Super 8 Star Riley Griffiths on Impersonating J.J. Abrams, and Assessing the Lost Finale
Utah native Riley Griffiths landed the opportunity of a lifetime when he scored a role in J.J. Abrams' Super 8. Discovered during a nationwide search for the mostly unknown young actors (including Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso, and Elle Fanning), the 14-year-old makes his film debut as the ringleader of a group of amateur filmmakers who stumble upon a mysterious government conspiracy one night when a train crashes -- literally -- across their makeshift film set.
For Griffiths (above, right), who routinely steals his scenes as Charles, the chubby-yet-confident young auteur in the making, the Spielbergian throwback sci-fi adventure isn't just his first film role; it's hopefully the start of a long acting career. Movieline spoke with Griffiths via phone as Super 8 debuted to a not-so-surprising number one opening about the thrill of shooting the film, the cues he took from Abrams to play the young director, his Lost-related geek-out moment at the Super 8 premiere, and where he plans on being a few short years from now.
How do you feel now that opening weekend has arrived? Did you see the film at midnight?
Yeah, I actually invited all my family and friends and went to see it with them and signed posters for them and everything. It was really cool.
Let's dive into the film and your character in particular, Charles. He's the director among these kids and amateur filmmakers, and his is one of the bigger personalities of the group. What did you think of him when you first read the character?
Well, I first thought of him as being very bossy and he wants to get this movie done as fast as he possibly can. He kind of puts up a tough front. He's got a hard shell but deep down he really is feeling stuff. He really takes things to heart sometimes. And Joe [Joel Courtney] and him are best friends; they've been best friends since kindergarten.
The dynamic between you and Joel, playing Charles and Joe respectively, is one of the stronger friendships in the film -- and there's a real sense, watching Super 8, that you two and the rest of your cast grew close from the experience.
Oh yes, definitely.
It seems that you were all sort of thrown into this crazy experience together.
Yeah! I love all the kids like they're my brothers. They're really some of the greatest kids I've met. We're all best friends, we Skype and Facetime all the time, we have sleepovers whenever we're together, we go swimming... we're just really like best friends.
When I spoke with Joel he also seemed to have taken to acting after his Super 8 experience, as you have. You did theater plays when you were younger, but when did you really decide that film was what you wanted to do?
The first time I knew that film was the way I wanted to go was the first day on set. It was the first day I stepped into the hair and makeup trailer. It was just crazy, how much work goes into putting a movie together and I just love it. You know, film is so much different than theater. In theater you've got to be so big, you've got to act to the back row. But in film, you have to be so real and really pull the emotions out, really believe that you're that character and that you've become that character over three and a half months.
How much did you take cues from J.J.'s directing style to play Charles? Even Charles' obsession with production design and flair for filmmaking lingo -- how did you first learn all that?
With me having never been on a movie set before, it was kind of a given to put J.J. into my character. He was the first film director I'd ever met. And with being around him every day for three and a half months, you know how he watches the tapes, you know how he says "Action!" and everything. So it was a given to put him into Charles.
What are some of J.J.'s quirks as a director?
He definitely says, "Energy, energy, energy... aaaand, action!" And Tommy [Gormley], our first A.D., is Scottish so whenever he says, "Here we go," it sounds like "Har gow." So we had this inside joke on set that we'd all say "har gow" before every take. And "har gow," we looked it up, and it's actually a Chinese dumpling. So we had a "har gow" on the set every time.
You were asked to gain weight to play Charles, which seems like a potentially daunting request to make of a young performer. How did you approach the challenge?
I definitely ate a lot of pasta and a lot of milkshakes. It was pretty fun, I'm not gonna lie.
I briefly caught up with you and Ryan Lee at the Young Hollywood Awards, which was one of the first big Hollywood events for you two. Now that you've gone through the shooting of the film to your first brush with press, gone to your own film's premiere and seen your first film open, how do you feel looking back on the whole experience?
It's definitely been so crazy. And it's been, actually, some of the best times of my life. As you said, going to the Young Hollywood with Ryan and Elle, that was so fun. And all these press junkets with all the boys who I love so much, it made it like the coolest experience. It felt like just hanging out with your friends.
Joel told me about you two geeking out during filming when Steven Spielberg walked on set while filming. He thought that had made you both step up your game during that scene, do you agree?
Oh, yeah. That was definitely one of Joel and my best scenes, at least I think, because with Steven there you want to just impress him and be really good. He's got such a presence, and he was laughing. It was really a confidence-booster because he was laughing at all of our jokes, and he's just a really great guy. He came over and shook our hands and told us we were doing great, and that the movie looked fantastic. That was just really cool.
You were already kind of a film buff before Super 8, familiar with films like The Goonies, Spielberg's work, the movies that inspired J.J. in the first place. I wonder if you're an exception among your generation. How many kids your age do you think are as familiar with these films as you are?
I think kids nowadays have such different taste in movies. They're into the kind of really intense comedies and all that. But I definitely like the classics more than anything, at least in my opinion. I like them more because they've got all the elements -- they've got comedy, they've got drama, they've got romance, they've got action. Jaws is one of my favorite movies, and I'm still scared of sharks today. Close Encounters is amazing. And newer stuff that I like is like, Lost. Lost is just my favorite TV show, ever. You can never beat that TV show.
OK then, let me ask you: What did you think of the ending of Lost?
I liked it, I guess. Some people think that it was kind of lame, but I like it. It was creative. And also, at the Super 8 premiere, Sawyer and Hurley and Locke were there, so I got to meet them and that was really cool. Joel and I are definitely the biggest Lost fans out of the kids, so when we saw them we ran up to them and were like, "Oh my gosh, you're Sawyer!"
Pages: 1 2