Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Though he’s probably best known as the kid who delivers that whole “human head weighs eight pounds” line in Jerry Maguire, Jonathan Lipnicki has had a long and varied acting career. For years, he made the most of his cute kid good looks, starring in movies like The Little Vampire and Stuart Little. But now, at 25 years old, he’s grown up, gotten buff, and is re-approaching acting from a grown-up state of mind. His latest project, Interns Of F.I.E.L.D., available now online, is a satirical look at the support staff behind the omnipresent teams of superheroes that are so popular in our culture these days.
The A.V. Club: How did you get involved with this new streaming series?
Jonathan Lipnicki: I did this short for Screen Junkies for Father’s Day where I did a salute to Tom Cruise as my dad in Jerry Maguire. I had so much fun working with them, and then they ended up contacting me two months later and saying, “We’re looking to do an original scripted series and we had so much fun with you and we wrote this part for you so if you’re interested, that would be amazing to do.”
AVC: How long did you shoot?
JL: We shot 100 pages in 12 days.
It was definitely a quick schedule. Sometimes you want more time to do things, but it was good training. You’ve got to make quick choices and make it happen.
AVC: How familiar were you with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and all the current superhero projects?
JL: I had watched a little bit of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and then I watched a lot more before filming it, and I’ve been pretty familiar with Marvel stuff. I would by no means call myself an expert or say that I’m extremely into superhero movies, but I’ve pretty much seen every Avengers movie and Iron Man, so I’d say a good amount.
There are just these blatant things that have never really been made fun of, so I thought it was so brilliant how Screen Junkies took Marvel to task in a lot of the episodes of Interns Of F.I.E.L.D. I thought it was so brilliant and I loved the script. I laughed a lot reading it, and I was just so excited to shoot it. Every day I was so excited to come to work.
AVC: You know, someone’s got to put gas in the invisible jets.
JL: Somebody’s got to do the Uber receipts, somebody’s got to account for all the destruction. It’s pretty insane. And that’s what I loved about Interns is that it makes so many jokes about that, like the unnecessary destruction. Things are always just being destroyed and then are never addressed again.
AVC: On IMDb, your first role is listed as Jerry Maguire. Was that your first role ever, or you had done a commercial or something before that?
JL: I’d done like two commercials, but Jerry Maguire was my first real experience as far as film acting or anything.
AVC: That was a real firecracker film role for you to get. It launched you into so many other things.
JL: I got really lucky with it.
I’ve told the story before, but not a lot of people know it really. I didn’t get cast originally in Jerry Maguire. They cast another kid and they shot two weeks with him. I’d already auditioned for it and they were just like, “Yeah, whatever,” and they went and cast this kid. It wasn’t working out so they had to recast the role. I was on the list of people that had already been seen, but I had auditioned for a casting associate, not even the casting director, so my agent fought for me. He was the head of youth talent at an agency, and he said, “Don’t see anyone else we represent, just see this one kid. I swear to God, I have Ray Boyd sitting in my office.” Luckily they eventually let me come in and I auditioned again. That day, they flew me to Arizona where they were shooting a lot of the football stuff, and I read for Tom [Cruise] and Cameron [Crowe] in Tom’s trailer, and that was it.
AVC: You were pretty young. How much of it do you remember?
JL: Bits and pieces, but the great thing about having really involved parents is that they have definitely filled me in and they can always fill me in when I forget. But I feel like every year that goes by it gets a little bit blurrier.
AVC: How old were you?
JL: I turned 6 on set, and I’m 25 now. So, it was a little while ago.
AVC: I mean, how much of my life do I remember from when I was 6? Not very much. A birthday, maybe?
There’s bits and pieces you remember. I remember being in the trailer reading for them. I remember stuff like that. It’s just minor, minor stuff. I remember that, because I had to go to Phoenix for the audition, I remember getting a Phoenix Suns T-shirt. I had that Phoenix Suns T-shirt forever. It’s the funny things you remember as a kid, but it was a blast. Everyone was so nice to work with, and that’s something I do remember. Renee [Zellweger], Tom, Cameron, Cuba [Gooding, Jr.]… everybody was very, very nice.
AVC: You’ve since poked fun of your time as a child actor, like in the short You Used to Be Cute. That being said, it seems like you have a good relationship with all that you’ve done in your life.
JL: I think the problem with a lot of people who have a similar situation to me is that they try to just go as far away as they can from it, but I feel like the more you make fun of yourself and embrace it and go, “Listen, I’m still acting and doing other stuff, but haha, yeah, that was me…,” I think people can relate to that and see that you’re an alright person and you don’t think you’re too cool for it.
I’m so grateful. I worked on some really quality projects as a kid and I was really lucky for the opportunities I got. Right now, am I trying to make a transition? Yeah. But I was definitely very fortunate for the stuff I did as a kid and I can’t hate on that because, you know what? It gave me a start in something that I want to do for the rest of my life. And You Used to Be Cute was actually based off of a real audition I had, believe it or not.
AVC: What’s that story?
JL: I was auditioning for a pilot and this producer with a cigar and sunglasses on told me how I used to be cute and I wasn’t very good looking anymore for like 15 minutes.
AVC: I’m sure that felt great.
JL: You know, at 19, it was heartbreaking. I was just starting to get back in the swing of things, auditioning and everything, and it killed me. Then I started telling my friends and everyone was laughing, and I was like, “What! This is not funny.” Then I thought, “Okay, it is kind of funny. You know, I should make something about this.”
AVC: You could either let it crush you or you could push it further.
