Super Kid, Super Future
Summer action sci-fi flick Super 8, one of my favorite movies of the year and a sweet homage to the films of Steven Spielberg, releases to DVD and Blu-ray today. The movie's story takes place during the summer of 1979, when a group of middle-school friends witness a train crash and investigate subsequent "unexplained events."
With the DVD/Blu-ray release, 15-year-old Joel Courtney, who plays the lead role, is doing another round of interviews, telling how the movie changed his life. Courtney, just 14 when Super 8 was filmed, wasn't even looking for a movie role. He had only wanted to make a TV commercial and earn a hundred bucks, but word got around and he ended up auditioning for Super 8—and got the part.
Director JJ Abrams said the main reason he hired Courtney for his first-ever acting job was his sweet innocence—and a conversation with the young star from Moscow, Idaho, confirms that observation. He's a Christian and incredibly polite, answering many questions with "Yes, sir" and "No, sir."
Courtney, who says his role model is Tom Hanks, has already filmed two more movies: He's playing Tom in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, coming out in 2013, and a teen boy in The Healer, coming out next year. We asked him about those movies, about Super 8, and how his faith affects his work as an actor.
What was the best part of being in Super 8?
I wouldn't be able to pick a best part. The entire thing was just incredibly amazing. I was so blessed to be able to even get the audition. It was completely by blessing.
I heard you were just hoping to make a commercial and earn $100.
Yes, sir. It's all true. I just wanted a commercial and a hundred dollars. That was my goal for the summer.
What were you going to do with the hundred bucks?
Probably just save it, maybe put it in my college account or savings.
Not buy a new video game or something?
No. Actually, before Super 8, I didn't even have a game console. But now I do. For a kickoff for Super 8, they gave us all brand new PlayStation 3s. I wasn't sure if my dad would even let me keep it, because he had said that if I got straight A's, he would get us an Xbox or something. So when they gave us the PS3s, I called my dad and asked him if I could keep it. I wasn't sure if he was going to let me. But he said yes. So it's all good.
What was the most difficult part of being part of this project?
Missing family and friends back at home. As for the movie, the hardest part was getting to the limits of my acting abilities, since I had only just begun acting. It was like a completely new thing for me.
Talk about a scene that you found especially challenging.
The scene when I confront my father and I'm shouting at him. In my family, if I talk back to my dad, I get in trouble. My dad and I have a very good relationship, so that made it even harder for me to shout at a father figure. After a couple of takes, JJ was like, "Joel, it's okay to shout at Kyle." [Friday Night Lights star Kyle Chandler played his father.]
What Spielberg movies you had seen before coming into this project?
E.T., Close Encounters, Jurassic Park, Jaws, and a few others. And I really enjoyed them all. They were amazing for the time period, without much technology.
Do you see Joe's role as anything like Elliott's in E.T.?
There are similarities in the fact that there is an extraterrestrial being. Except that E.T. is a really small, really nice alien, and Super 8's alien is not small and not nice at all.