We Are Pleased to Offer You Admission to These 15 Secrets About the Making of Accepted

Justin Long, Jonah Hill and Blake Lively starred in the 2006 comedy Accepted, about a crafty slacker who creates a fake college to appease his parents after all the real schools reject him.

By Natalie Finn Aug 18, 2021 4:00 PMTags
Watch: Blake Lively Talks Rejection in 2006: Live From E! Rewind

If Old School and Van Wilder had a baby, and it mated with Slackers, you'd get Accepted.

Starring Justin Long, Jonah Hill and a pre-Gossip Girl Blake Lively, the 2006 comedy about a smart but unmotivated teen who's been B.S.-ing his way through life, only to find himself the recipient of nothing but rejection letters come senior year, has all the attributes of a movie that came out exactly when it did: A geeky-but-adorable leading man, an up-and-coming ingenue, a frowsy-haired Hill making impeccably timed wisecracks and a plot involving subterfuge that would be impossible if social media existed.

Well, faking that you're going to college to placate your disappointed parents by gussying up an old psychiatric hospital and calling it a campus is also impossible. But it was amazing how persuasive an official-looking website could be, however fake the product, back in the day.

Blake Lively Through the Years

Accepted was also one of those very watchable films that audiences enjoyed far more than critics did, but, at the end of the semester... 

It's fans who want to revisit lines such as "This place is awesome, because now I can finally get hepatitis" and "Hope you guys have hobo stab insurance" who are cranking it up on Netflix. And there's always more than meets the eye when it comes to putting together an impressive lineup of up-and-coming and veteran talent whom you can just tell by watching the movie were having fun behind the scenes.

So in honor of the 15th anniversary of Accepted (the graduates of South Harmon Institute of Technology could have fake PhDs by now!), here are a variety of things you didn't know about the admissions process:

1. We see you, writers. The screenplay, credited to Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Mark Perez, goes on a tear in the culture department when it comes to the characters' names, starting with Bartleby Gaines, played by Justin Long. In Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener," the title character goes about his work as a clerk at a law office until, one day, he would simply "prefer not to," baffling his employer. Doomed slacker or heroic iconoclast who thumbed his nose at the man, who's to say?

Then you've got Sherman Schrader, Jonah Hill's character, and the filmmaker Paul Schrader can't help but come to mind. Bartleby's parents are "Jack & Diane," one of John Mellencamp's biggest songs. Ambrose Bierce was a famed journalist and short story writer, and Travis Van Winkle's snooty jock determined to take Bartleby's fake school down is Hoyt Ambrose. Then there's Abernathy Darwin Dunlap, played by Robin Lord Taylor.

Light comedy, heavy names.

2. Long made his movie debut in 1999's Galaxy Quest and joined the cast of NBC's Ed in 2000, so he was a veteran actor by the time he played Bartleby (who was supposed to be roughly 18) at the age of 28. Still, he admitted his biggest role yet was "really overwhelming," particularly the physical demands of being in just about every scene, including his big musical number.

He recalled to Movie Hole how his leading-man friends advised him to get a lot of sleep and "I thought they were being condescending, but they were right, it's like running a marathon. Granted, I neglected their advice, and a week into it, I got severely sick. That's what hit me right away—how physically demanding it was."

"I'd heard about the project, about a year before it started shooting," he also said, "but I'm sure they had gone out to like a bunch of other young actors—Topher [Grace], and all those guys—before they got down to me on the list. But yes, I was the first to be cast. I auditioned with so many people that were up for my best friend and the girl, and it made me fear auditioning even more than I did, because as soon as these people were out the door they were like, 'Well, that guy's not getting the job.' I felt so sorry for all those actors."

3. Long and Hill knew each other before but ended up really bonding on the set of Accepted, even becoming roommates for awhile, and they've worked together several times since. But Hill almost didn't get the part, despite being perfect for the role of Sherman.

"They had said no, like, a bunch of times," Hill remembered to Movie Hole of the lengthy audition process. Explained Long, "They were adamant that he wasn't the guy. One guy actually said that he's 'too John Belushi in Animal House.' And I was like, 'Well, shouldn't that be something we aspire to?' As it turned out, that guy hadn't even seen Animal House." 

