & Hardy, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, What About Bob, those were always our favorite movies, the movies that really inspired us. So when we set out to make our own thing, that just felt like such a natural fit for us. We felt like we were familiar enough with that genre, and we might be able to take a stab at it.
I used to live in Savannah. Georgia has very agreeable tax incentive program for filmmakers, while Florida does not. So … why did you film it here, and not in the actual city where it’s set?
Christian: It’s pretty much as simple as, the producers who got behind the movie had Florida connections. And they had an infrastructure there. We were dubious at first, because we know how unique Savannah is, in terms of everything.
Justin: They have great ghost tours in Savannah, which I’ve taken, and that was part of the reason we set it there. So selfishly, we just wanted to spend time there. We wanted to shoot it there. But yeah, the people we were connected to, who thought they could get the money together to make the movie, they just had these connections there in Florida.
Christian: We were dubious, but we were proved wrong. They claimed it would double for Savannah, and I think they were right. There was so much more history in the St. Pete/Tampa area than we had anticipated.
Justin: It’s always a nice compliment about the movie when somebody who is familiar with Savannah – and I know you didn’t say this, I’m not putting words in your mouth – when they see the movie, they assume that we shot it there. It’s a testament to our locations people – and to the beauty of St. Pete itself. I had no idea there were such old areas of St. Pete, that there was so much history there.
The way your character and Melanie’s came together at the end reminded me the ending of Woody Allen’s Love and Death, where he and Diane Keaton wear disguises to assassinate Napoleon. It was that sort of comic absurdity.
Justin: Oh my God, I love that movie. I wonder if that was somewhere in our subconscious. That movie was a huge comedic influence for me. The way he used that historical context … and the score, too! That’s one of my favorites. Prokofiev! (He whistles Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije Suite”). Now I want to re-watch it.
It was great to see (former St. Pete resident) Andi Matheny in there with Patrick Duffy and Ryan Phillippe.
Justin: God, is she good. She is so consistently good. In fact, as soon as Andi started doing her scenes, we immediately regretted that the part wasn’t bigger. We wished we had time to add more stuff, because her and Patrick Duffy were just so funny together.
I hope this doesn’t sound offensive, but we were surprised by how much local talent there was. We found our wardrobe department, our production department … the crews down there, and the acting, was really a delight.
We had such a great local crew. We had so many now friends down there, so we hope they get to check it out. We’re so glad it’s showing in theaters down there. We’re excited for people to watch it.