When your first showbiz experience is playing the lead in a summer blockbuster directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, it might be easy to get a bit spoiled. But Joel Courtney, who turned out to be the perfect choice to lead Super 8‘s ensemble of young up-and-coming talent, says he’s adjusted just fine to other projects, thank you very much. He’s wrapped production on a new Tom Sawyer film, where he’ll play Mark Twain’s icon of boyhood, and is currently filming the fantasy adventure The Healer. In the meantime, you can catch the 15-year-old rising star in the two-part Season 2 premiere of R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour on The Hub.
In “Creature Feature” — Part 2 of which airs at 8pm Saturday — Courtney plays John, a socially awkward teen obsessed with B horror movies of the 1950s. You know, the ones with titles like Lizard Lady, Revenge of the Dog Woman and I Was a Teenage Tick. But things get a little too real when John and his friends stumble upon a mysterious drive-in movie theater, where John soon finds himself sucked into one of the scary flicks he loves so much.
I caught up with Courtney as he was enjoying a rare day off from filming The Healer in North Carolina, where he talked about adjusting to a TV filming schedule, and how — in his family anyway — being a big movie star doesn’t excuse you from taking out the garbage:
I imagine Super 8 had to be a tough act to follow. How was making the switch from that to a television show like The Haunting Hour?
Joel Courtney: It has its differences. Super 8 had not all the time in the world, but it had quite a bit of time. TV episodes, they have to get one episode per week. They have to stay on schedule and they cannot get behind. Super 8 had a lot more time. Filming them was a little bit different. The way things were rushed was different. Super 8 was rushed, like hurry up and wait. You get there and you wait five minutes and then we’re ready to go. But for TV it was like, “Hurry up, let’s film it and then let’s go on to the next thing.” It was different, but I enjoyed them both. It was a lot of fun to see both sides of the spectrum.
There are some similarities between your character in Super 8 and The Haunting Hour in that you’re both film geeks. Was that appealing to you?
JC: I kind of noticed that. I mean, it’s a little bit different. My character in Super 8 was more of the makeup artist, and my character for The Haunting Hour was more of the overall geek. He knew everything about the movies. He knew the dates, the main actors, probably the producers of the movie.
What about you? Were you a film geek before you started in acting?
JC: Not really, actually. My dad was more of the one who knew the movies, the directors, the producers and all that stuff. I did my best, but I’ve never really been able to know all those facts and just rattle them off. But I’d like to be able to start doing that now that I’m in this career.
Your Haunting Hour episode deals specifically with the monster movies from the ’50s. What did you think about all those fake titles they came up with?
JC: It was funny. The first time I looked at the script, I was like, “Wow, what kind of movies are these?” My dad was like, “Oh, those are the awful B movies.” I kind of got the gist from that, like Blood Demons from Hell, Beach Party Massacre. You hear those names and you’re like, “Wow.”
This is a scary show, but it also has a lot of humor in it. When you were playing it, did you want to go more for the laughs or the scares?
JC: Well, the thing was, I couldn’t play it as if I was in a scary show because my character is in love with those scary movies. So I couldn’t really play it that way, so I played it where he would be this kind of weird, socially awkward movie geek. There’s pretty much no other way to say it. [Director Peter DeLuise] seemed to like it, so I just ran with it.
With the shorter time frame on TV, did you find you had to adjust the way you did things? Or did you just do what you normally do, only faster?
JC: Yes, that sounds about right. Everything was more rushed, which meant I was more rushed, too. But I still got all the stuff in. I still got all the lines in. I would have preferred to have more time, but that’s not really an option on TV.
Have you seen your performance? Are you pleased with it?
JC: I saw a rough video of the first episode. I was with Matt Angel, who plays [the villain], and it was really funny. We were laughing our heads off, saying “Hey, do you remember that day?” … I wasn’t really paying attention to the movie so much, but what I did pay attention to was really good.
Had you read any R.L. Stine books before you did this?
JC: Actually, I didn’t. The first time my dad told me about this, about The Haunting Hour, I had no idea. My dad told me it was like a kid’s Twilight Zone. I was like, “OK, cool. Let’s do it.” I didn’t really know much about it. I watched a bunch of episodes, I kind of understood what was going on, and I said yes. I’m glad I did, it was so much fun.
Tell me a little bit about how your life has changed in the last few months.
JC: You know, it has been really crazy. Insane. I’ve been kind of backed up with the last two movies I did, Tom Sawyer and I’m on The Healer right now. But other than being away from home and all my friends, not really much has changed. Like, I’m still taking out the garbage in our hotels where we’re staying. I go to sleep, I wake up. I have to do school during the day. I mean, granted I’m not getting in eight hours of school, I’m getting in as much as I possibly can. But it’s not really that much different other than having nine-and-a-half-hour workdays. That’s not normal for kids my age.
Well, that’s good to hear. Sounds like they’re keeping you grounded and making sure you don’t get a big head.
JC: Most definitely. My dad’s making sure of that.
Has it been just constant back-to-back projects or have you had any time to catch your breath?
JC: Between Super 8 and The Haunting Hour, I had quite a bit of time. And between The Haunting Hour and Tom Sawyer I had a little bit of time. But from Tom Sawyer I went straight into The Healer. I had about five days off, and I was still getting used to the time change.
Are you getting recognized now?
JC: Actually I just got recognized today. Funny you should ask. Kind of. I mean, I went to Bulgaria [to film Tom Sawyer], and they had no idea. I don’t think [Super 8] had even come out there yet. I just got recognized for the first time today in North Carolina. On the whole, not really. Because I would say that the chances of somebody in Asheville noticing me … are not very big.
Super 8 was set in 1979, and obviously Tom Sawyer is a period piece. Are you looking forward to playing more characters in the present time, or are you having a lot of fun dressing up in period clothes?
JC: I don’t really know. My dad was actually telling me about that earlier this week. It’s weird. Most people are like, “Oh, yeah, he’s playing a lot of period pieces.” I mean, I had fun on them. I would definitely like to try some more modern pieces where I’m not wearing clothes that are hiked up to my chest. I don’t know, though. It’s all fun.
Photo: (Creature Feature) © Discovery Communications. Credit: Katie Yu