Dinos in the House: J.A. Bayona and Bryce Dallas Howard look beyond the thrills of 'Jurassic World'

Movies Features

T. rex vs. Triceratops? Sure, but that's just the undercard. Because the main-bout attraction in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is Nature vs. Nurture.

In one corner, you've got cloned dinosaurs roaming the volcanic Isla Nublar off the coast of Central America, after the theme park in Jurassic World (2015) was destroyed like its predecessor in Jurassic Park (1993). You've got your Pteranodons and your Apatosauruses and of course your Velociraptors, all doing what dinosaurs do and not bothering anyone but themselves because, spoiler alert, human beings and dinosaurs never co-existed. And in the other corner, you've got people like Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) playing mix'n'match with dino DNA—resulting in the previous film's Indominus rex and this movie's Indoraptor. So let's make an apex predator smart enough to escape its cage after mercenaries transfer several dinosaurs from the island to the mainland for black-market auction. What could go wrong?

That's for director J.A. Bayona and screenwriters Colin Trevorrow—the Jurassic World director and co-writer—and Derek Connolly to say. For the Barcelona-born Bayona, 43, whose work includes the well-received features The Orphanage (2007), The Impossible (2012) and A Monster Calls (2016), as well as shorts, music-videos and television that includes two episodes of Showtime's highly acclaimed “Penny Dreadful,” the film is an opportunity to say he can direct both big action set-pieces with dinosaur stampedes on an exploding island and haunted-house sequences involving a creature stalking human prey through shadowy hallways, staircases and gallery rooms while a dark and stormy night rages outside—not the usual thing one expects from a dinosaur movie.

Returning for this second film in a projected sequel trilogy to the 1993-2001 Jurassic Park trio is Chris Pratt as former raptor trainer Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard, 37—daughter of filmmaker Ron Howard and a star of films including Lady in the Water (2006), Spider-Man 3 (2007), as Gwen Stacy, The Help (2011) and two Twilight films—as former park operations manager Claire Dearing, now head of a dinosaur-protection advocacy group. Geraldine Chaplin, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Rafe Spall and child-actress newcomer Isabella Sermon also star.

We spoke with Bayona, whose first language is Spanish, and Howard separately by phone from Hawaii, where portions of the film were shot.

Film Journal International: First of all, your full name is Juan Antonio García Bayona. What do people on the set call you? Juan? J.A.?

J.A. Bayona: Always they call me J.A.

FL: You've referred to the Jurassic World movies as "moral tales" about how science develops faster than human morality and culture.

JAB: Sure—that's one of the dangers of the society that we are living in right now. Somehow you see man being replaced from the center of life. We don't remember telephone numbers anymore—we need those numbers in our telephones. We are somehow getting rid of some of the abilities we have and putting those abilities in the machines. So the question is, how much of our humanity are we putting in this machine and [in what] way these machines are getting in the center of life instead of ourselves. We cannot blame science or the progress of science. It's about how we use these tools we are using.

Bryce Dallas Howard: At the end of the day, it comes back to Michael Crichton and this science-fiction book he wrote that was based on the question, "What if human beings and dinosaurs co-existed—what would happen?" One of the reasons I feel so grateful to be in these movies is that they're aggressively entertaining but leave you with something that is actually going to make you think [about science and society] and maybe even inform some of your choices moving forward.

FJI: Which is what happened with your character, Claire, who in the original Jurassic World was very all-business and thought of the dinosaurs as "assets" with no more intelligence than, say, a garden lizard. In the new film, she's running an organization that wants to save them from extinction. What changed her?

BDH: Claire has done a real about-face in this movie. The way I looked at it was that the events of Jurassic World, that's the origin story of her activism. After the tragedy that occurred when all those dinosaurs ate people [laughs], the park was shut down and by the end of that movie she's really reconnected with her humanity. When I was talking to some folks who've made activism their career, they all had stories of that moment and usually it was something personal.

FJI: An epiphany.

BDH: That's exactly it: Jurassic World climaxed with that epiphany moment and now we're in a new chapter of this woman's life and she is on a mission. As I was prepping for [the new film], I was wrapping my mind around that concept and I realized it makes a lot of sense

FJI: I understand [J.A.] would use recorded dinosaur roars and the like to startle the actors in order to get the reactions he wanted. Why do that?

JAB: As a director, you focus on getting moments of truth and capturing the emotions of every moment… One of the things I like is to shoot with music, because the moment you have music on set it feels like you create a mood, which helps not just for the actors but for the whole crew. It creates an atmosphere where everybody understands the emotion of the scene, the emotion that you're trying to communicate. So that's very helpful.

FJI: Right. But going back to startling your actors with T. rex roars…

JAB: Yes, I played roars and also a lot of different things… And I had an agreement with the actors. I told them: Do you mind if I scare you from time to time? They said yes, and from that moment on it was pretty fine, scaring them and getting that registered with the camera.

BDH: Totally, yes, yes, yes. Yeah. It was so cool getting to work with J.A. and he would use music and noises and he would set up circumstances using practical effects that would give us all this feeling of realism so that he hardly needed to communicate anything. He was capturing an experience that was happening and I just loved that.

