DeWanda Wise on Playing an “Imperfect Hero” in ‘Jurassic World Dominion’
On June 10, Jurassic World Dominion, the final film in the Jurassic World trilogy, opened in theaters nationwide. In a recent piece for The Hollywood Reporter, writer Richard Newby called the movie “a clear testament to the strengths and weaknesses of the blockbuster film business.” This installment in the franchise sees DeWanda Wise (airplane pilot Kayla Watts) emerge as an essential and unlikely hero whose deftness in the cockpit reroutes the film’s unfolding.
Recently, Wise has stepped into the universe of a classic American Western in Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall, a comedy in director Stella Meghie’s The Weekend and the reimagined Brooklyn of the series update for Spike Lee’s cult classic She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix. Each genre has its own demands and creative freedoms, and Wise’s approach to all of them is equal parts strategy and trust: “I’m very intuitive,” she says. Ahead of the Jurassic World Dominion premiere, Wise spoke with THR about how she prepared for her latest role and sought to leave her footprint on the decades-long franchise that uses dinosaurs and current events to collapse time.
How did you prepare to join a franchise that’s not only successful but established in the minds of audiences?
On the one hand, I am very step-by-step. I try to not think about things in a way that would freeze my brain. From the beginning, I spoke to [director Colin Trevorrow] about how to create a character that makes an impact. When I received the script, I started preparing for the actual situation. It’s a very welcoming franchise with a large fan base. It’s also a franchise where the stars are the dinosaurs. It takes the pressure off.
What is it like stepping into this action, adventure-oriented genre, given some of your previous roles? You’ve lived in very different worlds. How did Kayla Watts come to be?
I saw [the 2017 film] Logan and I recognized that there was room in the action space for characters who had a little more depth of personhood, of lives, of personality — even if it doesn’t necessarily show up in the exposition on screen, you can still feel the difference. I wouldn’t say that I saw myself in the action space until that movie kind of sparked something in me. But I had my sights on wanting to get into the action space for like 10 years.
As a pilot, it felt like the plot really hinged on Kayla’s support. As a Black woman in the movie how did you think about the legacy of Tuskegee Airmen and the history that could impact her?
I’m a Maryland girl. It is very military-centric. In high school, I was in JROTC. My step-family is mainly military-oriented, so it’s a very military-centric family for generations.
Part of what I created in Kayla was the notion of coming from a maternal line of women who served the military. Then, just think back to when women were allowed to fly fighter jets in military service. I mean, that’s like early ’90s, 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, it lives not only in [the space] when you’re seeing her in action, it’s in everything about her — if you’re serving, it changes the way you carry yourself, the way you live your life. She lives on that plane in my imagination. She is a woman who can move at any time. She has braids to show it. (Laughs. )
In terms of the dialogue, it felt like we didn’t get that much of Kayla’s backstory to me, or learn that much about her outside life. She still felt like a complete character to me.
This is because she introduces you to her world. You get to know her right away when you meet her. By the time you’re in cockpit, you can see Owen (Chris Pratt), and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), feeling a little disoriented as this is not their territory anymore. She’s the one who shows them the way throughout the film. So much of the action hinges not just on, “I need to get these people out because I’m the only one who can fly, I’m the only one who’s driving.” It’s also the fact that you really get the sense that once you enter into her world, you’re in her world.
I was struck by the tension between past and future in the film. Did you notice any themes during filming? Are there any themes that you feel are particularly urgent or relevant in retrospect?
The core of her arc is a classical hero’s call. Oftentimes, when you’re in this space — when you’re in the action space — the hero just is. This is the first time in this franchise you see a hero called to arms.
An idea that moved me deeply about Kayla was the notion of the imperfect hero. It is a way to be able to start and serve from wherever you are. And a homecoming…because, in my mind, she’s going back to Detroit after this. She’s returning to the fullness and integrity of her character.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.