”Super 8”, the new project that combines the talents of writer-director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg, has seen shrouded in secrecy since its inception.
And even in the lead-up to its release, its stars are a little wary of spilling too many beans.
“I can’t really talk about it, so I’m hanging up right now,” laughed Kyle Chandler, who plays the father of the film’s main character, one member of a gang of budding filmmakers.
Okay, so what can we let you know about ”Super 8”?
Set in 1979, it’s both a look back at Abrams’ own childhood creative endeavours and a tribute to the early work of Spielberg, films such as ”E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and ”Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
A group of young friends are working on an amateurish but ambitious horror movie (shot on Super 8 film stock, naturally) when they accidentally shoot footage of a spectacular train crash that frees some dangerous cargo locked in one of the carriages.
Soon their town is not only being threatened by whatever escaped from the train but from some shadowy military men looking to keep the whole thing under wraps.
Playing the central role of Joe Lamb in the film is newcomer Joel Courtney, who does a marvellous job in a demanding part.
What makes his work even more exceptional is that it’s his first acting role, and one that he got while visiting his big brother in Los Angeles.
“I went to L.A. to see what it was my brother actually did as an actor,” recalled Courtney, who was recently in Australia alongside Chandler and Abrams to promote ”Super 8”.
“And I also wanted to see if I could get a part in a commercial and make a couple of hundred dollars,” he added with a laugh.
Courtney quickly got swept up in what he calls “this nationwide search for every role”, but the process of landing the part was a tricky one, mainly because Abrams – renowned for keeping a tight lid on his projects – was keeping ”Super 8” very hush-hush.
“I wasn’t given any information about the story at all,” he said. “Even the scenes I auditioned with were fake – they were written especially for the screen tests.
“But that was something I really liked. These days you’ll see a trailer for a movie and you basically know everything that happens! J.J. didn’t want that, and that’s something I totally understand.”
Chandler, perhaps best-known for his roles on TV series like ”Grey’s Anatomy” and ”Friday Night Lights”, was subject to the same secrecy.
“My situation was that I auditioned a couple of times and they eventually told me I had the part but when I asked to see the script so I could make my final decision they told me I couldn’t see it,” he said.
“That’s when you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to go into this blindly, willing to put yourself in the hands of these strange people.
Of course, then you think ‘Well, J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg aren’t hacks, I guess. I’ll put my trust in them’.”
Chandler’s ”Super 8” character, town sheriff Jackson Lamb, is mourning the loss of his wife as the film begins, and father and son have grown distant as a result.
It’s an aspect of the story that adds an unexpected emotional wallop, and Chandler believes it gives ”Super 8” something extra beyond its sci-fi storyline.
“To me, what was so great about this when I watched it was what was between the lines,” he said.
“I think people are going to find themselves moved by moments in this in ways they maybe weren’t expecting, and the reason that’s possible is the character development. Every time you feel moved by something in ”Super 8”, it’s so deserved.
“These characters are created and developed so well that it’s just a joy to be with them.
“That’s what makes this such a special movie. Because once you’ve got a core group of characters that are so special you can really put anything around them.
“So you’ve also got these incredible visual effects, this sense of humour, this great feeling of adventure…I hate to sound like that guy who says ‘It’s got everything!’ but it really does have everything.”
And while Chandler and Courtney have nothing but respect and affection for each other now (you hear it in Chandler’s voice when he refers to his co-star as “this young man”), they decided to play things a little cooler while filming.
“If we’d know each other too well, I think it might have been difficult to play that bad connection between Joe and his father,” said Courtney.
“And that turned out to be true because once I got to know Kyle, he’s just so funny and so cool to hang out with.”
The father of two daughters in real life, Chandler laughs that he felt “cheated” by his handful of scenes opposite Courtney.
“I would love to have had more interaction, more scenes together,” he said. “I’d love a two-hour movie with just me and my son.”
However, the friendships between ”Super 8”’s gang of filmmakers were just as genuine off-screen, with Courtney claiming that “once I met all the guys, I knew instantly that we’d become friends. And we all are”.
That extends to Elle Fanning, who plays the movie-within-the-movie’s leading lady.
“No one really has a crush on her – she’s pretty much one of the guys,” said Courtney. “She’s just cool to hang out with. She’s really good at football too, which we found out the hard way.”
- GUY DAVIS
”Super 8” is in cinemas now.