Jurassic World Interview: Jake Johnson on Hector Elizondo and Samuel L. Jackson

Jurassic World is the long-awaited reunion of Safety Not Guaranteed director and star Colin Trevorrow and Jake Johnson. My colleague, Courtney Howard, interviewed Trevorrow and asked him if Johnson was his Hector Elizondo, referring to Garry Marshall’s films. I had an interview with Johnson and shared Trevorrow’s answer with him.

Johnson plays Lowery, a control room technician at Jurassic World. He’s clearly a fanboy, as he puts dinosaur toys on his desk and wears a Jurassic Park T-shirt. In the world of the film, T-shirts with the logo for the first Jurassic Park disaster must be collector’s items. Jurassic World opens Friday, June 12 and I had a fun time chatting with Johnson about it.

Nerd Report: My colleague interviewed Colin and asked him the brilliant question: Is Jake Johnson your Hector Elizondo? He said you were like a McDonald’s in a foreign country or a security blanket. How do you take that?

Jake Johnson: [Laughs] I love working with Colin. Getting a call from Colin, I had a similar experience. If the movie is going to be a small indie or a big studio, I know what I’m going to get with him on and off camera. When you do a movie, you don’t know if you’re going to get along with the director and the cast. If you don’t get along with the director, and it’s happened to me before, it’s a nightmare. So the beauty of getting a call from Colin is I know after work we’re going to be having dinner drinking beers together. So when we’re having that dinner, we’re drinking beers, we’re able to talk about the next day of work and come up with ideas you both get excited about. When it’s all said and done, I hope to be in a lot of Colin Trevorrow movies.

Nerd Report: I’m sure you wouldn’t say which directors you didn’t get along with, but if we saw those films, would it be obvious to us?

Jake Johnson: No, unfortunately.

Nerd Report: Well, it’s good if it came out well.

Jake Johnson: Yeah, that’s right.

Nerd Report: Did you see this as the Samuel L. Jackson part?

Jake Johnson: Actually, that’s how it was pitched to me. Colin said, “I want you to be this character in the movie. You’re essentially going to be my Samuel L. Jackson.” So I thought you don’t get much cooler than that.

Nerd Report: Maybe Nick Miller.

Jake Johnson: [Laughs]

Nerd Report: How did it feel to wear the classic Jurassic Park T?

Jake Johnson: What was nice about it was we decided when we were building the character to build the look off of a mutual friend of ours, a guy named Clay Allen. So the glasses and mustache and the tattoo, and somewhat the shirt were based off our our friend Clay’s look. We wanted him to be a guy who was cool and knew of the Jurassic Park world and would be the kind of guy who would be a tech guy in the new Jurassic World. If the universe is real, what kind of guy would actually be working there?

Nerd Report: Were there a lot of costume fittings?

Jake Johnson: No, I think we just did one day of it. We saw it, we were happy with it.

Nerd Report: In addition to working with Colin, was part of the appeal of doing Jurassic World that you got to see Jurassic World before any of us did?

Jake Johnson: Honestly, the big appeal of it was truly working with Colin, working on another Derek Connolly script. I was really excited to finally get to work with Chris Pratt even though we didn’t get to work together a lot. I’ve known him for a while. I’ve been a fan. I’m a big fan of Bryce as well, so being able to work with this cast on this movie is such a no brainer.

Nerd Report: Colin said in the press conference that you wrote the big speech about products at the end of the last day. Did that all come together at the last minute?

Jake Johnson: Going back to hanging out in bars and talking things out, there was always an open dialogue with Colin. It’s my favorite kind of relationship with directors. We could just discuss it and he could tell me what he wanted and what his vision is, and then I could pitch him ideas and he could tell me if we were close or too far away. I think what makes a great director like that is he works with each actor in a different way. I love a collaboration. I love talking things out.

Nerd Report: Was it just scheduling that you shot the final week, or did your casting come down to the wire?

Jake Johnson: No, I had the part. I had this part early. I was cast before they knew Chris was going to be the lead because I remember Colin texted me that he was going to go out to Chris Pratt and I couldn’t be more excited. Chris and I actually texted each other about Colin before the actual thing went down because I knew Chris a little bit through Aubrey Plaza obviously. So when I knew Chris was in consideration, I reached out to him just to let him know how incredible Colin is. He wouldn’t be disappointed.