4. Long had misgivings at first about doing the movie because it was only going to be PG-13.

"I had a real hang-up about it having to be R, especially because Lewis Black was involved," he told Radio Free Entertainment, noting the stand-up comedian's role as the fake dean of their fake college. "And in my college experience, just personally, to say it was R-rated would be sugar-coating it. It was NC-17. If you're making an accurate, realistic college film, I felt it was sort of necessary, not only because of the sexual stuff, but just the ease with which college kids say the F-word. It just sort of rolls off the tongue and we were ad-libbing a lot of the movie, and when you're in that zone, it's such a temptation to say [it]. It's such a crutch. I'm tempted to say it right now! But they were adamant about it being PG-13. And we fought it for a little while, but I had no real leg to stand on. Who cares what I thought?"

Ultimately he was glad they stuck with the slightly more family-friendly version. Because if not, "it would have been a hard R," he said, "and in that case, you have to make a concerted effort to show a lot of boobs, and 'f--k this and that,' and that might detract from what the movie is, which is not about sex. It's nice. More people can watch and it has more the tone of like an '80s comedy, like a John Cusack or Michael J. Fox movie."

5. "Ninety-percent of Jonah's funny lines were him ad-libbing," Long shared about dialog gems including "Hey, ask me about my wiener!" (while Hill was dressed like a hot dog for a hazing stunt). In fact, he told Radio Free Entertainment, almost everyone ended up doing improv.

"A lot of the script wasn't really there," he said, "and we had to ad-lib a lot, encouraged by the writers, director and the studio. Jonah's casting...90 percent of it was due to the fact that he was a genius improviser. All the auditions, we did one scripted and it wasn't quite in working condition, and we threw it out and we improved a lot."

6. Actually, Hill doesn't really scream like that. The blood-curdling lady's scream that Schrader lets out when he's startled during their trip to the empty asylum was actually co-star Maria Thayer's best terrified shriek.

"When it came time for my close-up, I said to Maria, 'Don't tell anybody, but you scream and I'll just mime it. But don't say anything to anyone else, because it'll be way funnier that way, if they're not expecting it,'" Hill recalled. "So we did it and everyone around us kind of lost it. I totally didn't expect them to put it in the movie, but they haven't changed it. And it gets a huge laugh. That's one of my most proud moments, because if you write or [come up with something like this] and it goes in, you feel like you really contributed toward making it a little funnier."

7. Blake Lively, who played Bartleby's crush Monica Moreland, had her sights set on Stanford—until her big brother Eric Lively told her when she was about 16 that she ought to pursue acting.

"And then after a few months of auditioning, I got [Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants]," she told Radio Free Entertainment in 2006. "And all I had to miss were finals, so I went away just for the summer, I did a movie, and I came back like three weeks before my senior year. And I knew that that's what I wanted to do, just because I had such a blast."

Subsequently, she put college on an indefinite hold, as one job led to another. (She briefly tried to attend Columbia part-time while shooting Gossip Girl, but, as she told Vanity Fair in 2017, "This is advice to anyone: when they say, 'We promise, but we can't put it in writing,' there's a reason they can't put it in writing.") 

Lively appreciated the message of Accepted, that what might be widely accepted (no pun intended) as the right way to do things isn't what works for everybody. "So many times in school, you get so bogged down by things that you 'have to do' to get into a good college," she explained. "And you end up being so overwhelmed that you don't do a great job at any one thing. You're just like dying and half-doing a million different activities. And...the extracurriculars you have to take have nothing to do with real life experience. Like why, in high school, don't they teach you how to do taxes?"

8. Asked what sort of school curriculum he would pursue if he could design his own, à la the "students" at South Harmon Institute of Technology (and they're proud of that acronym, thank you very much), Hill told E! News in 2006, deadpan, "I would want to study how to be a better actor, because I haven't really figured it out yet."

His more serious answer was music, that he would've loved to become a great pianist or trumpet player if he hadn't leaned into acting in college and never looked back.

Almost exactly a year after Accepted came out, Superbad hit theaters, making $171 million, and Hill has since been nominated for two best Supporting Actor Oscars, for Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street.

9. Asked the same question by Free Radio Entertainment, about designing his own curriculum, Long quipped that he'd take, "'How to Answer Interview Questions You Aren't Prepared For 101."

He added, "I'm in this great relationship now but I'm discovering all these relationship pitfalls. Like simple things I could have done to get myself out of an argument, like 'How to Diffuse a Potentially Serious Argument With Your Girlfriend 101.'"

Long had actually found love on campus! He dated Kaitlin Doubleday, who played co-ed Gwynn, until 2007.

