Just as former Anacortes resident Devan Chandler Long is having a star-turn moment in the successful CBS freshman comedy “Ghosts,” his older brother, former Washington State Cougars’ All-American defensive lineman Rien Long, is about to be on screens as the henchman to a villain played by Billy Zane in Peacock’s “MacGruber” series, streaming starting Dec. 16.
Just don’t go looking for Long’s name in the credits, where he’ll be billed by the mononym Vartan.
“That’s my brand, just like Prince,” Long says, chuckling. “I’m working on my symbol now.”
In a phone interview last month from his home outside Nashville, where he once played for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Long explains that Vartan is his middle name.
“My grandmother, who’s full-blooded Armenian, her maiden name was Vartanian,” he says. “I figured, if I’m gonna do some acting, I need to have a one-word name like ‘The Rock.’ Vartan sounds pretty fitting, like a warrior king. It’s robust and it’s a little different.”
At 6-foot-6-inches tall and 290 pounds, the 40-year-old Long is well-suited to play a henchman in “MacGruber,” which started as a “Saturday Night Live” parody sketch of “MacGyver” in 2007. A 2010 “MacGruber” feature film died at the box office but, with the gaping maw of a streaming service to feed, MacGruber is back in action with Long set to appear in seven of the eight episodes.
Will Forte returns as MacGruber, who’s been imprisoned for use of excessive force when his wedding to Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) was attacked by a terrorist. Also back in action is the third team member, Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), who’s always rolling his eyes at the antics of his colleagues.
Long plays Baker Jaxx, a member of a team led by Enos Queeth (Zane) that MacGruber left for dead decades earlier. They’ve returned for revenge.
As a henchman, Long doesn’t have a lot of lines early in the season but he says that changes somewhat in later episodes.
“Me and Ryan [Phillippe] have a pretty epic battle in the finale. I love that guy,” Long says. “He is the epitome of cool and smooth, even off-camera.”
Although “MacGruber” originated as a through-and-through comedy — each sketch ended with MacGruber failing to prevent a catastrophe, leading to all the characters’ deaths — once it became a movie (and now a series), the tone varies, more comedic when Wiig is on-screen, more action-packed when the focus is on MacGruber and the villains.
“I’m more in the action-thriller parts but there are a couple of comedic moments I have, including one with Kristen Wiig, and then Ryan and I have some good banter,” Long says of filming the series from June to August in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “But it’s mainly action and shooting and me mugging like I‘m always angry. I look like I’m looking for the weakest human in the room to eat, just sizing everyone up.”
Long, an Anacortes High School grad, attended Washington State University on an athletic scholarship, playing for the Cougars football team. He finished his career as one of WSU’s most decorated defensive players and was a member of the 2003 Rose Bowl team. The Tennessee Titans drafted Long in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, but injuries plagued his NFL career, which ended in 2007.
After the NFL, Long stayed in Nashville and worked as a bartender and then found his way to a communal workshop where he became interested in fabrication, building coffee tables and inventing a brass knuckle bottle opener. His latest fascination: heavy machinery for terraforming the landscape around his home.
But acting gives him something that’s lacking in those more solitary pursuits and it hearkens back to his days on the field.
“After football, you’re chasing that locker-room, team aspect and when I got on set, I just loved it,” Long says of the transfer from gridiron to soundstage. “It was good to be part of a team again.”
He says he’s happy for whatever roles come his way, whether that’s playing more heavies or his dream to act in a Wes Anderson film.
Long’s first on-camera role was as a terrorist in a 2011 episode of the original run of “Leverage,” which filmed in Portland. He credits his friend and “Leverage” series regular Christian Kane with bringing him on for a fight scene.
Then Long landed a recurring role on the 2016-17 CMT comedy “Still the King” starring Billy Ray Cyrus. Long played a possible human-Sasquatch hybrid.
“My hairy forearms and my whole face with the dead raccoon on it,” Long says of his beard, “it sold the Sasquatch role.”
Long doesn’t have another part lined up but he did recently audition for a potential role. He’s also visited his brother, Devan, in Montreal, where Devan films his role as the Viking Thorfinn on “Ghosts.”
“I would be so excited if we could play brother Vikings or really anything,” Long says. “I missed that we never played football together. We were never on the field at the same time. It kind of bums me out that we missed out on that. I think that’d be a cool experience ‘beyond the field,’ acting together.”
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