Nerd Report: Putting your scenes at the end of the film, were you able to see any scenes they shot previously?

Jake Johnson: I was. Colin wanted the stuff on the big board so we could react to it. I was able to see a bunch of early footage from the movie which was a really cool experience.

Nerd Report: Did you watch movies like Jurassic Park and think those are the kind of movies you want to be in when you become an actor?

Jake Johnson: No way. I come from the suburbs of Chicago so I didn’t have any links to the industry. The idea of being in TV and movies wasn’t a realistic thought for me until my mid-20s. The idea of being a professional actor wasn’t a real consideration. When I started acting, it was more a fun thing I did with my friends where we would write comedy shows and perform them. Then it kept growing for me, but I never had this great strategy. I never had that little boy moment that Jim Carey talks about where he wrote a check to himself for ten million dollars and said, “I will cash this.” Mine was more it’s still surreal that I’m working as much as I’m working. I don’t take it for granted because I know how random all this is. So I didn’t watch those movies thinking, “One day everyone will see. I’ll be there.”

Nerd Report: I can relate. I watched those movies and ever imagined one day I’d be interviewing and writing about the actors and filmmakers.

Jake Johnson: That’s what I mean. It’s so surreal. I just watched them and I really enjoyed them. Even when I was shooting it, people would be like, “How crazy is this, you shooting Jurassic World?” I didn’t even think about it like that. I viewed it the same way I view shooting an indie or New Girl. You got to work and in between action and cut, that’s where my job is. I act. Now that I’m doing the press for it is really when it finally settled in, like oh, this is wild.

Nerd Report: With the success of Let’s Be Cops last summer, are there plans for more movies with you in the lead?

Jake Johnson: I gotta tell you, I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out really, to be ridiculous for a second, where my enjoyment lies. I really loved my role in Jurassic and that side of it more than I loved my role in Let’s Be Cops. I think if I could choose, it’s obviously part dependent and script dependent, but I loved playing Lowery. I love the size of that part. I like being the lead of smaller movies where I have more creative control and I guess I’m going to take it day by day, but I don’t have a major strategy and I’m not going to do my career mirrored after anybody else. If I’m a character actor for years, I’d be pretty thrilled doing that too. If it happens I play the lead in a few things and the projects happen to work, like for example, Let’s Be Cops, the reason I did that was Damon Wayans, Jr. I knew he and I were going to do it together. I wanted to work with him and we knew Keegan was going to do it and Riggle was coming in. So I just wanted to work with all those dudes.

Nerd Report: So Digging for Fire is your second movie with Joe Swanberg. I didn’t get a chance to see it at Sundance so what can you tell us?

Jake Johnson: That’s my second of hopefully 50 because I just love working with him. It’s one of those movies that, in my opinion, is very 2015 in that it’s going to be in arthouse theaters but it’s also going to be available on iTunes and VOD. It’s a quieter movie. It’s not like Jurassic. You’re not going to see Digging for Fire in a 3D multiplex.

Nerd Report: I love that model where we can watch a new movie at home.

Jake Johnson: Both are so exciting to me right now, the two different models. You don’t want to watch Jurassic World on your computer. But you can watch Digging For Fire alone and it’ll be just as much fun if you see it there or in a theater. There’s something about that. Going back to what roles I’m going to do next, I’m not sure because I like both models so much right now.

Jurassic World Review: Franchise Fred Approves

I love Jurassic World as both an allegory and a sequel. They have finally opened the dinosaur theme park John Hammond always envisioned, and why wouldn’t they continue cloning dinosaurs? Colossal failure has never stopped any corporation from proceeding. Now they get corporate sponsorship, and a competitive mandate that requires them to make bigger, scarier dinosaurs. The allegory is corporations encouraging our worst instincts to consume more and more. The sequel is that, duh, we’ve already seen three movies worth of dinosaurs, and even the third started stretching with the Spinosaurus.

