To say brothers Christian and Justin Long are passionate about their work behind and in front of the camera would be an understatement. The duo wrote and directed the comedy Lady of the Manor and was fortunate to complete filming before the COVID-19 pandemic forced industry-wide production shutdowns. The film stars Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets) as Hannah, a flatulent, aimless ne'er-do-well, becomes a tour guide in a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor's resident ghost, Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer). I spoke with the Longs about how they conceived the film, Lynskey and Greer's chemistry, and their fortunate timing.
"We've been doing a lot of shorts, writing a lot of shorts, and we really wanted to write," Justin said. "We were looking for a feature to try to write like something that could be done at a lower budget. We grew up loving buddy comedies, 'Odd Couple' comedies like What About Bob? and Midnight Run. We love Laurel and Hardy. Those were always really inspiring to us. So we knew we wanted to do our version of that, and we and we thought, well, 'How do you get two opposite people together for that classic 'Odd Couple' set up? We had another idea about that we kind of scrapped like a year or so earlier about like a comedic version of Psycho where instead of a mother haunting her son in a scary way that caused him to do violence, it was more in like an overbearing, obnoxious way, like 'You're not doing things right.'"
Justin, who also plays Max in Lady of the Manor, explained how Hannah and Lady Wadsworth ended up meeting. "We like the idea of a ghost who is just annoying rather than scary, and so we kind of married those two and came up with this, which is about a woman who is like doesn't really have a handle on her life," he said. "She's kind of like a 'ne'er-do-well' we say and smoking pot. She's like getting into trouble and arrested, so she gets a job as a reenactor at a southern estate where she's playing this woman who had lived there in this house, and the ghost of the woman whom she's playing takes offense at how she's living her life and portraying her. So she starts haunting Hannah, Melanie's character, in a funny, annoying way."
When it came to casting, it turned out Lynskey and Greer wanted to work together for a while. "They're better suited to play the opposite roles in a way, just as people," Christian said. "The short answer is we got very lucky that they wanted to do it and then once they started, how great their chemistry and dynamic was. It was just so funny, like right off the bat. They liked each other so much as people. So it just worked so well. Both Melanie and Judy, people, love them so much, but I know they haven't seen them play these types of roles to carry a comedy. I think they're just so great together."
"That's the kind of thing that you don't know until you get there," Justin added. "I'm not being self-deprecating. It wasn't the kind of script where any actor could step in and make it sing, make it work. So with that kind of chemistry, that's like an indefinable thing that you just don't know until you see two people in a room. It's like any other, you know, it's like going on a date where you can be texting, writing quippy things, and like having some good banter on the phone, but you don't really know until you are in that person's space. When they got together, Judy and Melanie as people, we saw how quickly they were like delighted by each other and how much they enjoyed each other's company, and that's when Christian and I were relieved more than anything. We knew that the movie would potentially work because they liked each other. They had such great chemistry. So we got lucky, and I know they respected each other. They had wanted to work together for a while, and I think it made them that much more excited to be there because they held each other in high regard."
Despite the experience between the brothers, the margin for error on an indie budget is smaller. "It's like a real rollercoaster," Justin said. "It felt that way only because there were moments where it was like, 'Oh, my God! We got this actress to do it. That means we're going to get the money for it.' Then the next day, you hear, 'Oh, actually, the money is falling apart because of this.' So it's really just like a series of such highs and lows within such close proximity. It does feel a little bit like a rollercoaster, and so now there's a sense now the fact that it's now coming out, and now it's a thing in the world. It's what we always wanted." According to Christian, Lady of the Manor barely finished filming five days prior to lockdown. "Everything just kind of we got lucky in a lot of ways." Lionsgate's Lady of the Manor, which also stars Luis Guzmán and Ryan Phillippe, is available in select theaters, AppleTV, everywhere you rent movies, Blu-ray, and DVD.