Devotedly collaborating to protect the legacy of unbreakable bonds is a powerful and gripping element that’s not always seen in tentpole blockbuster franchises. But the cast and crew of the new sci-fi movie, ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,’ which Universal Pictures is releasing in theaters today, is doing just that for both the human-and non-human-relationships in the drama.
The highly anticipated sequel to 2015’s record-breaking action adventure film, ‘Jurassic World,’ not only features the return of several beloved characters from the entire ‘Jurassic Park’ series, but is also introducing original protagonists and antagonists who test the franchise’s human and animal connections. Actor Justice Smith and actress Daniella Pineda are two such new performers in the franchise’s latest installment who heroically set out to not only guard each other, but also save the dinosaurs from undergoing a second extinction.
Steven Speilberg, who directed the first two ‘Jurassic Park’ movies, and Colin Trevorrow, who helmed ‘Jurassic World,’ returned to the series to serve as executive producers on ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.’ The new epic drama was directed by Goya Award-winning filmmaker, J.A. Bayona, who’s also known for helming such movies as ‘The Impossible,’ ‘The Orphanage’ and ‘A Monster Calls.’ The fourth follow-up in the ‘Jurassic Park’ film series was written by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, who also worked on the script of its immediate predecessor.
‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ is set three years after its predecessor, which showcased how the new title theme park was destroyed on Isla Nublar. A newly active volcano is now threatening to push the remaining abandoned dinosaurs back into extinction. As a result, activists initiate a rescue mission, in an effort to save the animals that humans worked so hard to bring back to life. A committee of lawmakers holds meetings, which includes testimony from an expert witness, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), about how saving the dinosaurs will affect not only humanity, but the entire world.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who ran Jurassic World while it was open, helps lead the save-the-dinosaurs campaign through her new company, the Dinosaur Protection Group. With the help of some of her employees, including Franklin Webb (Smith), a former IT technician for Jurassic World who know now works as the Dinosaur Protection Group’s systems analyst, and Zia Rodriguez (Pineda), the group’s paleoveterinarian, Claire agrees to take a job that’s offered to her by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). The rich businessman was John Hammond (played Richard Attenborough in ‘Jurassic Park’) partner, and the two worked together to revive the extinct species before John started the first Jurassic Park on his own.
Benjamin, who is near death, wants to improve the quality of life for the dinosaurs he helped revive. He has found an island that will be suitable to serve as a refuge for the animals, in an environment that won’t be saturated with tourists. Claire and her team, which includes Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the former dinosaur trainer for Jurassic World, set out to help relocate as many animals as possible.
Unfortunately, Claire’s mission to save the dinosaurs doesn’t go according to plan. Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), Benjamin’s ambitious right-hand man who hires the team for the rescue mission, and his employees, including Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones), an auctioneer host at Lockwood Estate, and Dr. Henry Wu (B. D. Wong), the former head geneticist of both Jurassic World and the original Jurassic Park, soon reveal their true plan for the dinosaurs. So Claire, Owen and their team must do whatever it takes to fulfill Benjamin’s dying wish to save and protect the animals he helped create.
Smith and Pineda generously took the time recently to talk about playing Franklin and Zia in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ during individual exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the actor and actress discussed how they immediately bonded under Bayona’s guidance, especially as they collaborated to show how their new characters closely work together at the Dinosaur Protection Group to conserve the larger-than-life animals. The performers also noted how the characters and storyline in their film maintain the nostalgic elements and motifs of the entire ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise, while also showing how the dinosaurs are leading humanity into a new era.
The conversation with Smith began with the actor discussing how he obtained the role of Franklin in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.’ He “sent in an audition tape, and the director, J.A., and the producers liked it. So they wanted me to fly out to screen test in London. But I was performing in a play at the time, so I unfortunately couldn’t do it. They then came back at me with an offer, and I was ecstatic,” Smith admitted with a laugh. “I was happy to do it!”
Pineda also first delved into her interview by revealing why she was drawn to her character in the action-adventure follow-up. “I can’t really describe the feeling I had when I was first offered the role of Zia! I was so excited to be offered a part in the franchise that I’m the biggest fan of,” the actress divulged.
The performer added that she felt “a lot of pressure to do well, and uphold this legacy, when I first signed onto the film. Going into the second ‘Jurassic World,’ we’re introduced to a lot of new characters, and are also reunited with a lot of returning characters, who you’ve already built relationships with,” Pineda pointed out.
