No one seems to want Justin Long to act his age.
Take his new movie, Accepted, a modern-day Animal House spin-off. In it he plays a recent high school grad. In another coming film, he plays a high school senior running star.
The problem? Justin Long turned 28 in June.
"I don't want to be the guy with a receding hairline, dyeing his hair and talking about dating the cheerleader," Long says.
"In Accepted, the girl playing my girlfriend [Blake Lively], she had just turned 18. She was 17 when we started. ... It's creepy because I feel like I'm old, and I'm making out with these girls," he admits.
"So it's starting to get weird. I've lost parts to kids who are getting dropped off by their parents."
Not that looking boyish hasn't worked wonders for Long's career. He first broke into film alongside Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver in 1999's Galaxy Quest. But he was still in college at Vassar at that point and determined to finish before going Hollywood full time.
After graduation, he starred in the cult horror hit Jeepers Creepers in 2001, and then played Britney Spears' boyfriend in 2002's Crossroads. But his big breaks came completely by accident.
Break No. 1 happened when he had to do two TV auditions in one day. He really wanted to land the first part (he didn't), so he wasn't paying much attention to the second. As a result, when he auditioned he couldn't remember his lines and ended up acting like a stammering, nervous kid.
Turned out they wanted a stammering, nervous kid, and he got the role of Warren on NBC's Ed. And then he was so good at stammering and acting like a nervous kid that the screenwriter for 2004's Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, gave him his second big break by writing a part for him in the film even though they'd never met.
"The writer [Rawson Marshall Thurber] was the only one fighting for me. Both the producers didn't want me; they thought I was too old for it ... and I was. I was 25 at the time, and it was written for a 15-year-old," Long says.
But he still wanted the part badly. "I was like, you've got to be joking. I couldn't even get arrested at that point. I was on Ed, but I couldn't get movies, so I was really flattered," Long remembers.
A look at the script soon changed that.
"The character description was Justin Redman: 15, gawky, pale, scrawny, painfully shy ... and I was, like, unflattered," Long says with a laugh. "But you take the good with the bad."
Nothing but good has followed Dodgeball. Long became buddies with star Vaughn and surfaced as a scene stealer in Vaughn's The Break-Up in June. In between, he starred in Waiting, alongside Ryan Reynolds, and last summer's Herbie Fully Loaded, with Lindsay Lohan.
Accepted marks his debut as the featured star of a wide release, and with no fewer than six more films set to come out in the next two years, including his co-starring role alongside Bruce Willis in the sure blockbuster Live Free or Die Hard, Long is becoming a constant pop culture presence. (Long may be most familiar to Americans as the laid-back dude personifying a Mac from a series of recent Apple computer commercials.)
Despite all his momentum, Long still isn't sure he has what it takes to last in Hollywood. Not in terms of talent, but in terms of raw ambition.
"There's a luck element, and there's an element where you have to kind of be somewhat aggressive and create your own opportunities. I think you need to have that. Vince Vaughn is one of those driven people, and I wonder sometimes if I'll ever get to that level because I don't know that I possess that drive," Long says.
Then again, his lack of aggression may very well be the key to his success so far.
"The jobs that I've gotten I feel like are either jobs that I didn't either really want or I had no shot at getting," Long says. "And for whatever reason psychologically I told myself that it didn't mean that much to me to get the job, so I just kind of relaxed." In the literal Long run, he figures, it may be best not to overanalyze his own success.