Everyone loves a dinosaur and so to walk with them is always something to get excited about. To mark the release of the DVD/Blu-ray release of Walking With Dinosaurs on 14th April FilmJuice caught up with star Justin Long to tell us all about his character Patchi, his favourite dinosaurs and being the runt of the litter.
Why do you think people are so interested in dinosaurs?
That’s a very good question. I don’t know where the fascination comes from, but I think it has something to do with the obviously larger-than-life appeal they have. Dinosaurs are like monsters. Kids are fascinated by monsters and by things that scare them. Dinosaurs feel like they were born out of the imagination, and then it is amazing when you learn that they were actually real. You can read about them and see their bones and find out in museums what they were really like. It confirms any fantasies that you have about monsters. You can make a lot of comparisons to modern-day animals.
Were you interested in dinosaurs as a child?
I was obsessed with them. My favorite was Tyrannosaurus rex. That was the cool one, the big one that everyone knew. But I was also into the more obscure ones like the Allosaurus. I remember thinking the Allosaurus was like a T. rex, except that its arms were a bit bigger. It had cool coloring. I used to know a lot about dinosaurs. I remember when I was a kid they had found a Brontosaurus that was exponentially bigger than the others and they named it a very non-creative name like Giganotosaurus or Hugeasaurus or something like that, I can’t exactly remember (laughs). But I remember thinking it was very lazy name-choosing!
It sounds like Patchi in WALKING WITH DINOSAURS is perfect casting; you really were a dinosaur fanatic?
Yes I was a nerd and just to fully reveal my nerd card, I was a member of the Southern Connecticut Herpetological Society (laughs). Oh God it is true. But the great thing about WALKING WITH DINOSAURS is that it makes the creatures come alive for kids. It makes them seem immediate, of this world and of our time. Watching the film we realize that we are walking in their shadows—in a land that they had at one point conquered. We understand that were we to live with dinosaurs, we wouldn’t stand a chance of survival. There’s an arrogance that we have as human beings; we think we reign supreme. But it’s important to see that we are just part of the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. The truth is, we would probably be wiped out if these predators were around today.
What was the appeal of playing Patchi?
I love his journey of self-discovery. I like the fact that he becomes wise and learns valuable lessons, but at the same time he does not lose his sense of fun. WALKING WITH DINOSUARS is a great, classic, coming of age story. Not only does Patchi grow into an adult, he grows into a heroic adult. We can learn a lot from him. Also I love animation and it was great to be a part of a film like this, which has such beautiful animation. It blew me away when I saw it. The way they blend the two mediums of animation and live action is seamless. It’s done beautifully.
Can you discuss Patchi’s journey?
He is a Pachyrhinosaurus, (from the Greek for ‘thick-nose lizard’) a dinosaur that is like a triceratops, with a huge frill and horns. We meet Patchi when he is a hatchling. Although he is the runt of the litter, he makes up for his size in spirit and heart. He doesn’t necessarily realize that he is the runt. He reminds me of a dog I used to have, actually. We named him Biggie Smalls, because he was big in attitude, but small in size.
Do you indentify with Patchi at all?
I do, Patchi reminds me of myself. When I was a kid, I was the runt of the litter. I was really tiny. I was four feet ten inches going into high school and weighed 89 pounds. However I loved (American) football, that was my thing and you really needed to be tall. I was always unusually small for my age. I remember being able to get a child’s ticket for kids seven and under, when I was 12 or 13 years old. I would always take full advantage of that. (laughs). Being small actually helped me out a lot too when I started working as an actor. I was playing a high school student until I was 27 or 28 years old. There are very few parts for actors so I was grateful. People often complain about typecasting, but I always felt that it helped to have a niche like that. I thanked God to be working at all. So I kept thinking about that when I was doing the voice of Patchi. He’s a guy who doesn’t know his own size or strength. But eventually he grows into his heart and his large spirit, as he proves himself over the course of the movie. It’s a heroic journey. And through the course of the movie, you learn that sometimes one’s own will and perseverance can overcome any physical shortcomings. It’s a beautiful story.
Can you discuss his relationships with the other main characters?
He has a romance with Juniper. I love the name; I couldn’t get the [classic 1968] song ‘Jennifer Juniper’ by Donovan out of my head every time I said her name. He’s has a ‘thing’ with Juniper, who becomes a very close friend. He has an older brother,Scowler, who’s an alpha male. Scowler picks on Patchi and puts him down. Patchi lives in his brother’s shadow. I can definitely relate to Patchi in that respect. My older brother tried to exert his authority over me, so I understand that dynamic very well. I’m one of three. I have an older brother named Damian and a little brother named Christian. We loved each other and we still love each other, but I’m the middle one and I was always the smallest, so I had things to overcome. My brothers knew exactly what buttons to push with me and they exploited that.
