When Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow got the nod to direct Star Wars Episode IX (a job he eventually ended up dropping out of), the search was on for a director to take over the inevitable Jurassic World sequel.
The choice — handpicked by executive producer Steven Spielberg — was J.A. (Juan Antonio) Bayona, the Spanish director of the chilling 2006 horror tale The Orphanage, 2012’s gripping disaster drama The Impossible and the emotional 2016 fantasy A Monster Calls.
Bayona’s earlier films displayed an innate sense of how to draw maximum tension and emotion out of circumstances often involving families in peril, while A Monster Calls and The Impossible in particular exhibited a flair for capturing intense and imaginative visuals. He’s called upon to deliver all of those in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, while also creating a haunted house atmosphere for the second half of the film that harkens back to his stunning feature debut, The Orphanage.
We spoke with Bayona about why Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was his biggest challenge yet, working with Trevorrow (who still co-wrote the screenplay with Derek Connolly) and what he likes to do to get the actors in the right frame of mind on the set.
Den of Geek: This movie is, in a weird way, sort of a culmination of your last three movies. There’s a haunted house, there’s a natural disaster, and there are monsters.
J.A. Bayona: Yes, that was kind of a relief, because it was such a massive challenge, you know? It’s such a big movie that the scale of the production is so huge. So, somehow those things made me feel that the experience I’ve been in my previous movies made me kind of prepared to face the amount of work I had to do on this one.
What attracted you to doing it in the first place, and what did you feel you could bring into a franchise on its fifth film?
Well, I’ve always loved Jurassic movies and Steven Spielberg movies, so for me, it was like a way of making an adventure. It was like a way of having fun, with the comedy, the action scenes, and the kind of styles I’ve never done before.
How did the story evolve once you started working with Colin and Derek? Was the basic story always the same or did it change a lot over time?
We had a draft, and we worked from that draft. The lines of the story and the arc of the characters were established. It was a very interesting approach to the story, because somehow it was like a story that is not about the island anymore, it’s a global situation right now. And at the same time, there was this idea that we’re talking about dinosaurs, but we end up talking about us. You talk about the dinosaur situation in a global focus, the whole debate turns and I felt that very interesting.
I understand that when you took the job, you went back and you re-read a lot of Michael Crichton’s books. What did you take away from his work that you wanted to get into this movie?
Well, you want to be invested in the world that you are creating. I read the books again, I saw all the movies again. I tried to be in the mood, I tried to somehow be faithful to the universe that Michael Crichton created in the books and the way Steven took those books to the big screen.
Were there any sort of themes of his that you wanted to address that maybe hadn’t been explored as much previously?
I think it’s very interesting the way that Steven and Michael Crichton, through their work, they talk about the world we live in. They are not positioned as fantasy, which makes the science very believable. So in that sense, I think that the Jurassic stories reflect on the always conflicting relations that man has toward science or nature or new technologies. Those things are now more relevant than ever, and I felt like it was interesting to be able to do a movie that was supposed to be a lot of fun, but at the same time talk about these things that I was interested in.
When the action moves to the Lockwood estate, was it your idea to add a gothic horror element to that?
That was sort of all in Colin’s mind. From the very beginning, he felt the movie to have this second half that was more like a haunted house story, and he thought that I was the right guy to do the movie because of The Orphanage, and the combination felt very interesting to me. One of the things that I loved more about the first Jurassic Park, are the suspense moments that Steven was able to create in those films, so I really wanted to have fun designing set pieces of tension and suspense in a tight location, and with dinosaurs.
You’ve worked with special effects and big set pieces on your other films as well. What was especially challenging on Jurassic World?
The amount of interaction that we had with dinosaurs was very challenging. It’s very tricky when you work with CGI, those moments where the characters touch the dinosaur or are very close to the dinosaurs, so we decided to go with animatronics (for a lot of those). I learned that lesson on A Monster Calls, because we had a giant tree monster in that movie that we created with animatronics and CGI, so I thought that I was prepared, and I worked very close with the ILM people, in order to have as many animatronics as possible, in order to make that interaction work perfectly.
The actors in the movie say that you like to play music and sound effects on the set to kind of either get them in the right frame of mind, or scare them.
Yes. I do it all the time. I think music helps all of the actors and the whole set to understand what is the mood of the scene, what is the emotion we’re trying to portray. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s something more emotional, but it helps the actors to understand what is the emotion we’re trying to communicate, and it helps all of the people on set to be focused on what’s going on in front of the camera.
I had this agreement with all the actors that from time to time, I would scare them in order to get those reactions with a camera, you know? And of course, from the moment I said that, it was a lot of fun.
Colin’s going to return to direct the next Jurassic film. Was there any talk about you staying on, or were you ready to move on after doing this?
I always thought about only the second movie, and Colin couldn’t make the second movie because he was committed to Star Wars for a while, so I think that now that he’s open, he needs to be the guy to finish this story that he started…Right now, I’ve got a film that I was developing before Jurassic, so maybe I will go back to that. I really want to go back to my own country and shoot a Spanish-language film again, but I’m not sure yet what’s going to be my next project.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is out in theaters now.