As an actor who's dabbled into directing, Josh Lawson felt it was the appropriate time to start asking questions as people start getting older and they start scrutinizing their time on earth. The end result is the Australian romantic time travel comedy Long Story Short. The film follows Teddy, played by Rafe Spall, who wakes up the morning after his wedding to discover that every few minutes, he's jumping forward to the next year of his life. I spoke with the actor and director about how he conceived the film, how Spall and Zahra Newman were perfect as Teddy and Leanne, and the film's inspirations.
Inspiration Behind Long Story Short
"I felt like I woke up one morning and looked back on the last few years and really had a bit of a crisis where I went," Lawson said. "'Where did it all go?' and 'What did I even do in the last year?' I mean, just last year was particularly unique because it was so memorable for all the wrong reasons [referring to pandemic]. The last year before that, if you're feeling like me, you kind of get to September or October, and then you go, 'What have I done in the last year? What have I even achieved?' I have one of those moments, and I was really struggling to come up with anything meaningful. That scared me because there are only so many Septembers you get in life. I felt like I'd wasted another one. I was scared. Frankly, I don't fear death so much, but I do see it not being alive, if that's right. I want desperately to be alive so that I can keep doing stuff because I really feel like I've got so much stuff to do. When I feel like I've wasted time, it really affects me. I wrote this film in the hope that other people were feeling the same way. It turns out a lot of people do. I think we do fear wasting time and not doing enough with the limited time we have."
Once Lawson got Long Story Short funded, it came to casting. Before Spall, he considered himself in the role of Teddy. "I think I have to entertain the idea of being in it, but I wasn't sold entirely on the fact that I was going to be the best person for it," he said. "I put myself down on tape for that role and just looked. I said, 'Look; if everyone else is auditioning, you should as well.' I see if I am the best person for the job. When I look back on my own audition, I didn't think I'm the guy for this. I think I did a fine job. Not only would it be a nightmare to be able to do all those things on such a small budget and a limited schedule. I just don't think I'm going to knock this out of the park. In fact, we had a lot of trouble casting Teddy. A lot of trouble."
When it came to casing Leanne, it wasn't as difficult. "I think Zahra was the third audition I looked at," Lawson recalled. "I was like, 'Wow! She's the woman to be Leanne. My God, she really just smashed it.'" He described how his auditioning process those he cast had to be compatible with his writing. "We were seeing lots of Teddys, but the problem with a lot of great actors is the way I write," he continued. "It's a lot of dialogue, and you need to be a bit like me, which is a fast talker and a fast thinker. If your rhythm's a little slower, then this material is not suited to you. When my agent hooked me up with Rafe, who was in England at the time, we had a long chat on the phone. I knew that his rhythms were perfect because he was a fast talker. He had gravitas. I just knew from talking to him that he could handle this material, and he didn't disappoint. He was really a godsend ultimately because we've seen a lot of back and forth but couldn't find anyone. it was one of those instances where once Rafe came on board, 'Oh, my God!' It was like the role was written for him and perfect for it." The director himself ended up playing Patrick.
When it came to inspiration for Long Story Short, Lawson evoked Harold Ramis, Richard Donner, and Frank Capra. "Groundhog Day is probably the most famous high concept rom-com of all time," he said. "There's a bit of time granted that essentially goes back in time, 24 hours every day. This goes forward a year, every two minutes. I mean, different, but, yes, I can see the similarity. That's not the only one. I would say It's a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra was an influence on the film. I'd say Scrooged. Bill Murray' in Scrooged is an influence on the film as well. You know, being able to look at your life in snapshots is a bit more A Christmas Carol than Groundhog Day in a way."
On Spall and Newman's chemistry, Lawson contrasted their personalities. "Well, I think they certainly hit it off right away, but that doesn't necessarily mean chemistry on screen," he explained. "I think what was important was that they have similarities and differences. Similarities in that they're both quick, and they know they're on each other's cues very well so that there's real back and forth when they are in heavy dialog scenes. What's really helpful is that they've got very different sensibilities as well. Zarah's function in the film is to be a lot more grounded than Teddy, who's trapped in this curse. He gets more manic as he goes on. Leanne has her shit together so much more. That dynamic is to be obvious in this. They couldn't be the same sort of person, because that would I think it just wouldn't feel interesting to watch so that they complemented each other. As crazy as he is, she's more grounded. As flighty as he is, she's more focused. Ultimately, they are kind of perfect for each other. There is a bit of an opposites attract thing going on. Romance chemistry on screen in a rom-com is hard to predict exactly right. We got lucky in a sense. I think they have excellent onscreen chemistry. That was always going to be a bit of like a Hail Mary. You want to make sure 100 percent it was going to work."
Saban Films' Long Story Short, which also stars Ronny Chieng, Dena Kaplan, and Noni Hazlehurts, comes to theaters, on-demand, and digital on July 2nd.