By Lanford Beard
Updated December 16, 2011 at 09:01 AM EST
Francois Duhamel/Paramount

Super 8

  • Movie

As 2011 comes to a close, wanted to honor some of the unsung heroes of the year for their outstanding achievements in entertainment. As Super 8‘s driven filmmaker Charles Kaznyk, 14-year-old Riley Griffiths (far right) made his big-screen debut in one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. Below, he talks about landing the role, horsing around with Kyle Chandler, and how J.J. Abrams worked his magic (literally). For more behind the scenes access to the year’s best TV and movie scenes, click here for‘s Best of 2011: Behind the Scenes coverage.

As told by: Riley Griffiths

I had no idea what the project was. The script that they sent me to audition with had nothing to do with Super 8. I remember seeing the Super 8 trailer and thinking, “Oh man, that looks like a cool movie!” It turns out I was auditioning for it at the time and didn’t even know!

I found out I got the part right after school. I walked in the door, and my mom was standing with the phone clutched in her hands with a big smile. She told me that J.J. Abrams had just called. At that point, I just started freaking out. I called him back, and he asked me if I’d like to do Super 8, and I was, like, “Yes, of course I’d want to do it!” I was just trying to hold myself in until I ended the phone call. Then I just went crazy and was jumping over the couch.

I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody. It felt like I signed 1,000 confidentiality agreements. My own grandma didn’t even know where I was until, like, two months into filming.

J.J. wanted the kids to be really good friends, so when we were doing rehearsals for two weeks, we were in school together, we were hanging out together, we were having sleepovers. Whenever we’d have sleepovers, we’d ding-dong-ditch Kyle Chandler, and he’d chase us through our hotel. He ended up catching us.

I had never been on a movie set before or anything. I had no idea what was going to be thrown at me, so I just kind of went in head-first. J.J. let us do improv a lot and change the lines to what we would be more comfortable saying, what we actually thought a teenager would say. A lot of scenes were of us, all the kids, talking and messing around. J.J. and Larry Fong, the director of photography, would do magic tricks for us and tell us jokes. Our set was full of laughter all the time.

One day, I saw Steven Spielberg out of the corner of my eye. Joel [Courtney] and I were in the middle of a scene, and I see him walking in the door, and I’m just trying not to freak out. Joel and I gave each other this look of, “Yeah, that’s Steven Spielberg!” I was trying to contain myself.

Even now, we’re all really close. I consider all of these guys basically my brothers and sister. We all Skype and text and hang out as much as we can when we’re all in L.A. It’s like a family reunion.

J.J. is one of my biggest role models in life. He taught me so much about making movies — writing, producing, directing, and all of that stuff. He took all the kids under his wing and was kind of a father figure to us.

Life was definitely different before the movie and after the movie. Kids come up to you and ask you questions about filming. It’s kind of hard for some people to get past that you were in a movie, but my friends don’t really see me as “an actor.” I took a break from acting during football season. My high school football team won state two days ago. Now that football season is over, I’m hoping to do some more acting because I’m really starting to miss it. I definitely want to be an actor for the rest of my life.

For more on the Best and Worst of 2011, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new issue, on stands now.

Episode Recaps

Super 8

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 111 minutes