JAB: [Pratt and Howard] are very grounded people. That's always very helpful when you work with big Hollywood stars, [and] they're hard workers and also they're a lot of fun. They also have a chemistry that works so well in front of the camera and they also have that behind the camera—they know each other very well, they are very open to collaborate with the director and try different things.

BDH: [Pratt] is off the charts, truly. He's unbelievable—just a beautiful human being and a hell of a comedian. I mean, he's my favorite kind of comedian because, like, that never happens—he's a nice comedian. He's not someone who's making jokes at someone else's expense. And I really respect that.

JAB: The first thing we did together, after doing four or five takes, I asked him to do a silent take.

FJI: So instead of saying the script lines, to just use expressions to convey the scene's meaning?

JAB: [No, in this case] a silent take is one take that they did in the scene at the dive bar, where they look at each other and they pretend to say the lines, but they don't say them. It's something that you normally do after four or five takes—you do that with actors in order to for them reconnect with what they're saying. And you know, these movies are very expensive—every second matters. But the fact that we were able to do that and they were open to try these kinds of things makes your work a lot more interesting. They were open to try these things, and I really appreciated that as a director.

FJI: I get it. When they're saying lines over and over again for coverage or to give the editor a choice of takes, the dialogue might become automatic or rote.

JAB: Exactly. And [when] you don't say it, you need to think about it, and then you understand what you're doing again after four or five takes. It's very helpful. And it's very helpful for the editing, because sometimes some lines are important to say with the eyes rather than with the mouth.

FJI: Let's talk about another performer: the great Charlie Chaplin's daughter, Geraldine Chaplin, who was appeared in every one of your films. Garry Marshall once told me he put the wonderful character actor Hector Elizondo in his films as sort of a lucky charm.

JAB: Yes, it has become this kind of lucky charm for me. But also she is this amazing actress who has this kind of mysterious aura that I love. And at the same time, she is such an interesting person. I mean the whole 20th century has passed in front of her eyes. [Note: Chaplin, who also is a granddaughter of legendary playwright Eugene O'Neill, was born in July 1944.] She's the daughter of Charlie Chaplin [and Oona O'Neill Chaplin] and I talk to her about the movies she shot, the directors she's had, the people she has known and it's always fascinating. So I try all the time to get her in my movies to spend more time with her. [Chaplin's films include David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965), Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers and its sequel (1973-74), Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) and A Wedding (1978), Altman protégé Alan Rudolph's Welcome to L.A. (1976), Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (1993) and many others.]

BRH: Oh my God! Geraldine!

FJI: I imagine it's something you'd have to do diplomatically, since I'm sure everyone wants to ask her, but did you talk to her about her dad?

BDH: You know what, I absolutely did. First of all, she's just this super-cool lady and it was great hanging out with her. And I would like to think that I have a heightened level of sensitivity when it comes to picking up when somebody wants to engage about their history or their parentage and she's just like me. She's open and proud of her family and I asked a lot of questions. I mean, I wanted to know all about [the Charlie Chaplin co-founded] United Artists, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and obviously her dad. I could just go on and on and on.

FJI: Did you learn anything fun or interesting you didn't know?

BDH: Yes, yes I did, and you're about to hear something that I don't really talk a lot about, but you know how some people are cinemaphiles and they get really [passionate] about cinema and every little thing? I'm more interested in the behind-the-scenes when it comes to the economics of movies and how the industry was born and what each step was in turning this hobby into a viable industry. And it was really fascinating for me to get to ask questions about how they did, basically, the financing [of early movies] and what they did to the copyrights and how it all played out.

FJI: J.A., I'd like to check some biographical things since there's not a lot written about you personally. You were born May 9, 1975, in Barcelona?

JAB: Yes.

FJI: What did your parents do for a living? Were they in the film industry?

JAB: My father, he worked painting the big posters on the façade of the cinema. You know, in the old times, [some theatres in Spain] didn't have [access to high-quality] printing, so they created this massive poster that could spend six months in the same movie theatre. He was painting those.

FJI: Do you mean like a mural, and not a printed poster?

JAB: Exactly. Giant murals decorating the façades—we had them in Spain… They spent a lot of money doing giant murals.

FJI: Well, let’s give your theatre-artist dad a shout-out. What's his name?

JAB: Juan Antonio García. [J.A. Bayona's surname comes from his mother, in the Spanish tradition of nomenclature.]

FJI: By the way, is there any news on the World War Z sequel? [Bayona had an option with Paramount to direct, but dropped the project in January 2016. By April of that year he was hired for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.]

JAB: Unfortunately, we never did that after spending one year on the script. We had amazing ideas for that movie and I was just working on that, but there was a moment that we were [preparing to go into] production and the pieces were not matching together. They were not working properly the way I was looking for, so I quit. But the truth is that I enjoyed working on that project and hopefully they will be able to do it.

FJI: Do you know what you're doing next?

JAB: Not really. I would like to go back to Europe and do a smaller film, because I think that you cannot go bigger than Jurassic! But I don't know—I feel very fortunate to get these offers from Hollywood and from people that I really admire, but at the same time [I like] being able to go back home [to Barcelona, where Bayona still lives].