J.J. Abrams’ new sci-fi/coming-of-age story/adventure-film hybrid Super 8 opened this weekend to predominantly positive reviews (read our review HERE) and a strong box-office showing (with a $37 million gross for the weekend).
Those who were able to see the film are now familiar with the cast of (previously) unknown teens. Abrams set his casting net nationwide in order to find the right chemistry and balance of humor and emotion for his modern-day Goonies. He eventually amassed a mix of industry savvy professional child actors (such as Elle Fanning) and naturally charismatic, unpolished newcomers (such as Idaho native, first time actor, and star of the film, Joel Courtney).
We were able to speak with the film’s lead, newcomer Courtney, and his partner in (fiery) crime Ryan Lee about their roles in the film. (Read our interview with Courtney HERE). While Super 8 represents Courtney’s first professional acting job, Lee had been performing in day-player and supporting roles, in film and television, for several years.
Though he had worked on relatively large scale productions previously, Lee found the precision that the filmmakers used to create the world of Super 8 to be both awe-inspiring and unique.
“The effort they put into every single detail was amazing,” Lee told Screen Rant in our interview with the young star. “From the fiery explosions to the vintage clothes hundreds of people wore, down to the ice cubes in our drinks.”
The details Lee is referencing were utilized in order to situate the audience in small-town USA in 1979. The period piece openly references/pays homage to films such as E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Stand by Me — films that were wildly popular in the late 70s/early 80s before these kids were even a fleeting idea in their parent’s imaginations. However, all of the young actors have seen the films and are able to see the link to Super 8.
As Lee puts it:
“They are the same in the sense that the bond between the kids is very strong, and this movie is different because the suspense is taken to a whole new level.”
Part of upping the ante on the suspense and action in the film included the creation of several (literally) explosive sequences — the centerpiece of which is an elaborate train crash of magnificent proportions. The kids were given intense safety instructions, and very specific choreography in terms of when and how to react to imaginary falling bits of debris (that would be added in post), and were then let off leash to play the most expensive “dodge the fireball” game of their lives.
Lee recalled fondly:
“We did a lot of takes on that scene and I never got tired of it, because everything was so cool. The best part of shooting the train crash scene was the explosions, because it’s every teenager’s dream to run through explosions and getting to do it in front of J.J. Abrams, and Steven Spielberg is an amazing experience that I will never forget.”
“We were mostly running through and dodging the explosions coming from the train or the Army tanks. It was a real adrenaline rush. We had safety meetings first and then we would rehearse and tape the scenes. We really had to run fast and reacting to the noise and explosions came naturally because they were so unexpected, loud and intense.”
Lee’s character, Cary, has a hilariously fanatical love for any, and all, explosives. One of the best moments of comic relief in the film is when little Cary begs Joe (Courtney) to let him blow up his model train for the short film they are working on; “please let me blow it up” said the addict to the supplier “please!”
While Lee conceded that, “Fireworks are really fun to mess around with.” He also confesses that he does not go quite, “as crazy as Cary does in the film.”
“In the movie Cary is obsessed with fireworks, and uses them for his own personal amusement and to annoy his friends as much as he can.”
In reality, Lee himself is much more of a prankster. So much so in fact, that when the boys decided to punk Abrams on April fools by telling him one of the actors had lost their script at the local mall, Lee knew he couldn’t be the one to confess the loss.
“We all decided that if I went and pulled the prank on J.J. he would know something was up right away because I pull pranks all the time, so we had Riley (Griffiths) do it.”
Lee told us the crafty teens knew that, “The script was the whole key to “Super 8,” and if someone unofficial got ahold of one of our scripts and put it on the Internet then the movie would be over… (fondly reminiscing) you could see how petrified J.J.’s face was.”
We still think that goes down as one of the better April Fool’s pranks we have heard of in the past few years. Poor J.J., the master of mystery bested by a motley crew of unwieldy teens.
Lee actually found it fairly easy to keep the secrets of Super 8.
“It wasn’t too hard to keep the secret because I love knowing secrets and I had promised J.J. and Bryan Burke personally that I would. So that’s a really big responsibility. When I do know a secret, I keep it that way. And besides – if I had spilled the beans, I fear that my punishment would be far worse than going to bed without dinner forever.”
Despite their machinations, Abrams did trust his young actors to take the lead in the actual creation of the short film that the group of friends are working on – when they witness the train crash that unleashes the monster in Super 8. (You can see the fruit of their labor in the credit sequence of the film).
“J.J. basically gave us an outline of the story he wanted us to create. We wrote, directed, produced, and named the film which is titled ‘The Case.’ It was really cool being able to go from J.J.’s set where we have to act at our best and then to be able to go to our set and be as cheesy, funny, and over the top as we wanted to be. I play the Zombie and I really used improv from movies like ‘Shawn Of The Dead’ and ‘Zombieland.'”
Though it was far more structured, that sense of freedom did carry over into the Super 8 set itself.
“J.J.’s motto for the movie was ‘Just let it be real.’ So basically, we were able to interject our own personalities into our characters and were given the freedom to improv some of our own scenes. You could always tell that J.J. never stops thinking. He has the mind of a genus.”
Abrams advised the kids that this film would, in all likelihood, change the way the world perceives them, and to prepare for that — as much as possible.
“J.J., Steven, the cast, and I were all having dinner and J.J. said to us, ‘cherish these moments because soon you’re not going to be able to go out without being noticed.’ But it’s kind of hard for me to wrap my head around what might come. But whatever it is, I’m ready for the adventure.”
Super 8 is in theaters now.
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