Of the varied critical reactions to "Super 8," everyone does seem to concur on one thing: that the film's young leads give some strong performances. But, with the exception of Elle Fanning -- who at the age of just 13 has already built herself a solid resume -- most of the group are new faces, most notably "Super 8"’s lead, Joel Courtney.
In what sounds like a classic case of Hollywood Discoveries, Joel, who had never acted professionally before, was on a trip to Los Angeles to visit his brother (actor Caleb Courtney), with the idea to audition for a few commercials, and incidentally ended up with the lead role in a summer blockbuster from J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg. Doing press for the film this past week, we had the chance to hear more from Courtney on working with one his favorite directors, his new career and what the future holds.
The jump to the big screen was a surprise for Courtney, as well as many of his friends, "Some of my friends believed me and some of my friends didn't and when I didn't show up at school, that's when it kicked in for them and it really kicked in when they saw the trailer during the Super Bowl." But the actor admits that's when it started to hit for him as well. Watching the game with his best friend, he remembers rewinding the spot several times, "I think we watched [the trailer] like 5 times!"
But stardom is all very new to Courtney. “I’d had like, 6 acting classes before [being cast],” he admits, “I’ve only wanted to act for like, a year and a half, it’s my brother who’s wanted to act for a long time. I came down to visit him in L.A... I wanted to get an audition for a commercial and $100, that was my goal for the summer. And, uh,” he laughs, “I got ‘Super 8’.” But the audition process wasn’t as simple as Courtney suggests. He, as well as the rest of the cast, went through multiple tests, reading lines solo and then with other actors so that Abrams could find a group that really fit together as best friends, “[the day of the first audition] I had 2 immediate call backs. Then a while later they had me come back so I was like, ‘well they’re having me come back so that’s good,’ but I came back 11 times, and a lot of them were chemistry auditions, to see who would be really good friends. J.J. really wanted [the chemistry] to be spot on so a lot of the auditions were like hanging out with all the other actors to see who the chemistry would be the best with.”
And the chemistry was certainly there. One of the aspects we found most charming about the film was the energy felt between the group of friends, something that was present both on and off camera, “That was a lot of fun, anytime all of us kids are all on set together, there is so much energy in that room it was insane! I don’t know how the crew put up with us and how J.J. stuck with us, but he did.” In fact, to keep that level of energy and give the scenes their lively feel, the helmer would often encourage improvisation, “J.J. would pretty much give us the basics of the scene and let us run with it. A lot of the movie was actually improv and just us.”
The kids were also responsible for the story of “The Case,” the film-within-the-film of “Super 8” that the group of friends spend most of the movie working on. The full zombie masterpiece can actually be seen, complete with introduction by the “filmmaker” himself, Charles (Riley Griffiths), during the credits of the film. “Our movie that plays during the credits, we wrote that -- if you can’t tell,” he laughs, “It’s really ridiculous and J.J. said that he wanted us to write it because he wrote his movies when he was a kid and that his movies were ridiculous [as well].” While Abrams didn’t break out any of his old super 8s, Courtney admits he’d like to one day see them, if anything, as z fan.
“Working with J.J. -- I’ve seen every episode of “LOST,” I love “Star Trek.” “Cloverfield,” watched that movie, loved it. Trying to catch up with “Fringe” and I love “Alias.” Getting to work with him... it was such an honor because I was already a huge fan and getting to work with him was one of those things that was so big you can’t even dream it, it’s like not even a dream come true because it’s so big, you just don’t dream something like that.” And Spielberg? “I knew about Steven Spielberg and I knew I loved his movies, but meeting him, he’s like one of the most famous guys in the world, there’s so much power behind his name. Steven Spielberg. Everybody knows that name and it was such an honor to get to meet him. It was just icing on the cake.”
But, aside from, you know, knocking it out of the park in “Super 8” Courtney is really your average teenager, spending his off-time in his hometown of Moscow, Idaho, attending school, playing sports and trying to keep his grades up, “I really want to finish school [next year he’ll be starting high school]. And if I get to go to college, that just would be awesome.” But, bitten by the bug, he doesn’t have any plans to give up on his acting career either. “[Acting] is hard, it’s not easy and I found that out on set and I found out that it’s a lot of fun, and I found out that I’m never going to watch a movie the same way again.” Courtney looks up to actors like Tom Hanks, who he admires for maintaining a steadily successful career, “He’s really versatile and that’s really what I want to do, and in his career, he played all his cards right, he went right to the top.”
So what’s up next for Courtney? He’s not sure, but he did have a call back to play Tom Sawyer in a movie... of which he has no other details to spill on other than that it will be filming in Bulgaria. Hmmmm. Whatever it is, he’ll certainly be one to watch and we look forward to seeing where the young thespian turns up next.
As for now, he can be seen starting this weekend in “Super 8."