Jake Johnson is the guy "Jurassic World" -- and, in fact, every "Jurassic" film -- needs: he's the grounded one who recognizes the inherent absurdity of running a theme park filled with dinosaurs and not expecting any loss of life. Jake Johnson, best known as the motivationally-challenged Nick Miller on the Fox sitcom "New Girl," gets the dino's share of "Jurassic World's" snarky lines, side-eye looks and subversive moments in the latest installment in the brontosaurus-sized franchise.
Johnson's leap from sitcom to blockbuster film came after he made a big impression on "Jurassic World" director Colin Trevorrow on the filmmaker's debut feature "Safety Not Guaranteed." As he reveals in this conversation with Spinoff Online, the best part of the gig -- aside from working out those one-liners -- was watching his friend go from making a quirky indie comedy to working on a massive movie with truly massive stars.
Spinoff Online: On a scale from one to ten, how much of a dream come true for you is it to not only be in a "Jurassic Park" movie, but to have one of your buddies behind the camera directing?
Jake Johnson: That's a ten, I think -- being in one of these big movies, which is unbelievable, being in "Jurassic" and then having Colin as the director. The night before shooting, sitting in a bar with him and talking about the next day -- that's kind of what I love about my job. I love that I can hang out with a director and a writer and the cast and we can talk things out. Just the fact that we were doing it on "Jurassic" was just unbelievable.
Where was your level of fandom on "Jurassic Park"? Do you remember the first time you saw it?
When I saw it, it was long before I ever thought I was going to be in this business. So I just saw it as a truly innocent spectator, and I just got to get my mind blown like everybody else. So my fandom's pretty high on this. The fact that it's all coming full circle with this is just insanity.
I love that your character gives voice to what the audience is thinking in the back of their head.
Your character Lowery fills that role like Sam Jackson and Jeff Goldblum's characters in previous films. I know you got to explore your character and build him up further than where he started on the page. How did Lowery evolve?
It's funny because Colin and I talked about Lowery. First of all, his look is based off of a mutual friend of ours named Clay Owen, who has the glasses and the mustache, and Lowery has a tattoo on his arm that's the same tattoo that our friend Clay has. And we wanted to base it off this to make this character very relatable to Colin and I, so it was a guy that we liked and we knew who felt like a friend of ours. And if you dropped somebody who we knew and could relate to into this world, how would they respond to it? So we were very aware of the fact that we wanted somebody in this world who felt like us.
How did you go about finding the right tone in the improvised lines?
I'll tell you that, truthfully, that is one hundred percetn Colin. Yeah, and it's one of the things that I just love about working with him in that he knew exactly what he wanted. A lot of jobs you get and you realize that people aren't exactly sure what they want, but they want options. So when you go and shoot -- tonally, you'll be very broad, you'll be very subtle and they just want to keep shooting. Colin told me point blank, tonally, where he would want things, because in his head he knew what scene would come before and what scene would come after. So he would say like, "We could go a little bit bigger here, and I want it loose." Or he would say, "Just deliver this pretty straight."
So one of the reasons, when you say I'm like a ten-scale excitement-wise, is [because] I like working with directors who know what they want, because it makes your job as an actor so much easier and more fulfilling because you're not guessing. Your job then becomes "time to execute a game plan" rather than "try to create a game plan."
I'm assuming this is the biggest project you've ever been involved in.
Yeah, for sure.
And watching Colin, with whom you made this great indie movie on a budget of under a million dollars, and now seeing him with all the tools in the tool box at his disposal -- tell me about that experience.
"Safety Not Guaranteed," towards the end, when Mark Duplass is on the boat and you see Aubrey [Plaza]'s character and my character are running towards him and there's a moment where Aubrey's looking at the boat, and her hair is blowing back and there's like a slight strobe light on her -- well, when we do that in "Safety Not Guaranteed," Colin Trevorrow was literally holding a fan over his head, himself. He looked like John Cusack in "Say Anything." He wanted the fan to be perfectly blowing her hair, right?
So in "Jurassic World" when he would come up with an idea so rapidly, and that idea would be executed at such a high level, that I was like, "Oh, this is the difference." Colin, he had a vision in "Safety Not Guaranteed." He had to prove it and do it himself. And in this, everything he could think of, he'd group up professionals that knew exactly how to do it and how to do it quickly.
Do you always want the role where you do the wisecracks, or do you say to yourself, "I could do what Chris Pratt's doing in this movie! I can be the action hero"?
No, I didn't want to do what Chris Pratt was doing. I respect what he's doing, but I like my role. For me, it all depends on the project, but I like sitting back and cracking jokes. I like to be [doing] back-and-forth with Lauren Lapkus, so I was pretty happy with where I was at. I'm just thrilled to continue playing Lowery if the franchise continues.
Do you think that you and Colin are going to continue to serve as each other's lucky charm?
I hope so. I think it has a lot to do with scheduling, but I know that I would love to keep playing with Colin and I hope he feels the same way. Colin's a good buddy and a great guy. And I like what you're saying that we're each other's lucky charms. Tell him that! [laughs]
How soon you have to go back to "New Girl"? Have they given you a sense of the tone or direction for the next season?
Well, the tone will be the same. I don't think anything's going to change around there on season five because we've already shot a bunch of the episodes into it. But yeah, we go back to work early October, and we're going to finish season five and hope people keep watching -- and hopefully, get to do season six.
You also have another movie coming out this August.
It's called "Digging for Fire." It's an indie about a marriage where they take a weekend apart, essentially, and it's got an unbelievable cast with Rosemarie DeWitt and Sam Rockwell and Mike Birbiglia and Brie Larson and Orlando Bloom. I just really hope people check it out.
What was the hook for you on that project?
Working with Joe Swanberg, the director, and the freedom he allows actors, and the kind of fun of discovery on something that you shoot for 16 days in L.A. And that kind of freedom is really... I just fell in love with doing [it]. And to be able to work with the caliber of actors; we kind of picked, in my opinion, the best actors working and just filled the movie up with them.
"Jurassic World" stomps into theaters tomorrow.