“Both Justice and I were creating our characters for the first time. At first, that was a little scary and daunting, because we wanted to portray these people accurately, and Zia and Franklin are different kinds of characters,” the actress conceded.
“But thankfully, we were with a group of pros. J.A. is one of the most talented directors I’ve ever worked with. It’s no coincidence why Speilberg picked him to not only continue this franchise, but also steer it in a different direction,” Pineda gushed as she praised her ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ helmer.
Once she signed on to play Zia in the sci-fi follow-up, the actress “did a lot of prep work. I met with a veterinarian in London who specializes in African reptilian wildlife. He taught me things like how to pull out a bullet out of a dinosaur-or, in his case, an alligator,” Pineda revealed. “So there was a lot of information that was thrown at me, but I just hit the ground running. But it was exhilarating, and I had so much fun!”
Further speaking of collaborating with Bayona as the director on the drama, Smith called the filmmaker “amazing, and he’s a true visionary. He really wants what’s best for the movie.” The actor added with a laugh that “Throughout the filming, he wouldn’t tell me when things were going to jump out and scare me. That way, he could get a proper reaction from Franklin, which I really appreciated as an actor,” the performer also disclosed. “I’m all about doing things that help me get into the skin of my character. I would definitely go to set wary that something was going to pop out around the corner,” he added with another laugh.
Pineda also relished to the fact that Bayona wouldn’t tell Smith “before he was going to do something to scare him. That way, J.A. would be able to get a visceral reaction from Justice. There’s one instance when water squirts into Justice’s mouth, and he didn’t know it was going to happen. That’s just one instance when J.A. was spontaneous, and that made going to work everyday a lot of fun.”
The actress further praised Bayona’s work ethic by calling him “an artist before anything else. I’ll give you an example,” the actress stated with a laugh. Changing her voice to imitate the filmmaker, the performer said, “‘You need to cut your own hair. Zia would cut her own hair.’ I was like, ‘What!?! I have to cut my own hair!?! I’m working on the most massive franchise in the world, and I’m going to cut my own hair!?!’ He was like, ‘Yes, this is what she would do.’ I was like, ‘Okay,’ and then cut my own hair, which was crazy.
“I had to cut my hair in front of Frances Hannon, who’s an Oscar-winning hair and make up designer. Then Fran and her team came in and helped me fix it,” Pineda admitted with a laugh. “But the point is, that experience was so different and unexpected, and pretty much all of J.A.’s choices are like that.”
With Franklin and Zia working alongside Claire and Owen as they return to Isla Nublar to help save and rescue the dinosaurs from extinction, Smith also relished the experience of creating the physicality for his character. But he revealed that “Stunt work was a whole new ballpark for me on this movie, but it was a completely new challenge that I was happy to take on. I realized during the process of doing all of those crazy stunts that I really enjoy them; I think they get me out of my head as an actor, and I love that,” Smith disclosed with a laugh.
While the actor loved his new experience of performing stunts on a film, he also revealed that he “didn’t really train beforehand, which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t really a good idea. But I definitely had a lot of fun doing them. I felt like a kid again!”
“Believe it or not, Justice got most of the fun stunts!,” Pineda revealed with a laugh. “I got the cool character, and worked with the animatronics. But Justice got all the cool stunts. He would take pictures while working on them, and then send them to me to make me jealous, which worked.”
The actress also mentioned that her co-star didn’t do much preparation for his stunt work. “The funny thing is, I’m in pretty good shape, and Justice has never worked out a day in his life. He was running around, doing these crazy stunts, which was hilarious and awesome. But he’s only 22, so he’s always energetic.”
Creating the built-in brother-sister relationship between Franklin and Zia was also a process that both Smith and Pineda enjoyed. The actor praised his co-star, and called her “great. The minute we met each other, we clicked. We had the same dynamic that our characters have in the film.”
Smith added that he “was really fortunate to not only have the chance to work with Daniella, but also have her be a newcomer to this long-lasting franchise, as well. There is a lot of pressure coming into something that means so much to so many people, and not messing it up. So it was cool to have someone go through the same thing that I was going through, and experience it with.”
