Ty Simpkins has already held his own on screen against the formidable Robert Downey Jr., so do you think appearing opposite the dinosaurs of "Jurassic World" fazed him in the slightest?
The 13-year-old actor has taken Hollywood by storm over the past few years, turning the big impression he made in horror hits "Insidious" and "Insidious 2" into major turns in summer blockbusters, including "Iron Man 3" (he reunites with writer/director Shane Black in "The Nice Guys") and now the latest film in the "Jurassic Park" franchise.
An admitted dinosaur enthusiast who scored a dream job, Simpkins sat down with Spinoff Online to talk about his love of the creatures, working opposite two of the biggest names in action movies and why, despite the occasional life-threatening mishaps, he wishes he could visit a real-life version of the dino park.
Spinoff Online: Did you ever go through the dino-obsessive phase?
Ty Simpkins: I'm still in it. Yeah, I'm still in it. I've loved dinosaurs since I was a little baby, and I've had dinosaur toys. I used to read dinosaur books all the time. Watch Disney's "Dinosaur" over and over again. "Land Before Time," "Jurassic Park."
When you were up for this role, how did you keep yourself from blowing the audition out of excitement?
Well, I also didn't know that much about dinosaurs. I didn't really know how to research things so much because I was a baby. But I kind of just went in. I tried to be as professional as I could, and I just did the audition.
You've done a couple really big movies now. What do you like about working on that big scale?
Just meeting a lot of people, more than you can in smaller projects such as the first "Insidious." That was a very small project.
Was there a part of the shoot where you just loved watching it made?
Yeah, the entire thing [laughs]. But it was this one scene that I wasn't in, but I got to visit the set, the last dinosaur animatronic. And that's the scene where Bryce [Dallas Howard] and Chris [Pratt] go up, and they kind of nurture the dinosaur. The animatronic could cry. It could breathe. It could swallow. It could move its head. It was very, very nice. I got to pet it.
Colin [Trevorrow] mentioned that he likes to give the actors a little room to work with, to give the characters some fun moments. Did you get an opportunity to create aspects of your character and add your own flourishes?
I'm pretty sure I did. Oh, yeah – towards the end of the film, Colin gave me a lot of options – because I'm a coming-of-age kind of character, so he gave me a lot of options of like crying or not crying when a dinosaur's chasing us – or still screaming [laughs]. You have to scream when that's happening. But yeah, crying and not crying, or just manning up, really.
Physically, what was the most challenging day on set for you?
There's this one day where it was just a blank field. We were trying to get insert shots of us just running and walking. And it's full of these nettles – grass which has, like, spikes on grass, and I was wearing shorts. It's like a cactus needle, and it went into my legs, and I had lots of scars. And it hurt a lot. So that was probably the most physically challenging thing.
Is this a character that you'd love to revisit?
Definitely. I would do this over and over again, this movie. He was kind of odd and quirky, and he loved dinosaurs.
How much of your job feels like just goofing around and how much feels like actual work?
Well, the parts where I have to be terrified, that takes a bit to actually get into the character of, but really, everything else -- like the running, I love the running. So that's just goofing around. And the crying scenes, that also is not goofing around, but once they say "cut," I'm out of character. And I just love hanging out, and I'm just my normal self.
In the last year Chris Pratt has become a real movie star, and we see in this one, he can be a major badass. What did you learn from watching a guy like Chris at work?
Well, it's kind of amazing because he's his goofy self and, like, laughing around, making jokes everywhere. And then all of a sudden, they say "action,” and he's tough Mr. Owen, walking around with a huge gun and serious kind of guy. He's funny. He's very nice. He's the kind of guy that you want to be around every day. We watched "Predator" together. I said I'd never seen "Predator" before, and he's like, "You've never seen 'Predator'?" I'm like, "no." So me and Nick [Richardson] stayed behind late one day while my parents went home, and Chris, in between shots, would run back and forth to the trailer, and we would just be sitting on his couch with some snacks watching "Predator." And he would talk to us about it, and it was great. He's a really great guy.
What did you learn from working with Robert Downey Jr. – because the scenes that you share in "Iron Man 3" are so good. What was fun about that process with him?
Well, I kind of got to be someone that I'm not: kind of – pardon my French, but – an asshole kind of guy towards this other guy who's being an ass to me. So I kind of got to love/hate relationship with Robert, kind of like Captain America and Iron Man kind of type thing.
Anything can happen in a Marvel Universe. Would you love to play that character again sometime?
Yes, yes, definitely. I would love to be in another Marvel film, whether it's me as a dorky kid or taking over Iron Man – which is just a rumor! But if that ever happens, I'd be happy to.
When you're in big movies like this, do your friends want to know secrets from the story or set, and do you have to figure out how not to give away anything?
Yeah, some of them, but a lot of people know that I can't really tell them. But I really want to! I'm like, "I really want to tell you, but I can't! So I'm sorry."
When you're not working, are you a video game guy or comic book guy? What kinds of stuff are you into?
Well, I love video games: "Assassin's Creed," "Far Cry," the LEGO games. I also like reading Deadpool comics. Deadpool is my favorite superhero. He's funny, and he's kind of odd because he's like a mercenary, and you would never think a mercenary would be a hero. I mean, he can be evil at times, but he joined the X Men, so that's got to say something.
What are the movies that you can't get enough of?
"Star Wars" – all of them, really. I enjoy the prequels. I mean, they're not the best, but I love them. They're "Star Wars." "Indiana Jones,” [whispers] not the fourth one. But the first three [laughs]. "Jurassic Park," I liked the third one more than the second one, I got to say. A lot of people don't like the third one, but even though they're not the best, I enjoy all of them. But my sister says if someone doesn't like all of these, or you haven't seen them, then you're not a Ty person.
Any movie that you make, you have got to imagine yourself in that situation. But in this one, you've got to do a lot of visual imagining too. How easy was it for you to tap into that?
It was actually fairly easy because I just had to channel in my head "There's a dinosaur out there, and he could kill me right now." So that kind of got me into the scared zone – I guess you could say the dino zone.
What was interesting about working with your director here, Colin?
I mean, other directors did this, but Colin kind of delivered it very straightforward. He came up to us. He was like, "OK. This is what's happening. This is what I want. I'm going to give you cues." And if I didn't know when I should do something, I'd be like, "Colin, can you give me a cue when I need to scream?" He's like, "Sure." And sometimes, what's really funny is he would make, like, dinosaur noises to, like, know when we need to turn our heads in shock or fear or something.
Tell me about the first time you saw the first "Jurassic Park" movie and the effect it had on you?
OK, well, I don't remember the first time I watched it, but my sister and brother had it on all the time. And I'm sure it affected me in a very big way. As I said, it made me love dinosaurs. But the first time I do remember watching the first one is my dad came to visit, and he brought us to a hotel. And I was like, "Oh yeah, let's rent ‘Jurassic Park.’" Because they had it there, so we did. And the scene that I remember watching is that last scene where the banner's coming down, and the T. rex is roaring, just after the raptor fight.
Would Jurassic Park be a place where you would be eager to go?
I would work there. I would leave acting behind, go work there [laughs]. I would rather look at dinosaurs all day than – I'm sorry to say – act.
”Jurassic World” opens today nationwide.