Justice Smith, at 22, has the kind of career most actors dream about.
Smith can toggle between theater, television (he famously starred on the short-lived Baz Luhrmann Netflix show "The Get Down"), and film (his big splash came in the form of 2015's YA adaptation "Paper Towns"). And this weekend, his career is going to go stratospheric with his supporting role in "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom."
In the film, Smith plays Franklin -- a tech wizard working for a nonprofit that wants to save the dinosaurs from "Jurassic World" (there's a volcano set to erupt on the island that will make them extinct ... again). From there, he gets caught up in a whirlwind adventure that sends him to the island and then to the creepy mansion of a morally compromised industrialist. He gets to act alongside heavyweights like Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, as well as lots and lots of dinosaurs. As everyone knows, these movies are a thrill ride and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is, similarly, a scream.
We were lucky enough to chat with Smith about what impact the original "Jurassic Park" had on his life, where he'd love to see his character go, and if talking to an imaginary character became any easier when he signed on to next year's "Detective Pikachu." (Yes, there are Pokemon private eyes now, so what?)
Moviefone: What was your relationship to the franchise prior to being cast in "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"?
Justice Smith: I first saw the original when I was seven or eight. I used to take these family road trips with my siblings and my dad, and we would bring this portable DVD player and re-watch all three of the original "Jurassic Parks" in order. And I fell in love with them. I'm a huge horror movie fan now, and I think that it's because of the horror elements in that first film. I loved watching people get eaten.
Were you hoping to get eaten in this one?
Yeah, that's not far off from what I was thinking.
What was it like working with the full-scale dinosaurs?
The dinosaurs were incredibly lifelike. Blue -- [she] sweat, she drooled, she had fluid in her eyes, her veins pulsed, she breathed, her scales felt real. And it was cool to work with something that was physically there instead of a tennis ball because it made my job a lot easier.
Is there a method to running away from imaginary dinosaurs?
Yeah, so my trick to acting alongside tennis balls is I pretended that I was afraid of tennis balls instead of dinosaurs. I just pretended that Franklin had an irrational fear of being touched by a tennis ball. And that worked! It worked for the film! It was a lot harder to imagine a full dinosaur there. But when I watched it, it looked like I was scared, so that's good.Did director J.A. Bayona do anything else?
Yeah, J.A. would not tell me a lot of the stuff that was going to happen before it happened in order to get a proper reaction out of me, which I appreciated as an actor. He would play T-Rex roars over the loudspeaker in the middle of shooting so I would jump or scream; he really cares about getting the film right, so I was onboard for it.
Can you talk about what it was like working with "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" director J.A. Bayona?
He's a visionary and you can tell that not just from this film, but his previous work. So, if anything, I just wanted to get it right. There were a lot of technical aspects that you had to fall into in order to get the shot that he wanted or to fit into this grandiose vision. But, overall, he really came through in the end. I was very happy with the finished product a few days ago. He did something that really separated it from the other films, by adding this element of fantasy to it. So, that was cool.
You guys shot for a long time on this movie. Were there any scenes you wish were still in there, or you hope will show up on the DVD?
Yeah, there are a few scenes. There's an interaction that me and Daniella have with Ted Levine, who plays Wheatley, where we introduce ourselves to him. I really liked his reaction and I thought it was really funny. So I hope that ends up on the DVD. There was a lot of improv and funny stuff we did that I hope is on the DVD.
The movie has a very wide-open ending. Do you hope to come back? Have you started petitioning for Franklin's return in subsequent adventures?
That is not up to me at all. If they want me to come back I will gladly come back. But I kind of have to look forward. [laughs]
In your next film, you're also interacting with an imaginary creature in "Detective Pikachu." Can you talk about what that was like for you, and did you get better at acting alongside tennis balls?
That was harder because I was actually physically talking to Pikachu. So that was a whole new challenge. I can't really give anything away about the story, but it was a lot of fun and I am really excited for people to see it. I think it's going to exceed expectations.
"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" opens everywhere Friday.