Ariana Richards as Lex in Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park at 25: Ariana Richards reflects on Spielberg, shirtless Jeff Goldblum, and dino snot

Contributed by
Sep 11, 2018

There are certain motion pictures that stand out as singular moviegoing experiences. For tens of millions of people, Jurassic Park is one of those films.

From the incredible images of the groundbreaking and still impressive CGI dinosaurs to John Williams' appropriately majestic score, Steven Spielberg's blockbuster is a movie that really needs to be seen in a theater to be fully appreciated. And 25 years after it became history's biggest-earning film (a record it would cede to Titanic), we'll get another chance to see John Hammond's ill-advised theme park on the big screen.

To mark Jurassic Park's silver anniversary, Fathom Events and Universal Pictures are re-releasing the movie in 500 theaters across the country for three days only, September 16, 18, and 19. You can find ticket information here.

The re-release makes a lot of sense. During a year that saw the fifth film in the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, cash $1.3 billion in ticket sales, dinosaurs clearly remain a dominant pop culture species.

Ariana Richards, who co-starred as the John Hammond's computer-savvy granddaughter Lex in the original film, thinks it's a generational thing. Much like fans who were kids when they saw Star Wars, then turned their kids on to that property, the Jurassic Park generation began passing the torch once Jurassic World debuted to record-setting box office numbers.

"A lot of those fans now get to share the first film with their kids," Richards told SYFY WIRE. "Although, I don't want to share it with my three-year-old quite yet. I think she's a little young!"

We caught up with Richards over the phone about her career since she became the world's most famous teenage vegetarian. An accomplished painter, she's been focusing on her art, although she has no plans to give up acting. Which of course, was the opening we needed to ask the most obvious question: Would she return to play a grown-up Lex in a future Jurassic World film if asked?

"Oh absolutely!," Richards says, pointing out she was not asked to reprise the role in either Jurassic World or Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. "If I were invited to take part in one of those movies, I absolutely would have said yes! But no, I have not been invited to bring Lex back to those movies, but if I am, I would be very excited to do it. I've gotten so many comments from fans and their story ideas [for bringing Lex back], how they are hoping Colin Trevorrow can integrate my character into the story in an interesting way. Whether through a cameo or something more, but it would be a blast to do. We'll see what they want to do."

Richards also shared some fun recollections of fighting off animatronic dinosaurs, enduring a powerful hurricane that hit Hawaii during production. She also shed some light on Spielberg's knack for directing kids and revealed one of the key ingredients in... dinosaur boogies.

What has it been like being all grown up and seeing the Jurassic Park franchise get new life the past few years?

It's really fun, actually. It's fun for me because … people have been interested in Jurassic Park all this time. Which is amazing. But It's really had a resurgence since Frank Marshall and that whole team brought the Jurassic World movies into being. I've really enjoyed how they paid homage to the original film that I was part of. Just seeing that legacy have new life breathed into it and be brought forward, and this generation getting to experience Jurassic Park and watch all the movies, has been great.

It's going to be an interesting experience when I [show my daughter Jurassic Park for the first time]. I'm not sure when. But she doesn't know I'm an actress as well. She hasn't seen any of my movies yet. She knows about my art. And she knows of my love of dinosaurs. I have this beautiful Raptor model that [special FX artist] Stan Winston made and hand painted, that Steven gifted to all the cast members after filming. It's pretty big, maybe five feet long, maybe two feet high in a glass case, and Isabella is just crazy about dinosaurs because I have things like that around. She'll say, "Raptor! I like the raptor!" She's really into learning about all the different types of dinosaurs, like the Triceratops is her favorite now.

Your daughter is just like Alan Grant!

Yes! That's right! And then she'll walk by the original of this Jurassic Park lithograph I painted as a limited edition release. The original is hanging on my wall, and she'll walk by it and she says, "There's mommy!" It's interesting that she recognizes me.

Let's talk about your art because that's been a primary focus for you the past several years.

I've always had a great love for art. I continued to train over the years in college and after learning about art, and I kept doing it while concurrently doing my acting work. My artwork is on my website, Gallery Ariana. I actually did a special limited edition run lithograph called "Raptor Vision" of a watercolor I did right after filming the first film. I did it in partnership with Universal. They gave me permission to use the Jurassic Park logo embossed on the lithograph. And because it's not a poster, I can't print anymore. Once the initial run of 1,000 is gone, it's gone. That's actually the only print I've done. I mostly do originals.

So you were painting way back when you were shooting Jurassic Park?

