Jerry Maguire: Jonathan Lipnicki looks back on his unforgettable role
“Show me the Ray!” Okay, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s iconic line from Jerry Maguire was actually “Show me the money,” but the performance by Jonathan Lipnicki in the Academy Award-nominated film left audiences obsessed with Ray, the son of single mom Dorothy (Renée Zellweger) and the object of Jerry Maguire’s (Tom Cruise) affection.
While Cameron Crowe’s romantic sports dramedy featured Cruise at his Cruiseist, Zellweger in her breakout role, and Gooding Jr. dancing his way to an Oscar, it was Lipnicki who had fans saying, “You had me at the human head weighs eight pounds.” Despite being only 5 years old at the time, acting in his first film, and working alongside the biggest star in Hollywood, the young actor delivered an adorable and amusing performance, charming Maguire and audiences with his love of trivia, skills as a ring bearer, and desire to go to the zoo.
On the film’s 20th anniversary (and ahead of a new anniversary-edition Blu-ray due out Jan. 3), EW caught up with Lipnicki to get his thoughts on landing such a big role at a young age, working with Cruise, and people freaking out over his six-pack.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: To start off, I have a very important question: Did you ever make it to the zoo?
JONATHAN LIPNICKI: I don’t how it slipped past me, but somebody was trying to tell me that I’m coming from the zoo in that scene at the end in the park. It’s been so many years, I don’t know. But I’m going to assume I did go to the zoo, I assume I made it.
Okay, good to know. I feel like the viewers have been left wondering.
For 20 years.
You were really young when you did the film. What do you remember about the audition process?
The thing I remember most is going to Arizona after I read for it, flying to meet Tom and Cameron. I remember bits of that. I remember being in Tom’s trailer, reading for Tom and Cameron with my mom there. It was a crazy experience.
They were already filming at that point, so were you replacing an actor who had previously been cast?
Yeah, they shot like two weeks with him. I heard the kid wasn’t very happy on-set and it just wasn’t working out. It was coming across on camera. I was kind of the opposite. I loved and still love being on-set, so I was just happy to be there everyday.
So here you are, 5 years old, landing your first major gig and you’re instantly shooting with Tom Cruise.
Yeah, I had only done like two commercials and then it was that. I was thrown right in there. I mean, looking back, I don’t think I really had nerves, but now if that happened to me as an adult with all the filters we have, I would have been so scared. Good thing I was a little kid, so it didn’t hit me as much… Looking back, I’m just really lucky for those circumstances. To be in a really good film, surrounded by really good actors, it’s a pretty crazy way to start a career.
What are some of your memories from working on the film?
I just really gravitated towards Tom because he’s just such a nice guy and I loved hanging out and joking around with him. I would talk his ear off about Top Gun because I love Top Gun. Cameron was super sweet. Renée was really great. Renée always had her dog around [and] I love dogs, so I was always excited about that.
How often do you get the film’s classic lines yelled at you?
More often than not they get it wrong. And it’s just like, “Get it right if you’re going to do it. You’ve got a smartphone, Google it!” God bless the people that do this, but judging by the grin on their face, they think that they are the first person who ever told me. “Oh my god, he hasn’t heard this.” And it came out wrong, you said, “10 pounds.” I kind of just laugh, I’m super grateful for everything to do with the movie. It’s cool that they like it.
What do you think Ray would be doing now? The ending definitely teased his baseball potential.
That’s the theory. I don’t know, maybe a pitcher for the San Diego Padres or something.
Oh, so maybe he pops up on Pitch.
Yeah, exactly. A little crossover.
Over the years, have you rewatched the movie?
Up until recently, I hadn’t seen it since I was 15 and I’m 26 now. My friend has an online film club and they did a Q&A and I watched along with them. It was crazy how much you forget. I don’t own any of my own work, so I don’t really watch it. There are so many movies and so many great actors out there that I can learn from, that I don’t need to watch anything I’ve done… Certain things hit you, like how great the soundtrack is and how great the writing is, also the performances, forgetting certain nuances… It was such a great opportunity because not only was it a great film to be involved in, but it also made me realize what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
That’s a really valuable thing to take away at such a young age.
Exactly. I don’t think anyone ever really gets that opportunity to find out what they are so passionate about at such a young age. It felt right being on-set and that feeling has never left me.
How much do you still talk to Cameron or Tom or anybody in the cast?
Cameron, I haven’t really talked to for years. Tom is probably the one I talk to the most and I haven’t talked to him in a little while, maybe over a year and a half. But whenever I reach out, he’s amazing. He’s such a great guy.
He’s given you some good career advice, right?
Yeah, exactly. It’s a really interesting, I feel it’s a delicate thing, making a transition from a child actor known for certain roles to trying to just do this for the rest of your life. And he was very valuable to talk to about that.
How was that transition? You go from a child actor, starring in Jerry Maguire, Stuart Little, and Like Mike, to all of a sudden being an adult actor, hoping to be seen for who you are now.
Well, I’ll let you know in five years when I make it happen (laughs). No, I’ve slowly been able to book work again and it’s been a process. My biggest decision was to really focus on being a good actor, so I’ve been taking classes for quite a few years now and doing theater. Not every movie you’re going to do is going to be Jerry Maguire or a $100 million franchise like Stuart Little, so people are like, “Oh, where has this person been?” But often times you look at people like that, that you think just disappeared, and they’re on a TV show or they are working consistently. It’s just not everything you do is going to happen to be that big or widespread.
What projects do you have coming up?
I just had a movie that was released in theaters and now it’s on Amazon and iTunes called Loserville. I’m pretty happy with that one, I think it’s a really interesting role. I also have a movie coming out at the beginning of the year, called Altitude, with Denise Richards and Dolph Lundgren, and I also executive produced it. It’s like a female driven Die Hard. Right now, I wrote a script, I’m working on that. I have a few things where sometimes you do these movies and you don’t know where they are going to go. I have another movie that’s a summer comedy called Pitching Tents. Sometimes you go in there, you act, and you don’t see something for two years and then it pops up and you’re like, “Oh, hey.”
What was it like when a couple years ago when current pictures of you started popping up, showing what you look like now…
Can I come out and say that I never wanted those pictures to be on the internet (laughs). That was the biggest accident that ever happened. Now, I’m grateful for it because it helped bring a lot of stuff, but those were never supposed to be seen. It was a test shoot for a magazine, they weren’t supposed to go anywhere. I woke up one day and there were like 400 on the internet. I had the biggest panic attack of my life.
It kind of blew up. There were so many headlines like, “Look how ripped the kid from Jerry Maguire got.”
Well, it’s really funny because [of] the exaggerations that go into it. They’re like, “Professional MMA fighter.” Dude, I love MMA and I train in MMA, but there’s a big difference between, “I love doing this as a passion” and going to get my face punched in for a living… I’m a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I’ve been training in that for 10 years and doing Muay Thai for a while now. I love training, but I would never call myself a pro fighter, I have too much respect for those guys and girls.
Being a brown belt is impressive enough, no need to exagerrate it.
Yeah. That’s the funniest thing is that it turned into the biggest set of weird, weird circumstances. But hey, I’m thankful people dug the pictures and made memes and stuff.
So does that mean that you probably aren’t going back to the glasses and spiked hair look anytime soon?
Well, I got Lasik, so I don’t really need the glasses. Spiked hair, not really into it. Just going to kind of do current Jonathan, do me right now… And for me as far as my career, I do believe the best is yet to come.