2424_AB0220_COMP_053785_1061R.JPG_cmykThe original Jurassic Park was Steven Spielberg doing Jaws with dinosaurs. Jurassic World is even more Jaws than Jurassic Park was. Jurassic World is pretty well contained and safe. There’s just the one big bad monster dinosaur running around, like that pesky great white on the beach. Only now it’s Jaws meets Aliens because the military has an agenda too. Again, allegory and sequel. Why wouldn’t the military try to appropriate something that’s already of questionable safety? Look what they’ve done with drones.

The Spielberg spirit is alive and well in a film totally worthy of the Amblin logo at the top. The macro Spielberg of course is a broken family. Zack (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Tye Simpkins) are visiting their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) at Jurassic World, who ignores them and leaves them and sticks them with a chaperone. The micro Spielberg is that mix of wonder and danger.

You can’t show us dinosaurs for the first time again, but director Colin Trevorrow creates wonder in seeing the fully functioning dinosaur park with thousands of tourists roaming the streets and food courts. Where Spielberg opened with awe and built towards dread, Trevorrow does a good job interspersing the two tones throughout. There’s excitement right away, but even when all hell is breaking lose there’s still, as Jeff Goldblum put it, “Ooh”s and “ahh”s.

2424_SB_00033R.JPG_cmykThe body count is high, probably higher than The Lost World, and that’s a good thing. Those Amblin movies had edge. Jurassic World has a great sense of humor too, that macabre humor that comes out in a crisis. Not just Chris Pratt as raptor trainer Owen Grady. The kids get some big laughs too.

Callbacks to the original range from clever repurposing of our favorite things, to sometimes we’re just seeing old stuff from the first movie. Sometimes the CGI gets a little too busy, with raptors flopping around more than a real dinosaur probably would. The big thrills are when Trevorrow hides the big dinosaurs and builds up the chase.

Jurassic World total summer fun. With the perfect blend of magic and mayhem, this is what summer movies should be.

Rating: Matinee

Jurassic World Interview: Ty Simpkins on The Splash Zone and Jurassic Park Easter Eggs

This interview with Ty Simpkins contains a few spoilers for Jurassic World. When I saw some of his stunts and some of the vehicles he rides in, I just had to ask him about them. Most of them are at least suggested by the trailers, and some of the Easter Eggs have been spotted well in advance, but if you’ve kept it fresh so far, here’s your warning that I go there with Ty Simpkins.

Simpkins plays Gray, a boy visiting Jurassic World with his brother Zach (Nick Robinson). Their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is in charge of the now thriving dinosaur theme park, but once a genetically modified creation breaks loose, it doesn’t exactly obey the park rules. Jurassic World opens Friday, June 12.

Nerd Report: Have you gone to Universal Studios as a tourist and gone on the Jurassic Park ride?

Ty Simpkins: Yeah, I have. I have an annual pass so I go every other weekend with my friends. I go on the Jurassic Park ride a lot. I’m going to be going a lot this summer.

Nerd Report: Did that make it extra special to be in a Jurassic Park movie?

Ty Simpkins: Yeah, I’ve actually never been on the Jurassic Park ride until September. We were just finishing up some extra stuff a few months after the film, a couple of other shots and then Colin was like, “We’re going to go to the Jurassic Park ride. You wanna go?” I’m like, “Oh, no, no, I don’t like drop rides. I’m fine.” Then I told my parents and they were like, “Oh yeah, we should go.” So then all right, I’ll go. Then I told Nick and he went with us as well. We finally got on and I was nervous about this because I don’t really like rides that much. Then when we got down the drop I was like, “That was so much fun! I’m going to go on this so many times!” It was really fun.

Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins in a Jurassic World gyrosphere

Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins in a Jurassic World gyrosphere

Nerd Report: If you don’t like drop rides, how did you like falling out of the gyrosphere?

Ty Simpkins: That was fine because that wasn’t that high off the ground and that was on a pad. It was less than four feet.

Nerd Report: In the rest of the gyrosphere scene, what is it like to ride in them?

Ty Simpkins: It was on a track and at first it was really exciting, and then it kind of got annoying because you’ve been sitting down for a really long time. We filmed that entire sequence for two months.

Nerd Report: How did you like sitting in the splash zone for the Mosasaurus?

