Wise opens up about Kayla, her breakout 'Jurassic World Dominion' character — one who deserves a film of her own.

There are plenty of familiar faces in Jurassic World Dominion, both human and reptilian: After five movies, the iconic franchise will conclude with this sixth entry, featuring returning alums Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Chris Pratt.

But Dominion's most memorable star might be its newest: DeWanda Wise, who joins the series as high-flying pilot Kayla Watts. The 38-year-old actress may be best known for her roles in Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It TV series or the Netflix rom-com Someone Great. But now, she's taking a step toward blockbuster stardom, flying planes and facing off against prehistoric lizards in one of the biggest movie series of all time. (She also does a lot of running — lots and lots of running.)

Jurassic World Dominion
DeWanda Wise as Kayla Watts in 'Jurassic World Dominion'
| Credit: John Wilson/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Director Colin Trevorrow offered Wise the role during their very first meeting, and she found herself immediately drawn to Kayla's cool-headed capability. But it wasn't until later, she says, that the sheer scale of Dominion started to sink in.

"[Colin Trevorrow] was like, 'Steven Spielberg signed off on you,' and I cried," Wise says with a laugh. "Then I read the script in October of 2019, and I cried again. And I'll probably cry after we are finished talking today. It's a lot of crying. A lot of gratitude tears."

Wise's Kayla is a former Air Force pilot who's now a contractor for Biosyn, the shady tech company that's been rounding up dinosaurs since they escaped captivity and disappeared into the wild in 2018's Fallen Kingdom. The level-headed Kayla knows how to handle herself, even when facing down toothy dinosaurs, but she also has a soft side, and she eventually teams up with Howard's Claire and Pratt's Owen to help rescue their kidnapped daughter. Wise herself came from a military family, so she says she easily connected with Kayla's level-headed loyalty.

She also threw herself into training: Wise has long wanted to land a role in an action blockbuster, and as soon as she was cast, she began prepping for the film's extensive stunts and indulging in what she calls "complete meathead behavior." In one scene, for example, Kayla has to pull Pratt's Owen out of a frozen lake, and as soon as Wise read that in the script, she amped up her workout routine and committed to countless squats.

"It's a little easier because it's water, and you have a little leverage there," she explains. "But I was still in acknowledgement that I am 5-foot-6, and Chris Pratt is 6-foot-3 — not my size! So, I wanted that to be believable. I've been watching these movies for years, and I just wanted to rep a Serena Williams-type body in this space — someone who was capable and ready."

Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and DeWanda Wise in 'Jurassic World Dominion'
Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and DeWanda Wise in 'Jurassic World Dominion'
| Credit: John Wilson/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Off screen, Wise was surprised by how intimate the making of Jurassic World Dominion felt, especially for a globe-trotting story about man-eating beasts. The COVID pandemic shut down production early in 2020, and when she and her colleagues returned to set, they isolated together, living in the same hotel. She admits that she thought making a film of this size would feel impersonal, but she was amazed by the level of obsessive detail that went into each shot, from the camera crew to the puppeteers maneuvering each dinosaur.  

"I didn't expect people to care as much as they did," Wise says. "It's easy from the outside, sometimes, to think of these films as like, whatever, right? There are filmmakers who have very, very strong feelings about blockbusters. But there's a real art to it and a whole lot of thought. It's a big deal to make something for as many people as possible. That's actually a really beautiful skillset to have, to make something that makes everyone feel like they're a part of the action, to make something that everyone feels like they have a character they can latch onto — even if that character is a dinosaur."

Jurassic World Dominion
DeWanda Wise and Laura Dern in 'Jurassic World Dominion'
| Credit: John Wilson/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

She also immediately hit it off with her costars — which was helpful, since they were not only working together but living under the same roof. Wise had already appeared with Neill in the Apple TV+ series Invasion, and she first met Goldblum years ago at an awards-season party. But she was still surprised by how quickly they bonded off set. Howard, for example, became the go-to barber for anyone in need of a haircut, and Wise remembers waking up one day to find Dern sitting on her couch, watching the news. (Apparently, Wise's TV got more channels.)

"Ordinarily, you only get to see your costars on set," Wise says. "But under these circumstances, I got to meet them for real. I was introduced to the truth of their humanity in the most beautiful way because this is one of the most generous, kind, thoughtful, lovely groups of human beings I will likely ever work with."

And if she ever got starstruck or overwhelmed by work, all she had to do was ask herself: What would Kayla do?

"My biggest challenge was honestly just staying calm enough to embody Kayla's cool," Wise says with a laugh. "It was a very uncool time, so playing someone that laidback was a challenge. She's got this 'I got it' swagger, and I was thankful to be able to live in that for six months."

Jurassic World Dominion hits theaters June 10.

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