Super 8 is my most anticipated movie of the summer. Combining the intrigue that typically surrounds J.J. Abrams’ films with the scope that Steven Spielberg is known for, Super 8 is destined to be one of the most talked about movie experiences of this year. Imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to interview Ryan Lee, one of the young stars of the movie. Read on as we discussed working with such big names like Abrams and Spielberg, the process behind Abram’s secretive casting, and life as a child actor.
After you read my interview, be sure to check out Glenn’s review of Super 8.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m Ryan Lee, I’m 14 years old and I was recently in the J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg Super 8 movie.
The project itself is very secretive. J.J. Abrams is known for keeping everything under wraps until actual release. What was the audition process like?
First, when I auditioned, it had nothing to do with Super 8. Back then, I didn’t know Super 8 even existed. It was a script about a boy and a girl who were fighting over math homework, which had nothing to do with Super 8. I mean, once I got to California and I got the call back after that audition, they were calling this project we were doing, Darling. Even that was secretive. I had no idea. After that audition, I had another callback and we had to sign a letter of confidentiality and I think that’s when we started getting more into like… It wasn’t Super 8, because I had no idea. It was more… he wanted more how well we did dramatic [roles], how well we do comedy, and so it was a different script. And then, after two more callbacks, that’s when J.J. took me to a room and told me, face to face, I had the part.
That’s pretty awesome. And to prepare for the role, did he or Steven Spielberg make you guys watch any films?
Yeah, they wanted us to watch E.T., Close Encounters [of the Third Kind], Stand by Me… pretty much those kinds of films. He really, whenever we were preparing for our roles, J.J. let us put our own personalities in our characters. I’m a lot like my character, Carey.
What was it like in between takes? Did they have to keep you away so you’d be surprised if something happened? If you weren’t in any scenes, did they let you hang out, or did they keep you away from seeing what was going on?
Anytime we were on set and we didn’t have a scene, we could always go and watch the other actors do a scene even if not one kid was in it.
What would you do to kill time?
We’d play football with the crew. You know, this isn’t really killing time, but we’d have to do school, which kind of stunk. You being on a set, you don’t want to do school, but you have to. It was really cool that they made time for us to do that. And we’d do school, football, you know, ride our bikes. Yeah, a lot of crew members that weren’t working at that time would also actually join in on our football games and we’d have like fifteen people playing at one time and it’d start to get really fun.
What about any video games? Did you guys play any video games?
Oh yeah, at the beginning, which was really awesome, J.J. and all of Paramount, they put enough money together to buy us all the new Playstation 3s. It was really, really cool. And I’m glad they did that because, right now, all the kids, we really, really stay connected by playing with each other on the PS3 right now, since we’re not filming. And now we can talk to each other everyday, you know, and we got really close over that time of filming.
A little more about the film itself: Super 8 takes place in 1979. What was that atmosphere like in the past?
You know, I’ve always heard stories about the 70s and I’ve never really been able to just pinpoint… I don’t really understand what’s happening in this moment. But as soon as I stepped on the set the first day, I saw all these state cars from the 70s and all the kids, like there were hundreds of kids just dressed up in these 70s clothes. And it really, really felt like I was there, I mean we didn’t really have to act. We all could really be in that moment, in that era. It wasn’t hard at all to picture what the 70s were like after that.
After your experience living that kind of life, would you prefer growing up in that era, or growing up right now?
*laugh* I mean, what happens in Super 8, I’d rather be here right now. I don’t know… I like the 70s because it’s more retro, the times were more simple back then and laidback. Right now, it’s more modern and we have cooler technology… I’d rather live here, but I wouldn’t mind living in the 70s, either.
As you touched upon earlier, you kind of had to do schoolwork in between takes. How hard is it for you being so young and acting in a really, really huge movie?
It’s really not hard at all. I’ve been doing this for about five years. Two of the other kids, this is their first audition ever. Can you believe that? First audition EVER and they got a Steven Spielberg/J.J. Abrams movie. That’s amazing. I was talking to them and they said the first day, it was really, really hard for them. After that, we all got really good at it. The first day for me, I did pretty well, I think because I was ready for it.
What was it like with that experience with Steven Spielberg? A LOT of people will say, “Oh man, Steven Spielberg’s one of the greatest directors ever.” What kind of impact did he have on you?
