Why Barbarian Movie Cast Justin Long Over Zac Efron

Exclusive: The director of the upcoming horror film Barbarian, Zach Cregger, discusses his reasons for casting Justin Long instead of Zac Efron.

Barbarian director Zach Cregger discusses his casting choices for the horror film, explaining why he chose Justin Long rather than Zac Efron for the role of Cale. The thriller film premiered earlier this year at San Diego Comic-Con and received rave reviews. A 20th Century Studios and New Regency production, Barbarian centers on Tess, a young woman who travels to Detroit for a job interview and books a rental home for the night. When she learns that the house was double-booked, she stays with a stranger despite her reluctance and is eventually subjected to frightening phenomena within the dwelling.


Georgina Campbell stars in the leading role as Tess, with Bill Skarsgård as the mysterious house guest, Keith. Barbarian director Zach Cregger has a cameo in his own film as Everett, and Justin Long stars as a deuteragonist in the film. Long was only glimpsed briefly in Barbarian’s trailer, so his role remains largely a mystery. Despite Long’s key part in the film, he reportedly was not Cregger’s first choice for the role, with Zac Efron originally considered for the part of Cale.

Related: Firestarter Continues An Annoying Zac Efron Career Trend

In an exclusive conversation with Screen Rant at a recent screening, Cregger describes his thought process when choosing who should play Barbarian’s Cale. Though at first he planned for Efron to take on the role, he explains why he changed his mind. See his comments below:

I wrote this guy, [and] I think we offered it initially to Zac Efron, because I was thinking I want to go for some beefcake kind of himbo. No diss on Zac Efron, but that’s the way that he’s portrayed himself a lot. I was just thinking jawbone, biceps, and a haircut. Then he said no, which is why I’m talking so much sh-t on him. [Laughs] No, he’s great. I wanted him to do the movie.

But when he passed, I had time to think. We were putting a list together of who to go out to, and I just realized I’d been thinking about the role all wrong… Not this big, Alpha sort of a dude—but more of a Tom Hanks kind of a guy. And so, I was thinking, ‚Who’s Tom Hanks? Justin Long is Tom Hanks. Let’s do that.‘ That’s how it went.

Cregger’s words offer a fascinating insight into the decisions behind casting. Though he would have been satisfied had Efron taken on the part, as he mentions, Efron passing on the role made Cregger think more deeply about his film, resulting in an ultimately more interesting casting choice. His description of Long as Tom Hanks is also intriguing, and perhaps a predictor of Long’s career going forward. Hanks is obviously a juggernaut in the film industry. Beloved for his everyman portrayal of complex characters, he has earned two Academy Awards and seven Emmys across his illustrious career. Long has an impressive quantity of credits to his name already, and has recently moved more into writing and directing as well as acting in more leading roles.

Barbarian should be an interesting opportunity for Long to stretch his acting chops. Best known for more lighthearted fare, Long will have to go to a darker place for this twisty film. Cregger both wrote and directed Barbarian, cementing his authority when it comes to the right casting choices for all characters. The thriller movie is certain to add a layer of suspicion to house and shared space renters everywhere as that industry becomes more and more common. Slated to debut next month, Barbarian promises to be a unique thrill ride.

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