Ty Simpkins: That was fun, that was fun. It started out really fun getting wet and then it got to nighttime and it got pretty cold. People were splashing people with hoses.

Nerd Report: That scene takes place during the day. Wouldn’t they have to stop when it gets dark?

Ty Simpkins: Well, you know that part where they go under into that little underground area? That was filmed at nighttime so they could get the blue shine.

Nerd Report: And you were still wet?

Ty Simpkins: Yeah.

Nerd Report: So how many times did they splash you?

Ty Simpkins: I want to say 10 times maybe.

Nerd Report: Did they put anything in the water for you to look at?

Ty Simpkins: No, no. That was all green screen and they just had huge hoses spraying people.

Nerd Report: How cool was it to ride in the classic Jurassic Park jeeps?

Ty Simpkins: It was really cool. I was so excited when I first saw it. I got to ride in it and sit in it and that was just so cool. I actually got to drive it off camera behind the scenes.

Nerd Report: You don’t have your driver’s license yet so who let you do that?

Ty Simpkins: The stunt coordinator and my parents.

Nerd Report: Since you saw the movie as a kid, was it weird to see the jeeps from the inside?

Ty Simpkins: No, I think it was really cool actually to just be inside of it and see how it all works and looks and smells.

Nerd Report: Oh, what did it smell like?

Ty Simpkins: It smelled like old car. It also smelled like mud.

Nerd Report: Are you able to cry on your own when the scene calls for it?

Ty Simpkins: Yeah, yeah. I’ve got to think about some stuff first. Then I’ve got to take a few minutes and I can get it done.

Nerd Report: Can you share what sort of things you think about to make yourself cry?

Ty Simpkins: No, no, I can’t, sorry.

Nerd Report: Sure, that’s personal. When the Pteranodons stick their beaks up to your face, is there by any chance a real beak up close to you?

Ty Simpkins: Sometimes they have little plastic heads for CGI stuff and they put it really up close to our faces. So that was kind of fun.

Nerd Report: How about the waterfall jump. Did they let you jump into the water?

Ty Simpkins: No, but they did let us swim at the end. Then in that shot where we land in the water, that was filmed that day we actually went to Universal Studios to ride the Jurassic Park ride. They had us eight feet up on a crane and then we jumped down into the water and landed. We had to stay under for a few seconds and then we got to go up.

Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson in Jurassic World

Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson in Jurassic World

Nerd Report: Did you get to meet Steven Spielberg as your producer?

Ty Simpkins: Yes, I did. He came on the last day when we were doign a photo shoot. He came in for that and we all got to meet him and take photos with him.

Nerd Report: Did you get to talk to him?

Ty Simpkins: Yeah, he’s really nice. He’s really very nice.

Nerd Report: What did you get to talk to him about?

Ty Simpkins: I got to talk to him about just how I loved his movies, and this movie.

Nerd Report: Did he have any advice for you?

Ty Simpkins: I didn’t really ask him about that kind of stuff.

Nerd Report: Is it a little weird to you that there’s an Insidious 3 out this weekend and you’re not in it?

Ty Simpkins: It’s not that weird. I hope it does well and I wish them the best.

Nerd Report: Maybe one day we can catch up with Dalton Lambert when he’s a little older.

Ty Simpkins: Yeah.

Nerd Report: What are we going to see you in next?

Ty Simpkins: Hopefully another Jurassic Park film.

Nerd Report: That would be great, but those take a long time. Are you going to work on anything this summer?

Ty Simpkins: A film is coming out next year called The Nice Guys and I’m in a small part, but it’s Shane Black with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

Nerd Report: I heard about that, it’s a detective story, right?

Ty Simpkins: Yeah, yeah, a detective  story about a murder mystery and they have to find out who murdered this porn star.

Nerd Report: Is Shane Black a little different to work on in The Nice Guys than on Iron Man 3?

Ty Simpkins: No, he’s still the same about it.

Nerd Report: When you’re out, do people recognize you from Iron Man 3 or Insidious?

Ty Simpkins: Not too much. Sometimes I go to the movies with my friends and they recognize me there, but not too much.

Nerd Report: Besides movies and your career, do you have any plans for school or college?

Ty Simpkins: Yeah, I want to go to college. I want to go to Washington State.