'Jurassic World' Star Justice Smith Is Living a Pokemon Fan's Dream

The actor, set to star in 'Detective Pikachu,' discusses the week he spent working with co-star Ryan Reynolds to bring the character to life.
Giles Keyte/Universal Studios

Justice Smith is taking a trip to Jurassic World.

The 22-year-old Los Angeles native known for his role as Ezekiel “Books” Figuero in Netflix’s The Get Down is making his big-budget movie debut in this weekend's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. In the sequel, he plays Franklin Webb, a smart systems analyst who works for Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) at her Dinosaur Protection Group, a non-profit advocating for the rights of dinosaurs who face extinction thanks to a volcano about to erupt on Isla Nublar.

Smith is not a novice to big production sets, but when the role of Franklin came around, the actor actually declined it at first because he had interest in doing the off-Broadway play Yen. He eventually did both, and notes that working on bigger sets are more technically challenging.

“You feel more confined as an artist. There are certain setups that require you to run for your life from something that is not there, while being conscious to not hit the camera or not bend forward because your harness is still on underneath your costume, but still remembering to have the full emotional weight of ‘Holy shit I'm about to die.’ And it only ends up being half a second in the movie," Smith tells Heat Vision. "It's not really the most opportune moment to talk about how the character is feeling, or the different ways that feeling manifests itself physically. It's more about hitting the mark. That's not to say small productions don't have their technicalities. There's just usually more room to play.”

Smith describes Franklin as “resourceful, on-edge, vulnerable,” all spot-on when you see his character navigate through the film and its surroundings.

Colin Trevorrow, who directed the first Jurassic World and co-wrote Fallen Kingdom, is returning to the director's chair for 2021's Jurassic World 3. Smith hasn't yet spoken with Trevorrow about a possible return for Franklin.

“It's not really up to me if I do come back. I would love to if they would have me," Smith says.

Fallen Kingdom director J. A. Bayona says Smith made Franklin one of the most likable characters in the film, and notes that the actor moved him with his work, particularly with a scene in which the Velociraptor Blue is in danger, and Franklin looks relieved when everything turns out okay.

"There is one shot where he is smiling at the end of the scene. That was the shot that made me moved the first time I saw the scene in the editing room," says Bayona. "He's an amazing actor. He has an extraordinary career ahead of him."

The actor will be the leading man for next year’s Detective Pikachu. He will be playing Tim Goodman, Detective Pikachu’s trainer, alongside Ryan Reynolds' voice acted CGI title character. Recounting his admittedly limited time with Reynolds, Smith says, “I worked with Ryan Reynolds for a week where we went over the script with our director Rob Letterman, and talked about the characters. Ryan is really nice and really witty. I had a lot of fun working with him, even if it was for a short time.”

Smith was already well-versed on the world of Pokemon before taking on the role.

 “I have all the original generation Pokemon cards. So does my sister. We used to play the card game all the time even though we didn't know the rules," he says. "We would make up our own rules based off what we knew about the video game and the TV show.”

Naturally, that love of Pokemon extended to the games.

“The first Pokemon game I had was Pokemon Gold, which is why Totodile is, to this day, my favorite Pokemon," he says. "I also had a little figurine of Totodile that I would carry around everywhere with me as a kid.”

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in theaters now.

— Aaron Couch contributed reporting.