The new J.J. Abrams film “Super 8” arrives Friday with a sci-fi tale of a ferocious monster on the loose in a small Ohio town but, really, the movie’s true aspiration is to weave a coming-of-age story in the tradition of “Stand By Me.” All this week we’re talking to some of the young actors at the center of the film who, judging by their poised and evocative work in “Super 8,” just might be the future stars of Hollywood. Today, a chat with Ryan Lee, the 14-year-old Texan who plays Cary, a boy with a penchant for explosives and a knack for making his friends laugh.
NC: “Super 8” reminded me of movies I liked when I was a kid, like “The Goonies,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” especially when it came to the relationships between the kids.
RL: It’s funny that you say that. A lot of people make that assumption, and it’s true, because this movie definitely has that feel. Paramount and [director J.J. Abrams] had us watch “Stand By Me,” “E.T.,” “The Goonies.” A lot of what J.J. was saying could relate to “The Goonies,” so once we watched that, it definitely made the process a lot easier. [The kids in the cast] didn’t know each other before, but I mean, the whole auditioning process was actually us bonding together, because they really wanted to see how the chemistry worked with all the kids. Have you seen “Stand By Me”? I mean, yeah, and “The Goonies.” Those kids act like they’ve known each other since they were 2, you know, and it really feels real, and being in the film, the chemistry part was a really big part of the auditioning process. And I’m sure somebody was watching us, and we don’t even know. Me, Joel [Courtney], Riley [Griffiths], Gabe [Basso], and Elle [Fanning] and Zach [Mills], we all just instantaneously, automatically clicked. And I think that’s one of the main reasons we all got the roles.
NC: A lot of times in movies that are meant for kids, it’s almost like an adult, condescending version of what it’s like to be a kid. To me, “Super 8” actually felt real.
RL: That’s awesome! I’ve been waiting for so long for somebody to come and say that! Really, that’s like the one thing people need to notice. A lot of people are writing reviews like, “Another dang kids’ flick,” but it’s not. It’s really not. J.J. knows how kids work, because he’s really like a kid at heart, you know what I mean? There’s six of us in the group, and he’s the seventh kid. That’s what we call him. We call him “the seventh kid.” He has a kid of his own, so he really knows how kids work, and he doesn’t treat us like kids, he treats us like young actors who are working for him. But at the same time, we have a lot of fun together. What you said, that’s so true, because all the kids’ movies, they don’t seem real. I sometimes catch myself saying, “I wouldn’t do that.” But then J.J.’s motto for this movie was, “Whatever makes it real, do it.” Like literally. I’m not just saying that to make your question sound right. His motto was “Whatever makes you kids seem more real, do it.” We would be in the middle of a scene, and be singing a song and start ad-libbing, you know, or just start improvising. A lot of the movie was actually us.
NC: So did you relate to your character, Cary? Do you also like to blow stuff up? And did you actually get to do that for the film?
RL: I actually got to light stuff on fire, but it didn’t have that big explosion. It was real fireworks, but all the explosion gunpowder was taken out. I did get to light stuff on fire, though, and it was a live lighter, which I had fun with. I don’t think [I got to keep it.] I wouldn’t be trusted with that thing. J.J. let us bring our own personalities into our characters, so everybody that you see on film can really relate to their characters in certain ways…. Like those characters are exactly like who we are in real life. For me, like Cary, we both like to blow stuff up. There’s also differences because I don’t go as crazy with fireworks as he does, but I still like to use them. We’re both very fun, we both have that burning passion to make people laugh around us, and for everybody to be happy. I take it seriously when it comes to projects and stuff, but he’s a bit more in his own world.
RL: Everyday was fun, every day was just a blast to go hang out with my friends. You just basically wake up in the morning, and you get to not only act, which is one of my favorite things, you get to hang out with your friends. You wanna know the scene I liked the most? I really liked the action scenes. Whenever we were running away from the train crash, whenever we were trying to get away, we’re supposed to be driving out of there really fast. We were actually in the car, and I was surprised we got to do that, and we got to drive 50 miles an hour in reverse, and then we got to go like a 100 in forward, and it was really fun. [Elle Fanning] was not driving. I would not trust Elle to drive. I don’t know why. Something about Elle and driving…. Another thing, me and Riley together pulled the most pranks on each other. Not really on set because we didn’t want to make anybody mad, but in our trailers, we’d turn each other’s lights off. There was a couch, and we’d push each other off the couch if one of us was sleeping. The best one was on the plane, where Kyle [Chandler] and Riley decided to wake me up with shaving cream…. I needed to get him back, right? He was talking to Kyle, and I just came up with two bottles, and I just unleashed. There was not a drop of shaving cream in either one of them left.
NC: In the movie the kids are making, you play the unfortunate zombie.
RL: I play the zombie that dies a bunch, and when I’m not doing my zombie role, I’m behind the Super 8 camera…. I think one thing I’d like to say is how I think I want to grow up and be a director someday. J.J. showed us the other side of this. You know the kids’ movie at the end? Did you know we wrote, directed, set up all the camera shots? The six of us did everything. J.J. said, “You gotta go write a zombie movie.” It was really cool. I really like that J.J. showed us the directing side. So now that I’ve seen that, I liked it so much, that that’s what I want to do when I get older. One thing that’s cool that I was thinking about the other day is how J.J. was inspired by Steven [Spielberg] whenever he was a kid, and now we were inspired by J.J. to make movies, and now I hope millions of kids are inspired by “Super 8” to make not Super 8 movies, but just movies in general. And I think that’s what’s gonna happen.
— Noelene Clark
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