What a way to launch your career. Newcomer Joel Courtney landed the lead role in J.J. Abrams's summer sci-fi blockbuster Super 8. Joel plays Joe, a kid just trying to make it through the summer with his distant deputy father after his mom dies in a freak accident. While shooting a zombie movie late one night, Joe and his friends witness a horrific train wreck that brings the military and unexplained occurrences to this small Ohio town.
We sat down with Joel, who told us about how he snagged his first acting gig, pranking J.J., and staying humble.
Your first movie role is a doozy. How did it all come about?
My acting coach, Patty Callas, is also a casting director. Her protege, Jason James, was down in LA, casting for Super 8. He said I should audition, at Patty's suggestion. It all went from there.
How long had you been acting?
I had been acting less than a year before Super 8.
Are you the hottest kid in Hollywood now? Do you have a ton of projects lined up?
I'm not sure about that... but I have been looking at a few things.
Are you a fan of horror movies?
Actually, I don't really like scary movies. But I would watch this one.
Did anything scary happen on set? Or were there any scenes that were scary to shoot?
Not really. Some were borderline. Filming the train [wreck] scene was awesome, but kinda scary. There were all these explosions going up behind us.
How much of your own stunt work did they let you do?
Quite a bit. But I'm not sure how much of it you would call "stunts."
Did you get any injuries?
I banged up my knee, but nothing serious.
How much of the effects were practical and how much ended up being CG?
A lot of the train sequence was CG, but a lot more ended up being real. More than I thought there would be. I thought practically all of it would be CG, but it wasn't.
I bet that made it easier to interact with your surroundings.
Yes. The set was incredible. There were torn up train cars everywhere. Some were sticking up out of the ground. It was incredible.
Did it give you nightmares?
No, no nightmares.
You have a lot of chemistry with your young co-stars. Did you guys hang out a lot before shooting began?
It was a lot of fun. We really were best friends - we still are. I think I made friends for life on this movie. I mean, real friends.
Were there any hijinks on set?
We played an April Fools joke on J.J. We told him that Riley [Griffiths, who plays Charles] lost his script at the mall. J.J. was freaking out for like 30 seconds, then Riley told him it was a joke. J.J. was so happy. That was one of his worst nightmares, that the script would get out.
J.J. is notorious for being super, super secretive about all his projects. Did you have a tough time keeping the lid on this one?
I did! I wanted to tell my friends about it really badly, but I didn't at the same time, because I wanted them to be surprised, but at the same time, I wanted to talk to them about it! I can't wait for them to see it.
Were you allowed to tell them what you were working on?
Yeah, they know all about that. They just don't know anything about the plot, and I don't want them to. I really want them to be surprised. It's one of those movies where, if you spoil it, it's just not as good.
How are you going to stay grounded and not go down the Lindsay Lohan path?
I am staying humble. At home, I still have to take out the garbage, and do a lot of other chores. My friends are keeping me humble too. I still live up in Idaho. I will be there when Super 8 opens, so I can go see it with my friends. I'm really excited for them to see it.
Do people go, "Oh my gosh, it's the Super 8 kid?"
No. Actually, I haven't been recognized yet.