Crafting the bond between Zia and Franklin was a process that Pineda also describe as being easy. “I don’t know what it is about Justice, but the moment I met him, he immediately felt like my little brother. I felt like I immediately knew him,” the actress confessed.
“We hadn’t even met before we began working; we met the first day at the table read. He came in late, because he’s a fancy movie star! The moment we locked eyes, it was like, oh, I know you. It felt like he was someone I had known before, which really isn’t a common experience,” Pineda admitted. “But what was nice about it was that I had a little buddy on set. It would basically be me, him and his girlfriend hanging out on set, in between scenes. We had a lot of fun, and it didn’t feel like work.”
The process of improvising lines together was something that Smith also cherished while he worked with Pineda on the set of ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.’ “J.A. really wanted us to bring in our own ideas. Of course, there was a set script, but J.A. did encourage improvisation, especially during scenes where there wasn’t a lot of technical aspects,” the actor shared. He added that “Chris loves to improv, and he’s a really funny guy. So Daniella and I felt really free to improvise and make jokes, and have fun with the characters. The environment on set was really open, warm and fun, so we felt as though our ideas could really be heard.”
“There was a lot of improv!” Pineda also enthusiastically noted. “Some of Justice’s improvisational skills definitely made it into the movie. A lot of his improv was stuff that Chris told him to do, like when he was putting on the bug spray and sunscreen in the truck. All of that stuff was thought of on the spot.”
While Smith cherished the fun and comedic environment that was created on the sequel’s set, he also acknowledged that “It was difficult for me to play a character who was meant to be the comic relief. I don’t really know how to be funny on purpose. I feel like I can be funny conversationally or by accident. But when it comes to choices that are going to make people laugh, that’s not really my forte.” So the actor found that when he played his character’s humorous moments “honestly, and react the same way that I would react, but on a heightened level, it worked for the character.”
Pineda also appreciated the comedic elements that were infused into the sci-fi and action-driven drama. “We were working on a Chris Pratt movie, and he comes from a comedy background. So if you’re going to sign onto a Chris Pratt movie, you have to bring the comedy. That was definitely something that I had in mind when I auditioned the first time. Since Chris was funny, I also thought that my character would be funny,” the performer noted.
But Pineda admitted that “not all of my comedic choices made the cut, since there’s so much in the story; the initial cut of the movie was two hours and 40 minutes, so they had to cut the run time down.” Despite the intense, action-packed storyline, “we had a lot of fun on set. J.A. was also learning about American humor, and really let Chris take the rein on that.”
In addition to appreciating the comedic factor that’s incorporated into ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,’ the duo also embraced the fact that the sequel was shot in both studio sound stages and real locations in the United Kingdom and Hawaii. Smith revealed that he loves to travel, so whenever he has the opportunity to visit new places “for a job, I’m really happy about that.
“I also prefer working outside than inside. There’s just something about being under the real sky that I really enjoy…So I’m definitely an outside guy-when I’m working!,” Smith added with a laugh. “But as Justice, I’m an inside guy.”
Working on location was also an element of filmmaking that Pineda enjoyed. “We shot in Hawaii for a month, which was absolutely amazing. I also love London, and it’s one of my favorite cities…The fact that I got to shoot in Pinewood Studios, which is legendary, and where such movies as ‘Star Wars’ and the new ‘Mary Poppins’ were filmed, was so much fun.”
With ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ being the latest film installment in the popular ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise, Smith and Pineda both feel that the new sequel stands on its own as a unique story, while also paying tribute to the overall series. The actor noted that he thinks the current entry “hits all of the things people are going to expect from this film, and what they also loved about the previous movie. But this one also separates itself tonally.”
Smith added that he thinks “J.A.’s a master at creating suspense and horror. That’s a really hard job, especially when you’re directing a film that’s part of a legacy. I think he did that beautifully. I was really happy when I saw the movie.”
Pineda also chimed in on the uniqueness and legacy of ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.’ She noted that she thinks that the film works because “There was a commitment to honor the nostalgic elements and motifs, and there are even little things that audiences may not catch. But there are reasons why even the smallest nuances are in this movie.
“That’s part of the reason why Speilberg decided to hire Bayona to direct this film, like I mentioned earlier. J.A.’s good at creating thriller and horror elements, but he’s also good at getting the audience to feel sadness and empathy,” the actress passionately noted. “He created a combination of all the feels, which made him the best man to drive the legacy in a different direction.”