Exclusive interview with “Super 8” and “The Kissing Booth” star Joel Courtney

ALL THE WAY. We chat with American actor Joel Courtney about his debut in “Super 8,” his success with “The Kissing Booth” and his two upcoming movies

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When it comes to an actor’s debut role, it rarely gets any better than a J.J. Abrams-directed sci-fi hit that also has Steven Spielberg attached as producer. And that’s exactly how it happened with Joel Courtney, who made his first big screen appearance in 2011’s “Super 8.” More recently, he also made his mark in the romantic-comedy genre through Netflix’ “The Kissing Booth.” As for what comes next, Courtney has at least two more movies in the works, so we’ll definitely be seeing more of him in the days to come.

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DAMAN: Hi, Joel. Awesome to have you with us. How are you doing?

Joel Courtney: I’m doing well! Summer has been fun and allowed for a little time to kick back and relax. It’s been a great time to unwind and refocus, energize and springboard back into the fray.


DAMAN: If we’re not mistaken, you have a couple of movies coming up, including “The Empty Man.” Can you tell us a bit about how you joined the cast of this horror flick?

Joel Courtney: That was actually one of the most straightforward audition processes I’ve ever had the pleasure of booking. I auditioned close to the end of their casting deadline, I’m pretty sure. So, when I went in, I auditioned with casting and it went well. Within a week I did a callback with the director. And I think within a few days of that I was offered the role. I loved that production. It was my first time in South Africa, and I met a lot of the people I would end up working with on “The Kissing Booth.”


DAMAN: How is this one different from all the other titles you’ve worked on so far?

Joel Courtney: “The Empty Man” is a psychological thriller. Other movies that I’ve worked on have been scary sci-fi movies or spiritual horror movies, but “The Empty Man” stands out among them all. I can’t wait for it to come out.

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DAMAN: All in all, what can horror fans—and moviegoers in general—expect from “The Empty Man”?

Joel Courtney: Let me put it this way. When I originally read the script, I sat still for 15 minutes, contemplated, picked it up and reread the whole script. I was blown away. I was consumed in the world that the script created. I am purposefully being vague so as to not give any spoilers away. What can moviegoers expect? To buy a second ticket for the movie within the next few days of the first. That is what they can expect.


DAMAN: And then there’s “Replicate.” We know it’s a sci-fi movie, but nothing much other than that. Can you give us a short primer on what the movie is about?

Joel Courtney: “Replicate” is a remaking of the Sci-fi thriller “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” from 1956. It tells the story of three high schoolers who discover that their hometown is being changed and are trying to spread the word but keep being shut down by the leaders of the community. Andi Matichak and Calum Worthy and myself had an amazing time filming.


DAMAN: Of course, you’re no stranger to the genre, having made your big screen debut in “Super 8.” Today, what do you remember the most about starring in the movie?

Joel Courtney: The mentorship of J.J. Abrams. That was the first role I ever had and I was as green as they come. I can’t emphasize the importance of everything I learned from him. I didn’t fully understand the “why” behind everything at the time but I doubled down and worked hard for him. Over the following seven years I’ve continued to grow as an actor, studied from different teachers and have been learning all of the “whys” that I couldn’t have understood back in the day. If there’s one person I’d want to work with again, it would be J.J.


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DAMAN: On that note, at the moment, you’re best known as the star of “The Kissing Booth.” Did you ever expect the movie to be this popular?

Joel Courtney: I never could have imagined the reception of “The Kissing Booth” being so unbelievably huge. When a movie or TV show comes out you just hope and pray that people like it—that people are receptive, love the characters and can get onboard with the circumstances. The immediate love shown for “The Kissing Booth” was shocking even on the trailer. Huge amount of views, online hype began bubbling and when the movie actually came out it was an explosion.


DAMAN: Romantic comedies set in high school are obviously very common. In your opinion, what is it that makes “The Kissing Booth” stand out?

Joel Courtney: “The Kissing Booth” stands apart from the crowd. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who said “Elle was going to break up with Noah and realize Lee is the one for her.” And I told them all: “Well, if that’s what you think maybe you should go watch the movie and be surprised.” There is warmth and hope throughout the movie. This movie has optimism for love and kindness that I don’t feel most movies have anymore.


DAMAN: By the way, what was it that first drew you to “The Kissing Booth”?

Joel Courtney: My character. Lee is similar to myself. If you stripped away all of my inhibitions, filters and worries in the world, I would be Lee. And of course the friendship between Lee and Elle. This character was so perfect for me that a friend told me if I didn’t book it I should quit acting. Thank God I booked it!

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DAMAN: What is your fondest memory of working on the movie?

Joel Courtney: The harmony on set between Joey King, Jacob Elordi and myself. We were inseparable. The chemistry shines through in one of my favorite scenes: When we have our big falling out and all go our separate ways. That sequence is so heartbreaking to the fans because it was heartbreaking to us. And at the end of that day I thing we had a big group hug and got some thick shakes.


DAMAN: How about from your entire career? What would you say are some of the most life-changing, unforgettable or otherwise amazing moments you’ve experienced as an actor?

Joel Courtney: Every day is just another page in a book of my life. Every job is a chapter. The have been too many to count. I’ve had personal moments that rank high on the list but in terms of career I’d say the conversation with J.J. Abrams when he offered me the role in “Super 8” was one of the most life-changing moments in my life. I could feel it, too. I felt like I was glowing, like something was awakened inside of me: a purpose.


DAMAN: Final question: What is your number one source of motivation?

Joel Courtney: The Bible. On my good days and bad days, when I’m shining or standing in the shadows, no matter what I face, God is my strength. My goal is to build a platform where I can spread the Gospel. Share the good news freely and to all who have ears to hear.

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Photography: Jalen Turner
Styling: Ty Headlee
US-based Creative Director: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
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