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 across the country on Friday.
Shot in Tampa and St. Pete in early 2020 (squeaky production just before the pandemic), Lady of the Manor stars Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, two and a half Men) as Hannah, a perpetually stoned loser in life who finds herself in a job of touring direction through a 19e Century Savannah Mansion.
Hannah is a train wreck, which means she’s an easy pick for the opportunistic and perpetually horny offspring of the owner family (played with creamy glee by Ryan Phillipe).
In her life comes the ghost of Lady Wadsworth, who was murdered there (by her husband Sleazebag, also played by Phillipe) just after the Civil War. Lady W wants to right some historical wrongs – and she can’t stand Hannah’s rude mouth and botched alcoholism (among others), either.
Thus the shipwreck and the apparition form an improbable link.
Judy Greer (Jurassic World, Ant-Man, Halloween) plays the role of the beautiful lady, and Justin Long has taken on a major role as a love interest and unlikely ally for Hannah – a history professor at college.
Lady of the Manor is available to stream, and in St. Petersburg, it’s on screen at Green Light Cinema and Seminole Studio Move Grill.
St. Pete Catalyst: Melanie Lynskey is so good at it. It wasn’t until I saw the gag reel running alongside the end credits that I realized she was speaking normally with a strong New Zealand accent. Her character looks like a lot of American women I’ve met over the years..
Christian: Among other things, she is really good at covering her accent. But that’s 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 between takes, just laughing with her. He just liked his sense of humor. We didn’t think she would agree to make this movie, but we wondered why not give her a Hail Mary? She hadn’t had the chance to do a hotter type of comedy before.
Justin: I knew how funny she was. But because of the hotter elements, we were a little scared to send it to her AND to Judy – I mean, I know they’re funny women, but as actresses they’re so classy. They have such a classy reputation. And what surprised us was that they really embraced some of the hottest elements of it. This is what they really looked into and were excited to do. But it couldn’t have been a better combination of talent and a sense of humor.
Watching and hearing Lady Wadsworth’s fart was one of the highlights of my week.
Justin: That was one of the things we were on the fence on. Sometimes when you write something like that it’s like once you’re on set, and once you have a great actress like Judy Greer saying the words and playing the character, sometimes those things change. These two, they’re so truthful that whenever they were hesitant to do something, we would always listen to them. It always meant that there was a flaw in the handwriting. And we just trusted their instincts.
I kind of thought that might be one of those times, where Judy would be like, ‘Yeah, it might be a little too much if I fart now, when we have this kind of heartwarming moment.’
Christian: It has become a moment that warms the farts.
Justin: Judy coined the phrase “A farts-warming comedy”. She was so into it.
What is the genesis of this story? Have you been pacing back and forth for a while?
Christian: One evening, a few years ago, one of us said: “Do you think it would be a funny idea to make a comic version of psychopath? Where Norman Bates’ mother, instead of inspiring him to murder people, was really boring and interfering too much with his personal life? “
We couldn’t really figure this out. It seemed inherently too tragic, because, you know, you’re talking about someone’s dead mother. But it kind of led to what has become Lady of the Manor. Who was that dynamic, most appropriate character, the school marmy character and the opposite, a modern day character.
Justin: And Christian and I both really like weird couple-type comedies, boyfriend comedies. We grew up watching Laurel & Hardy, Planes, trains and automobiles, what about Bob, these have always been our favorite movies, the movies that really inspired us. So when we decided to make our own thing, it just felt so natural to us. We felt like we were familiar enough with this genre and maybe we could give it a try.
I lived in Savannah. Georgia has a very nice tax incentive program for filmmakers, unlike Florida. So … why did you film it here, and not in the city where it is set??
Christian Long: It’s about as simple as the producers who supported the film had ties to Florida. And they had an infrastructure there. We were skeptical at first, because we know how unique Savannah is, in terms of everything.
Justin Long: They have some great ghost tours in Savannah, which I’ve taken, and that’s part of the reason we put it there. So selfishly, we just wanted to hang out there. We wanted to shoot it there. But yeah, the people we were related with, who thought they could raise the money to make the movie, they just had those connections over there in Florida.
Christian: We were skeptical, but we were 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 expected.
Justin: It’s always a nice compliment on the movie when someone who knows Savannah – and I know you didn’t say that, I don’t put a word in your mouth – when they see the movie, they suppose we shot it there. It’s a testament to the people of our locations – and to the beauty of St. Pete itself. I didn’t know there were such old parts of St. Pete, that there was so much history there.
The way your character and Melanie’s came together at the end reminded me of the Woody Allen ending. Love and death, where he and Diane Keaton wear disguises to assassinate Napoleon. It was that kind of comedic nonsense.
Justin: Oh my God, I love this movie. I wonder if it was somewhere in our subconscious. This film has been a huge comedic influence for me. The way he used this historical context… and the score too! This is one of my favorites. Prokofiev! (He whistles Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije’s Suite”). Now I want to see him again.
It was great to see (former St. Pete resident) Andi Matheny with Patrick Duffy and Ryan Phillippe.
Justin: God, is she good. She’s still good. In fact, as soon as Andi started doing his scenes, we immediately regretted that the role was not more important. We wish we had time to add more stuff, because she and Patrick Duffy were so funny together.
Hope this doesn’t sound offensive, but we were surprised at the amount of local talent. We found our wardrobe department, our production department… the teams there and the acting was really a delight.
We had such a good local team. We now had so many friends there so hopefully they can check it out. We are so happy that it is showing in theaters there. We’re glad people are watching it.