Arts Desk

Going the Distance Cast Talks About the Economy, Ensembles, and Why Applegate Refused to Stare at Long’s Naked Ass

Forgive Going the Distance its dash-into-the-airport scene. Because — spoiler alert! — for a good chunk of this romantic comedy, things don't work out for Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long), a couple who meets cute in New York six weeks before Erin is planning to move back to San Francisco. Jobs aren't landed, money's too tight for visits, Christmas is spent Skype-ing while each opens gifts more appropriate for a Secret Santa than a significant other.

It's no small detail that Erin is trying to become a newspaper reporter while Garrett works in the record industry. Is this the world's first recession comedy?

"I think the fiscal realities of the characters play a large part [of the story], and it was nice to do something that a lot of people right now can relate to," Long says. "The things that you take for granted when you enter into a long-distance relationship, chief among them logistics, just getting from point A to B."

"And you can't," Barrymore continues, "because of money or schedules or obligations. When I go to a movie, I personally want something I can escape into and forget what's going on around me. But I don't want to totally lose sight of [reality]. To me, this film has that balance. It gets surprisingly real, but then it makes you laugh."

Barrymore also appreciated taking a step away from her usual flighty, flower-child roles and director Nanette Burstein's encouragement of improvisation. "I just didn't want to play someone cuckoo and wacky, but a woman who can hang out with guys, has a spine, and is funny. So it was a pleasure to get to improv and work in a much more free-flowing way, and you didn't have to be censored because had an R rating."

Producer Adam Shankman says, "One of the most important things Nanette and I talked about going into this movie, even before it was cast, was the fact that there had to be a lot of honesty. Which is why it couldn't be anything but an R. You can't do a good comedy about an adult relationship without it coming from something that's very grounded and real at its core."

Burstein's resume as a documentary filmmaker likely helped. "I think what we were trying to do is that tonally, it's different from the traditional romantic comedy," she says. "I mean, people are uncensored, and there's a very grounded story about feelings and emotion. You really care about these characters."

With a supporting cast that includes Christina Applegate as Corinne, Erin's clucking sister, and Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudeikis and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day as Garrett's best friends, it's easy to maintain interest in more than just the film's will-they-or-won't-they central plot.

Barrymore says, "For me, films work best when you're invested in the whole [cast]. I love films like Judd Apatow's or Christopher Guest's, where they have that ensemble quality and you really like the main characters' entire world."

Burstein adds, "What we didn't want to do is just have a Greek chorus. There's so much comedy that comes from both Christina's character and Justin's friends, it makes the film that much more fun to watch."

At times, the filmmakers' emphasis on capturing R-rated reality from even the supporting players caused a bit of trouble. Take, for instance, a scene in which Corinne catches Erin and Garrett having sex on her dining-room table, with Long bottom's-up. "That first day of work that was the most challenging for me," Applegate admits, "because Nanette kept saying, 'When you come in and you see them naked, could you stare longer?' And I physically couldn't. There was no option. We almost got into an argument.

"I told her, 'What's actually, really, truthfully, naturally happening is that I'm not looking at it. I look at it and I want to look away immediately. That's how I, Christina, feel, and that's what I think the character would feel.' Applegate adds: [Long] is very Method. And there was no cover-up. And he was bent over. Think about it."

Sudeikis and Day, meanwhile, enjoyed the perk of layering the comedy without having to stare at Long's ass. Says Day, "We got to have the most fun in terms of just coming in and being light. We don't have to carry any sort of emotional arc."

Sudeikis clarifies, "Low stakes, hi-larity. That should play in print if you put a hyphen in there."

Day: "They'll be running to the theaters."

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