Can you share what kind of things they did?
It used to really bother me when my older brother would sing theme songs (laughs). We used to love film scores by John Williams and we would listen to the scores of the STAR WARS movies and E.T. [the Extra-Terrestrial]. My brother would hum these great, rousing, epic scores, loudly and in my face; it was super annoying to me. I imagine I was pretty annoying myself actually. But because he was my older brother I really looked up to him. I followed him in everything he did. That’s why I became an actor. He was the best actor I knew, and I followed him into it.
You do a lot of animation; why do you think directors love to cast you as endearing animals?
It might be to keep my face off of the camera (laughs)! I don’t know, but I was very flattered to be asked to play Patchi. They had heard me playing Alvin in ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS and they saw an element of Patchi in Alvin, because Alvin has a similar youthful exuberance. I hope they keep asking me to do animation, because I love it. My mother did a lot of voiceovers when I was a kid, so when I started my career, back in the late 90s, I began doing voiceover work. I never thought I would have much luck acting on camera, but then I started doing movies, which was great. But I ended up missing doing voiceover work. I love the medium of animation and I am happy to do animation now. I’m a huge Mike Judge [American actor and animator] fan, and I got to do some episodes of his KING OF THE HILL [animated television series]. It was such a thrill to be a part of something that you yourself love to watch.
What was it like recording the voice of Patchi for WALKING WITH DINOSAURS?
Oh it was a dream job; I really mean that. We got to make up a lot of our own dialogue. We inserted things into the animation that had already been done when we were recording. I got to listen to some of John [Leguizamo]’s dialogue, and we did some crossover lines. We created moments that were not there initially. It was fun. I love the script. The story is humorous and modern, but viewed through the lens of this great, epic, prehistoric world. While I was recording, I was still overwhelmed with the images from the film. It’s a prehistoric story told in a very realistic, ‘dinosaur’ way (laughs).
Do you think that audiences will actually learn about dinosaurs as well as being entertained by the movie?
Yes I think they will learn a lot and I did love that aspect of the movie. There are moments when the film breaks from the action and describes the dinosaurs on-screen. It gives the Latin name of each animal and the species and it is done as a quick stop-caption. I loved how they stopped the action for a couple of seconds, so you get the opportunity to find out which dinosaur is involved in the scene you are watching. It raises the stakes I think, because it helps audiences immerse themselves in the story. It’s phenomenally educational as well as being entertaining. As I watched the film, I kept regressing back to my own childhood; I would’ve loved watching a movie like WALKING WITH DINOSAURS when I was a kid. I would’ve been so excited by it because I was interested in learning everything I could about dinosaurs. I would’ve soaked it all up. I think back to the dinosaur movies that I grew up watching and WALKING WITH DINOSAURS is unlike anything I saw. It’s far more realistic.
What kind of experience do you think audiences have in store?
With the blend of animation and live action scenery in the film, audiences will feel like they’re actually in the dinosaurs’ world. The 3D makes the scenes pop and feel very vivid. I’m so excited for people to experience this journey and the film itself is great. People will identify with Patchi, who has an overwhelming curiosity. Through his eyes, audiences will discover this great, prehistoric world, that was previously unknown to them.
What are your goals or long-term career plans?
I sound so clichéd when I say this, but I really do want to direct very soon. That is my goal. I am currently working with Kevin Smith on a horror film called TUSK. Kevin Smith is one of the greats, and being a part of this experience has really inspired me to want to direct. Working with Kevin is making me fall in love with filmmaking again. It is so collaborative and such fun. Sometimes people lose that element of fun when they have been working for a while, which is really upsetting. I’ve never been overly ambitious. You know, I’ve never had a clear goal in mind. I’ve talked to some actors who tell me: ‘well, I have to do a drama next, and I have to work with so-and-so, and I have to avoid this kind of film.’ It might have been detrimental to my career, but I took a lot of jobs because I just loved working. I never had a clear image of what I thought my career should look like. I love acting so much. At the end of the day, making films should be fun and WALKING WITH DINOSAURS was like that for me. It was a joy to go to work. I want to continue doing work that is joyful.
Walking With Dinosaurs is out on Digital HD, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD on 14th April from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.