Hip-Hop Junkie: Actor Justice Smith Is a French Rap Connoisseur
Justice Smith is no stranger to the silver screen. While the 22-year-old’s starring role as Ezekiel Figuero in Netflix's hip-hop period piece The Get Down may have earned him fame, Smith is ushering in even more promise as the newest face of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
In the sequel to the 2015 franchise revival, Smith portrays the technologically inclined Franklin Webb. While Smith’s character is a mastermind behind the keys of a computer, Franklin is undeniably anxiety-ridden—especially when it comes to close encounters with a brachiosaurus. Nonetheless, he embarks on a journey to Costa Rica alongside co-stars Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing) and Chris Pratt (Owen Grady) to rescue the prehistoric species as it faces extinction, yet again, at the hands of a volcano.
Ahead of the film’s release this Friday (June 22), Justice Smith spoke with XXL about his preparation for his Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom role, tuning into old-school hip-hop for The Get Down and his love for the French rap scene.
XXL: Talk about your role in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Justice Smith: I play Franklin Webb. He’s a systems analyst. He works at the Dinosaur Protection Group doing their social media and he agrees to go with Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, to the island of Isla Nublar to track down and save the dinosaurs from an active volcano. And he is a very nervous person. He feels the most comfortable in front of his computer and especially not around the wild beasts. Or, nature in general [laughs]. So, when he goes to the island he encounters the dinosaurs [and] he can’t really contain himself. He can’t really relax.
Your character is a computer wiz of sorts. Do you feel you're redefining what it means to be a "nerd" on screen?
Wow. That is a good question. I’m just fitting into the mold of what we’ve seen before on screen. I hope that I get to play others characters that are not necessarily nerdy. Although, I do love playing people who are passionate about quote-on-quote nerdy things. But hopefully I get to play different characters and get to showcase my versatility a little bit more.
A majority of your fan base is familiar with you portraying Ezekiel in The Get Down. How did your preparation for this role differ from your previous work?
I explored the process of method acting for The Get Down. But for Jurassic, I didn’t do that at all. I just came to set open and ready to respond [to] whatever was happening in the scene. So, that was my approach for this film. For Franklin—because he’s a comic relief character—it was necessary that I just come to set ready to play.
How did music play a part in your preparation for The Get Down?
I was listening to music from the time period like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I was just trying to listen to music not only from that exact time period but also music that evolved from what the pioneers of hip-hop made.
What are you currently listening to now before you go on set?
I didn’t really listen to music for this particular film. I usually listen to music when I act. But this was a completely different ballpark. It wasn’t like anything else that I had done before. So I just approached it completely differently than I how I’ve approached characters in the past.
Outside of acting, what’s typically on shuffle in your headphones?
I do like French hip-hop [laughs]. Like Orelsan, he’s a really good rapper. And Zoxea. I like Moses Sumney, Father John Misty. I speak French so that’s what I’m really into.
Could you ever possibly see yourself dabbling in the French rap scene as an artist?
Both my parents were competitive singers, so that pushed me off music and singing. [Laughs] I don’t want to necessarily define my approach to my career as having one set process. I want to continue to see what I do with my characters.
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