Lost In Space
Jack Johnson may not know it yet, but he's about to be driven insane. Once the new Lost in Space movie opens next week, total strangers are undoubtedly going to start yelling, "Danger, Will Robinson!" at him.
"My teacher already said that once," the ten-year-old actor admits. "I've been hearing a lot of, 'My systems do not compute.' And 'Jack? Are you lost in space?' I guess so, maybe!"
The much-anticipated film based on the cult classic television series features a stellar cast - William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Gary Oldman, to name a few - but Johnson, a veteran of Love Affair with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, wasn't intimidated. The grandson of screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, who wrote The Dirty Dozen and the screenplay for The Grapes of Wrath and who scripted and directed The Three Faces of Eve, Jack says he thinks of celebrities as "just normal people," and takes his own potential star status in stride.
"I saw [the original Lost In Space series] when I was little - my mom told me to watch it because she said it was the best show ever, and I really liked it," he says. "Then one day I came home and my mom said, 'Here are some lines for Lost in Space,' and I was like, wow, cool!" After a lengthy audition process, including readings for director Stephen Hopkins and with costar Lacey Chabert, he learned that he had gotten the part of Will Robinson.
The role required that he arrive at the set at around 7:30 every morning, and he generally stayed until 6 p.m. In between shots, he had three hours of school a day. "Sometimes the teacher liked to bank hours, so I didn't have to do as much the next day if I was going to be working a lot - so I'd do five hours one day and just one the next. My school is very flexible if I get a role." Johnson has been acting for six years - more than half his life - and though he has taken acting classes, his mother is his main acting coach.
"When I was four, my mom knew this casting director and I kind of wanted to act, I'm not really sure why, I wanted to see myself on TV," he recalls. He landed a couple of TV roles and parts in independent features. The part of Will Robinson is on a whole different scale, however, not only because of its importance to the film, but because the film itself is generating so much publicity.
"I've done a lot of interviews, and we just did a big convention with just regular people - they have a big press junket later," he relates, adding that "it's sort of intimidating but I just have to think, 'They're not there. They're not there.'" He is looking forward to the film's premiere, since he hasn't seen it yet, and plans to invite as many of his friends as he can. Is he intimidated by whole Hollywood scene? "Maybe later!"
As for Will Robinson himself, the part was "definitely the coolest." Playing a normal kid may be interesting, "but it's fun playing an action kid because they get action!" Johnson describes Will as "goofy, smart, funny sometimes, and he loves computers and he's great with them." He also enjoyed getting to be smarter than the adults around him, and having to talk to them "at their level."
His favorite shot was one familar to audiences from the previews, in which he jumps down a long elevator shaft. "That was really fun because there are all these sparks and explosions and booms going around, and the big robot - I just ran and jumped as fast as I could and as high as I could, and it was funny because there were all these real stuntmen around!"
The stunt coordinator gave advice but not much heavy training. "He said, 'Fall on your feet, not your head.'" The role did involve some tedious blue- and green-screen work - "That's what I'm looking at for half the movie" - but it also offered some rewards, like getting to act with Gary Oldman, though "a lot of scenes with Gary were hard."
The young actor's most difficult scene was a very emotional moment with the Robot, though he adds that acting against a robot wasn't hard overall because writer Akiva Goldsman took the microphone and provided its voice during Johnson's scenes. "Akiva's really great, I believe that he's a ten-year-old trapped inside his [adult] body," jokes Johnson, who calls himself a science fiction fan and would love to appear on an installment of Star Trek or Star Wars. "I think it would be fun to do a guest shot on Third Rock from the Sun, because I love that show," he adds.
In most ways, Johnson sounds like a pretty average kid. "I go on the internet almost every day," he reports. What does he think of the Lost in Space site? "It's pretty cool!"
What's lined up next? "Just being a kid." While he doesn't plan specifically to take a set amount of time off between roles, Johnson notes that that would be a good way for a young actor to manage. His advice for young performers, "Don't let acting take over your life - stay in school and do sports and stay normal," is something he takes to heart.
"I just want to stay in school and keep doing this part time," he says. "Right now, I think history is pretty interesting. In school I just got to the Revolution, and that's really great because that's how our country was formed." Of course, if a fun historical epic came along with a great part for a ten-year-old, he'd find a way to make himself available!