Yeah, that's right. And a watercolor I did [while filming the movie], I ended up giving it to Steven as a present after filming, so that was fun.

[Author's note: The watercolor reportedly hangs in Spielberg's office.]

Not many artists can say Steven Spielberg was their first client.

That's true, but it was a present. He did enjoy it and added it to his collection, so that was fun and very special.

Jurassic Park was filmed at the dawn of the era of CGI filmmaking. Animatronics were used to represent some of the dinosaurs onscreen. Was there one in particular that you remember being impressed by?

I was blown away by how realistic they were. Stan Winston and his team, including John Rosengrant, who is now the head of Legacy Special Effects, did such an incredible job with these models. The sheer realism... and the workmanship was stunning.

I remember the first time I saw one of them was when we flew to the island of Kauai [where parts of the first movie were filmed] and there was the sick Triceratops there. That was mind-boggling to see it and touch it and notice how real it felt, how it appeared to be breathing. During downtime [while] filming Jurassic, I spent a lot of time with Winston and his crew. They were so patient with me because I was fascinated by these models. I got more fascinated with dinosaurs by the day and they would demonstrate to me how it took six guys to move all the different parts of the T-Rex to make it look life-like. It was really something.

It was really hard for the special effects guys to make sure the T-Rex was behaving properly [during the Jeep scene]. At one point, one of its teeth ended up breaking on the plexiglass window and we had to stop shooting while they went back and fixed it. I've been asked a lot of times if I felt afraid for my safety in the scene, but I just had so much faith in the entire special effects team and the job they do that I wasn't concerned at all. Even when the tooth broke off!

For me, being so young while filming Jurassic Park made it so much more special. Because if I had been an adult at the time, I don't think I would have been quite in the place of innocence and wonderment you're in as a child to step on to the set each day and [appreciate] this magical world Steven created... The jungle felt so real, with all the foliage they had and the rain machines. And then going to film in Kauai was amazing. [It was] really something to step into that.

You've said in the past that Spielberg created a great environment for you and your onscreen brother, Joseph Mazzello. What did Spielberg do that made you so comfortable?

It wasn't like work, that's the thing. Joey and I would just hang out with him. He spent a lot of time playing games with us. Steven came up with some really fun card games that we would play together. We would sit around in a circle together and talk and play and laugh. In the midst of the game, he would throw out ideas for the next scene we were doing or he would ask questions of us, like what did we think of an aspect of a scene, or how we would like to approach a scene. That was his directorial style, it was so natural with us. What made it even more powerful was his enthusiasm.

Steven was so enthusiastic. When we would nail a scene, he would jump out of his chair and yell, "that was perfect! That was exactly what I was looking for!" And he would run over and give us a hug and thank us. That kind of thing really just motivated us to give 100 percent always. He was so warm and just fun. He made it so nice for us, I couldn't wait to get to the set every day. He wrote me a really sweet note recently because we do stay in touch. We have a really great friendship. He wrote me to say that he resonated with my own enthusiasm while we were filming Jurassic, and he knew that when I was called to the set, I would literally run to the set because I was so excited to get in front of the camera and work. He said he felt the same way, that he had the same type of enthusiasm during the making of the movie.

Jeff Goldblum's shirtless scene from Jurassic Park has become a meme that will live forever. Were you there on set for that scene? And is it weird seeing shirtless Jeff Goldblum as an internet phenomenon?

Sure. I was right there, actually when they filmed it. I didn't think much of it then. I was like, "Ok, they're filming something and there's Jeff." I remember the makeup person kept going over and spritzing him with water to make him look all sweaty.

It's really something to see that moment be plastered all over the internet. Jeff is such a character. I ran into him at the Fallen Kingdom premiere over the summer, and it was such a blast because I actually had not seen him in 25 years since we filmed. He was so genuinely happy to see me. He introduced me and my husband to his wife and he was such a dear. He said, "Oh my god, you've gotten so beautiful," and he was just really sweet.

What is dinosaur snot, really?

I can't believe you asked me that question! That moment has become pretty popular on the internet as well. They never divulged to me exactly what was in the dinosaur sneeze, but they did say there were pieces of spinach in it, for effect. The best part of that experience was that Steven got such a laugh out of it at my expense. The shot of that awful goo dripping off my lip, that was when he was jumping up and saying, "that was it. That's the take! It was perfect!"

How many takes did you do?

I think we did about three if I remember correctly. After each take, they had to wipe me down with towels to clean me up for the next one. That's right, making movies is not always glamorous.