That the film endures is not in doubt and while the on-screen dawn of the age of CGI goes a long way to explain the appeal of Jurassic Park, and to a lesser extent its sequels, there’s a definite dose of Spielberg’s own brand of adventure and emotion which still engages every time.
Ariana Richards was just twelve when she was on set coping with an escaped T-Rex, evading Raptors in a kitchen and saving the day with her Unix savvy and I had the chance to speak with her last week to talk about the experience and a possible return to Jurassic Park.
HeyUGuys: On its release it was the biggest film in the world, as a young actress how did you cope with the enormity of it all?
Ariana Richards: For me as a 12 year old actress, who turned 13 during the filming, it was an adventure just to experience what it was to be on the set of Jurassic playing this interesting character and working with Steven [Spielberg] and working with the dinosaurs and everything that happened afterwards was a surprise. It was a pleasant surprise to see how well the movie as received by people all over the world. It brought me into the consciousness of so many people and I gained so many fans. It was incredible, the amount of fan mail was remarkable. It was unexpected but in my career I’ve done about 40 films but that one will always stand out.
It must follow you around…
Ah yes. People do follow me a little bit, I notice people sometime, when I’m out in public, that people whisper to each other and glance over at me. Sometimes one of them comes over and talk to me about Jurassic Park, but usually they are brief and respectful and just want to share something nice.
Lex was a nice role model and a welcome break from the usual child role, do you think that’s why she has remained a popular character?
I do think that. Steven really gave my character a great deal. When you compare it to the book by Michael Crichton my character is the younger sister and quite a brat with not very much to offer but having the roles reversed and the fact that I was given the computer know-how that was only given to the boy in the book was really extraordinary. I got so many messages from fans about the fact that they got to see a young girl given the chance to be smart and know something about an important topic and save the day. It inspired a lot of young people.
Did Spielberg discuss the role reversal?
Steven has always been so good in expressing children in their roles and giving women an empowered role and I think he consciously wanted to do that for my character. He told me that he enjoyed seeing how much I was doing in the role and how deeply I was getting into the fear. He almost enquired once how, after the scene with the T-Rex, I reached those levels of fear but after a moment he decided he didn’t really want to know.
The film stills holds up from the visual effects point of view, on set was Spielberg more concerned with the planning of the effects or did he concentrate on the characters?
I found it to be very smooth as a young actor on set. I found Steven to be very decisive, he knew what he wanted on the scenes and he had a great team around him that he had worked with many times before and he trusted them and had worked with them many times before. So all of the scenes with special effects went so smoothly that I was able to concentrate on playing my character and responding to that world around me. I felt like Steven had a lot of free energy mentally and emotionally to break off from the other people on the set to come over and work with me and Joey (Mazzello) and get our input on the scene, play games with us, throw in ideas with us about the next scene and then after we get a scene right he’d leap up out of his chair, giving us a great big hug and telling us how great we did.
It’s nice that he felt the enthusiasm in amongst the huge responsibility to do that.
That’s so true, that human element made me as an actress feel really acknowledged.
How was the experience of seeing it completed with the effects and the score in place?
The first time I saw it I was surprised…that I was surprised. I had been filming on the movie for many months and present for so many of the scenes so I assumed it wasn’t going to be very different but when I saw how they wove everything together including these incredible animatronics with the CGI and then John Williams’ beautiful score – it was a different impact.
There are rumours of a Jurassic Park 4, with Spielberg possibly returning to the series. Could you see a return for Lex all these years later?
Well…um, let’s see…. If there is a Jurassic Park 4 I guess we’ll find out confirmation soon. Steven once said to me that he’d be interested in doing a ‘talking’ movie with me as opposed to what I did as Lex, which was a lot of screaming. I’m not totally sure that if Jurassic 4 happens it will be a ‘talking’ movie.
In the years since Jurassic Park you’ve done a lot of acting work but your focus seems to have shifted towards your painting, was it an easy decision to put acting on the back-burner?
I did that initially to go to college and get my degree and after that I went right into a very extensive mentoring programme with some of the best artists in the country for traditional oil painting and it’s really taken off. I find rewarding to be my own director in a way, when you get to create these portraits of people on canvas. People contact me from all over the world saying they’d love to have me paint them, or their loved ones. I’m really enjoying it but I’m not closing any doors, if you love acting it’s always there. But right now I have my focus.
In the artwork I’ve seen there’s a number of young woman, surrounded by nature looking contemplative, with a lot going on behind the eyes. That’s something that’s not easy to capture.
Yes, that’s something I’ve been able to draw from my acting experience. When I paint a person on the canvas I work to express that emotion that goes on under the surface, the subtext, the story that’s going on.
Back to Jurassic Park, with the new films and the re-release in the cinemas many people will be seeing this for the first time, why do you think it’s such an enduring film?
Jurassic Park is one of those extraordinary pieces that was so groundbreaking, I can’t believe it came out all those years ago, it’s amazing how time has flown. It was a story that captured the imagination of so many people emotionally, not just because of the special effects. That’s what has really stuck with people and has made it stand the test of time. It’ll never leave people’s hearts.
You can find out more about Ariana’s artwork here and the Jurassic Park Box of Blus is out right now.