A pretty big one, because he’s a really influential man… you see him from across [the room] and you just stop and say to yourself, “I never really thought this day would come.” And as soon as you’re about to shake the most influential man’s hand in the world, it’s just an experience you’ll never forget. After that intimidation goes away, he becomes your friend instantly. I’m not even kidding. He’d even talk to us about how good we’re doing in the movie. He’d never say, “Okay, you need to change this, you need to change this.” He was just a really cool guy and he’d also talk about what kind of apps we should get on our phones… cool stuff like that. He also gave me some really, really cool life lessons that I’ll never forget.
Super 8 is my personal film I’m excited about for the summer. There are all those superhero films coming out, the new Pirates of the Caribbean is coming out, but this is what I’m really excited for. What about for you? If Super 8 wasn’t coming out, what would you be excited for?
If Super 8 wasn’t coming out, I’d probably have to see…. You know, I’m really glad I did Super 8 because of the aliens and I’m really interested in aliens, because we can’t be the only ones in the universe. I’m really excited to see Green Lantern, because he’s my favorite superhero.
You said they had you watch E.T. Did they make you watch The Goonies also? When I was watching the trailer, I was thinking, “Oh man, this is like E.T. meets The Goonies.” You think this is what it’s like for Super 8?
Yeah, yeah! Dude, I totally forgot about that one. Yeah, they did. How did I forget about The Goonies?! I mean, for the twenty minutes I’ve seen, that’s what it looks like to me as well.
Moving away from Super 8, I read you’re into Boy Scouts. How do you think that’s affected your career? What have you learned from the Boy Scouts that you’ve been able to put into acting?
You know, it’s really weird you talk about that, because I have the computer right in front of me and as soon as you said Boy Scouts, there’s a picture of me camping with my friends. But yeah, it’s taught me a lot about how to tie knots and I’ve actually been able to help some of the grips if they need help. I try to help a lot on set as much as I can so I’m not just like the typical actor like, “Oh, can someone get me a water?” I always try to go and get it myself and stay really grounded. So I help a lot of the grips sometimes, I’ll ask if they need help, and I’ll tie a bowline knot or a half hitch, and just help them out. That’s how Boy Scouts have helped me out in this field.
If you weren’t acting, what do you think you’d be doing or want to be doing?
If I wasn’t acting, I would probably be hanging out with my friends more. I would want to be doing acting, because it’s kind of something that’s always been in the back of my head that I’ve always wanted to do. Just to get here where I am now has been a dream come true. It’s a sacrifice because you got to give up time spending time with friends and sometimes you got to give up going to their houses, but it’s a sacrifice worth making if you’re going to be here right now.
How has it affected your friends whenever you finish filming and you come back?
A lot of the time, my friends would say, “Come on, Ryan, you can do your script later,” and I’ll have to turn them down and they’ll be kind of upset. They’ve never really seen me in such a big project before. They’ve seen me in Friday Night Lights or Breaking Bad… little parts in TV shows. I had to be home-schooled for Super 8 because I had to film most of it in LA. So whenever I was home-schooled, I was away from school; I’ve been away from school for six months now. So every couple weeks when I go back there, all my friends are like… It’s like you’re in a stadium and everybody starts screaming at the top of their lungs and they’re really excited to see me. It’s a really cool feeling.
If you could describe Super 8 in exactly five words, which words would they be?
Coolest special effects ever! [Ed. Note: Exclamation mark counts as one word.] I mean, the special effects and the music… half the time, you’re just going to be watching the special effects and that’s just going to blow you away. I know whenever I was watching the twenty minutes I got to see, we couldn’t contain it anymore, we were jumping out of our seats when the train crash happened. It’s the most exciting experience you could ever think about.
Was the sneak peek they showed you a bunch of scenes mixed up together, or was it one long scene?
It was actually a mix of scenes. They didn’t start from the very beginning; they kind of jumped in the middle. They went to certain scenes they wanted the audience to see, but not give too much away. That’s how they went about with that.
For my last, last question: Are there any projects you have coming out that you want to give a little insight on, or anything you want to put out there and let people know?
Actually, right after Super 8 stopped filming, about six days later, I got a part with Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson. It’s called Meeting Evil and I did a scene with them. It’s only one scene, but to do it with Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson was pretty fun.
Good luck with everything, especially with all of the publicity you’re going to have to do over the next couple of months. It’s going to be really busy.
Alright, cool. Yeah, it’s been fun. Thank you.