A few months ago, I had the pleasure of hopping on a plane from freezing New York City to the slightly less chilly North Carolina to visit the set of Fox’s Paper Towns, the latest adaptation from novelist John Green. We were able to spend the day walking through sets at the sound stage, chatting with John Green in between scenes at a local high school, and even sit down with John, Justice Smith (Radar), and briefly with Nat Wolff (Quentin).
Today, we’re sharing our interview with the fantastic Justice Smith, who will be playing Radar in the film. Before reading the interview, here’s a refresher on what the film is about:
Adapted from the bestselling novel by author John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”), PAPER TOWNS is a coming-of-age story centering on Quentin, a high school senior who has been in love with his enigmatic neighbor Margo since childhood. After taking him on an all-night adventure through their hometown, Margo suddenly disappears–leaving behind cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher. The search leads Quentin and his quick-witted friends on an exhilarating adventure that is equal parts hilarious and moving. Ultimately, to track down Margo, Q must find a deeper understanding of true friendship–and true love.
Justice recalls not reading Paper Towns until after his audition saying, "It was after my first audition, I read the book, it made me kind of nervous reading the book because I haven’t gotten it yet. I was like ‘I really want this part, I really like this part’ so, I connected with it too early on."
John was quick to jump in and say, "I remember seeing Justice’s first audition and being like, thank god because the hardest role we had to cast for, you have to be really funny but also be the moral center of the movie. Like he’s the grounded, moral core of it and of that group of friends and that’s so important, otherwise you know, it just can be either direction towards obsession or towards Ben’s inability to see woman with any sophistication. [Justice] had it after the first audition."
Following the first audition, Justice was called back for another audition to meet with Jake Schreier (director) and do chemistry tests with Nat (Quentin). "Nat on that first mix match, he was super awesome, really chill and fun to improve with. Just fun, and cool, just relax and be comfortable with and you don’t have to worry so much. Then we did another one and I was the only Radar at the second one so, I was like, this is good!"
When asked about getting the call, Justice said, "I was definitely excited, yeah, but I don’t want to get Nat in trouble but he had told me I got the role before I got the role. So yeah, he had told me that, he got my number out of the second call back and he was like, ‘You got the role, don’t tell anyone!’ I actually got the call and I was like that’s awesome but like I knew. It’s my first studio movie."
"I wanted to be an actor since I was a little kid, I was auditioning for the longest time and I guess my luck wasn’t that great. I was learning, getting better and the right time came and I got this," said Justice. "It puts things into perspective because you watch all these studio movies and you’re like, 'Wow, I really hope I get to be in there one day,' and then you go and you meet these people, they’re just normal people, they’re super fun and mellow."
John said of Justice, "I think Justice has a huge career ahead of him, it’s just so exciting. (John looks at Justice) You can play really any nerd, you got to make careful choices and it’s exciting. You can play really any nerd in the whole spectrum of nerds."
ON BONDING WITH THE CAST
Justice said that the way the cast bonded off-screen was by hanging out and playing video games, going out to dinner, and listening to music. Stuff normal friends do. "We got a really good friendship going which I hope is authentic. We have a life-long friendship coming."
John jumped in the reminisce about another well-known cast, "I think for me, the coolest thing that came out of The Fault in Our Stars was my friendship with Nat, Ansel, and Shay. You share a thing that no else really knows what it’s like."
When asked about the differences between himself and his character, Justice said, "I feel like Radar is really, very similar to Q. They’re both on a path; they both know what they want to do. They’re very hesitant to do things outside of their repetition. I am a lot more impulsive than Radar is. I’m willing to try things and I’m not as hesitant. I definitely have that side of me. I definitely bring that out, which is fun to explore."
ON READING JOHN GREEN
Before auditioning, Justice admitted to having borrowed a copy of An Abundance of Katherines from an ex-girlfriend to read. After auditioning, Justice read Paper Towns and said, "I have Looking for Alaska with me but I haven’t read it yet. I was thinking about reading it on this trip and then I’m like I’m not going to read, I want to focus but I definitely will read it after.”
"The Fault in Our Stars. Don't read it. It's overrated," John added with a laugh.
ON PAPER TOWNS
When asked what Paper Towns means to him, Justice replied, "That’s a good question; the whole movie is like building up an ideal of someone who’s not what you think they are, like living in an illusion. I think that everyone kind of goes through that, not just in people. I know there’s a lot of pressure I’ve had where I’ve built her up to be something she’s not. Kind of just like the movie, turns out she’s just like a person with a complex life. I think Paper Towns is like false perceptions we have of things and people and goals and coming to terms with it. Balancing that with reality also because it’s good to imagine.”
Paper Towns hits theaters everywhere July 24, 2015.