10. In Accepted, what starts out as Bartleby's latest scheme turns into a haven of acceptance for the unaccepted (as in for kids like Maria Thayer's Rory, who didn't get into Yale, and the town misfits), and that really resonated with Hill.

"I didn't like high school so much...That's why this movie is very poignant for me," Hill told E! News, "'cause I felt very like I didn't fit in a lot in high school and stuff, in an uncomfortable-in-your-own-skin kind of way. I feel like college was so much better for me, once you get there you really kind of...turn into a butterfly. I was just a little larva and I was in my cocoon. And then I hit college and these babies came out," he said, smiling, as he mimed spreading his wings.

Hill said the scene in which Bartleby breaks it to his parents that he didn't get in anywhere, and his father basically says he'll never amount to anything if he doesn't go to college, was very familiar—though he eventually matriculated at The New School in New York (he dropped out to pursue acting full time). That scene "makes me cringe, ugh, 'cause I remember that day," he said.

11. When Ambrose shows up and Bartleby's "eating a wad, man," Long was nibbling on a concoction of "mostly chocolate, I think," he told Chuck the Movie Guy, "and a little bit of Adam Herschman's urine, and that's about it. It was good!" (Herschman played Glen, who apparently didn't know that merely writing his name on his SAT would have automatically scored him at least some points.)

Asked how many of the presumably urine-free brownie-like concoctions he had to eat, the actor admitted it was a lot. "I had to really savor them," he explained. Long said his mom, an actress who did a lot of commercials, had told him how a brownie can become gross after a long day of biting into one over and over again. "I never really believed her until the day I shot that stuff with the wad...I think I ate about 15 of them. They were really disgusting and I'd have to spit 'em out after each take."

12. Bartleby's mom, Diane Gaines, is played by very busy character actress Ann Cusack, whose famous family goes way back with director Steve Pink.

Accepted marked Pink's feature directorial debut, but he had already penned the screenplays for the John Cusack-starring Grosse Point Blank (also featuring sisters Ann and Joan Cusack) and High Fidelity. Pals since high school in the 1980s, they cofounded New Crime Productions and Pink directed both Hot Tub Time Machine movies.

The filmmaker also had a bit part as a football player in John's teen comedy The Sure Thing and, 16 years later, a cameo as a limo driver in America's Sweethearts.

13. Bartleby's rendition of "Blitzkrieg Bop" was "supposed to be like the big Ferris Bueller scene," Long told Chuck the Movie Guy in 2006, referring to Matthew Broderick lip-syncing the hell out of "Twist & Shout" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But it wasn't quite the badass moment he envisioned it would be.

He rehearsed it once with The Ringers, the band they were working with on set, Long recalled, disregarding any suggestions that he might want to save his energy for when the cameras were rolling. "And I got a little tired and weird," he said, so when he got up to perform the relatively short song again, "I went all out, [like] 'Yeah, I'm a rock star,' it was awesome. And I got off stage and I had the most non-rock-star reaction that you could possibly have. I got off stage...and I went [feigning wooziness], 'Oh my god, I think I'm gonna pass out, seriously, I can't stand up.'"

"I felt like I was going to faint," Long said. "The makeup lady had to bring a big thing of Pedialyte over, which I was drinking out of a straw for the rest of the day. I did one more take and I was like—you know, all these extras were watching me, it was so lame...So if ever I harbored any secret desires to be a rock star, they were completely dashed in that moment."

He shouldn't feel too bad: Ferris did sorta faint into those dirndl-wearing dancers' arms at the end of his big number.

14. "Acceptance is just one click away," brags the very real website for the very fake South Harmon Institute of Technology. There's merch and everything.

15. Asked to pick which of his movies he'd rather rewatch, Long told Us Weekly last year that he'd probably go with Accepted first before Crossroads and He's Just Not That Into You, not that he didn't appreciate all of them.

"They were all really fun to make," he shared, "but that, particularly, was a great time. When I watch movies that I've done now, the joy I get out of it is, like...first and foremost, it transports me back to that time in my life."

The Life Is Short With Justin Long host continued, "That was a great time. I loved working with those actors. It's funny, I just talked to Lewis Black the other day, so we're going to have Lewis on [my podcast]. Lew would be a great guest to have. He has such great stories and obviously he's so funny."

And "Jonah and I, we were just such great friends—and Blake and the whole gang. It'd be fun to relive that one."

Accepted is streaming on Netflix.