On June 10th Jurassic World Dominionthe last movie in the Jurassic world trilogy, which opened in cinemas nationwide. In a recent piece for The Hollywood Reporter, author Richard Newby called the film “a clear testament to the strengths and weaknesses of the blockbuster film business”. In this installment of the franchise, DeWanda Wise (airplane pilot Kayla Watts) emerges as an essential and unlikely heroine whose skill in the cockpit reshapes the film’s unfolding.
Recently, Wise entered the universe of a classic American western in Jeymes Samuel’s The harder they fall a comedy directed by Stella Meghie The weekend and the revamped Brooklyn of the Spike Lee’s cult classic series update She must have it on Netflix. Each genre has its own demands and creative freedom, and Wise’s approach to each is equal parts strategy and trust: “I’m very intuitive,” she says. Before the Jurassic World Dominion Premiere spoke to Wise THR about how she prepared for her latest role, trying to leave her footprint in the decade-long franchise that uses dinosaurs and current events to stop time.
How did you prepare to join a franchise that’s not only successful, but entrenched in viewers’ minds?
On the one hand, I’m super step by step. So I try not to think about things in a way that freezes me. I talked to [director Colin Trevorrow] from the start about what it takes to construct a character that makes an impact. And when I got the script, I just started preparing myself for the given circumstances of the actual thing. As for the larger franchise, it’s a very warm franchise, there’s a very loving fan base. It’s also one where, you know, the stars are the dinosaurs. That takes the pressure off.
Given some of your previous roles, what’s it like breaking into this action-adventure-oriented genre? You have inhabited very different worlds. How did you build the character of Kayla Watts?
I saw [the 2017 film] logan and I realized that there was room in the action space for characters that had a little more depth in personality, in life, and in personality – while it doesn’t necessarily show up in the on-screen portrayal, you can still feel the difference . I wouldn’t say I do seen me in the action space until this movie kinda triggered something in me. But I wanted to get into action for about 10 years.
As a pilot, I felt that the plot really depended on Kayla’s support. For example, as a black woman on film, how did you reflect on the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and the history that might influence them?
I’m a Maryland girl. It’s a very military-centric place. I was in JROTC in high school. Most of my stepfamily serves in the military…so it’s been an immensely military-centric family for generations.
Part of what I built at Kayla was this notion of coming from a matriarchal line of women who served in the military — and then just thinking historically about when women were actually allowed to fly fighter jets in the military. I mean, it’s like early 90’s, very recent history. [Note: Congress removed the legal ban on women in combat aircraft by passing Public Law 102-190 in December 1991.] So that component of who she is doesn’t just live in it [the space] when you see her in action, it’s all about her – when you serve, it changes the way you carry yourself, the way you live your life. In my mind, she lives on that plane. She is a woman who can get up and leave at any time. That’s why she has the pigtails. (laughs.)
In terms of dialogue, I felt like we didn’t get as much of Kayla’s backstory or learn as much about her life outside of it. But she still felt like a full character to me.
This is because you are introduced to her in her world. As soon as you meet them, sitting in the cockpit, you get the idea that Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) are a little disoriented because it’s no longer their territory. And throughout the duration of the film, she was with Biosyn, she’s the one showing them the way. So much of the action doesn’t just depend on, “I have to get these people out because I’m the only one who can fly, I’m the only one who drives.” It’s also the fact that you really get the feeling that as soon as you step into their world, you’re in she World.
I was struck by the tension between past and future in the film. Are there any themes that struck you during the shoot? Any that feel particularly urgent or relevant in hindsight?
Of course, the core of her bow is a very classic heroic shout. When you’re in that area – when you’re in the action area – the hero is often just is. And this is one of the first times in this franchise that you’ll meet a hero called to arms.
Something that really moved me deeply about Kayla was this idea of the imperfect heroine who essentially can start and serve where you are and have a homecoming…because I think she goes back to Detroit after that. And she comes home in the fullness of her integrity.