JL: Exactly. And you know what? Because I was 19 and just really getting back into it, really taking it seriously, going to classes—and I’m still going to class and it’s a great thing—but you start to analyze things and ask yourself, “Am I going to take myself so seriously?” I take what I do seriously and I put a lot of work into it, but it’s just a waste of time to get bent out of shape over people who have their own problems. So it was fun to make fun of it.
AVC: Do you think that now, 20 years later, when people see your name on an audition list that more doors are open to you, or that more doors are closed to you because of what you’ve done in the past?
JL: Half-and-half. I think that I get some great doors that are open to me and some interesting opportunities and times that I get to read for some great filmmaker because of my past work. There are also definitely times where people think they know what I’m like because maybe they saw me audition for them five to 10 years ago, or even longer, and they somehow forget it’s been that long and so they tend to think that they know how I am and they’re like, “Oh, he’s not right for this,” but it’s just because they forget how long it’s been. But I’m grateful for the doors that are open, and I’m willing to capitalize on every opportunity and prove myself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
AVC: You’re in Bering Sea Beast, which is one of those low-budget Syfy-looking Sharknado-type movies. What was doing that like?
JL: Oh man, that was fun. It was a fun project because it didn’t take itself seriously. I got to work with some really cool people. Cassie Scerbo, still a friend of mine, Brandon Beemer who was on there is still a friend of mine, and it was a great experience. Sometimes you also have to get in front of the camera and keep practicing and keep working on your craft so, yeah. It’s a weird film with underwater vampires and it’s not going to win any Oscars, but it was a good experience. I got to run around being chased by vampires and hang out in New Orleans, and I’d never been there.
Family Guy (2005)—Wesly
Arlo: The Burping Pig (2016)—Buster
AVC: You’ve done a number of voice projects including Family Guy and a new movie about a burping pig. How did you get involved in voice work?
JL: I feel like a lot of times when you get signed to an agent they just send you everywhere, so I still audition for a lot for voiceover stuff. I actually don’t book a lot of it, and I love doing it so I get disappointed because I want to do more voice stuff.
But Arlo: The Burping Pig, one of my friends and now producing partners was producing it and was like, “There’s this really fat, adorable bulldog. Would you like to voice him?” I was like, “Hell yeah!” Because I love dogs.
AVC: It’s a good way to work with animals without having to work with actual animals. You just become the animal.
So yeah, that was fun, but voiceovers are really fun. I would love to do more of them.
AVC: You’ve done some challenging green screen work, or jobs where you’ve had to act to tennis balls. For instance, there was an animated mouse when you shot Stuart Little, right?
JL: Well, everything you’re going to do has certain challenges. Working on Stuart Little was hard because it was the earlier days of CGI, and we didn’t know what the mouse was going to look like, which was a little difficult. I acted to a piece of tape and a laser dot for most of the time, and the guy off-camera was saying the lines. The hardest part about that is that you’re human, and the human thing to do is to turn to wherever the sound is. That’s just what you naturally do, and so you have to act to something in the complete opposite direction and hear lines from the other side of the room, and react to a laser dot or a piece of tape. It’s definitely challenging to train yourself to do that, but it’s a fun, interesting challenge and a lot of stuff is CGI now, so it was really good to learn that early on.
Bering Sea Beast, Beast Of The Bering Sea, whatever—Damn Sea Vampires was another name they had on Redbox [Laughs.]— that was the same kind of deal, just running from things and screaming.
I saw a poster that said Bering Sea Monsters and I Instagrammed it, and I was like, “You know, if I’m known for one thing in my life, hopefully it’s this role.” [Laughs.] But, yeah, I mean that was fine. I didn’t know what the Bering Sea vampires were going to look like, and they ended up looking like umbrellas with teeth.
AVC: They kind of look a little like stingrays from the pictures I’ve seen.
JL: I’m going to go with umbrellas with teeth, you go with stingrays. We’ll meet halfway. It’ll be good.
AVC: You’ve done some guest spots on shows, like you were on an episode of Monk. How did you end up on that?
JL: It was just a typical audition. I got a callback, went in for the callback and I bombed so bad. It was the worst audition I’ve ever had in my life. Tony Shalhoub walked in during the middle of my audition, and just watched—and I just lost what I was saying. It was just horrible. I left and I cried in my car. I called my agent, and I said, “Let’s just forget about this one.” Then he called me two hours later and said, “You did so shitty that you booked it.” And I was like… “[Sniffling.] Really?” So, you never know. And that was a blast.
Tony Shalhoub is a really great guy and I got to be reunited with Jay Mohr on that episode which was really cool. It was a really fun experience.
AVC: Did he remember you? You look different.
JL: Oh, yeah! I mean, you see the call sheets also, and you kind of look at the names.
It was exciting to see him again. We talked a lot. For some reason he had heard from somebody that I had been in rehab, so he congratulated me on my sobriety and I was like, “Dude, I’ve never been in a rehab.” We sat down and he had his vitamins out and he said, “What was your drug of choice?” And I thought he was completely just joking with me, because he has vitamins out, and I say “Oh, it was meth, bro. It was meth. It was totally meth.” And he goes, “Wow man, that’s some serious shit.” He’s like, “I’m really proud of you” and he starts giving me this really heartfelt talk about how he’s proud of my sobriety and coming through and how important it is that I’m sober, and I thought, “Whoa, he’s serious.” I had to be like, “Jay, Jay, Jay… I didn’t mean anything. I’ve never done meth. I’ve never done drugs. I swear I wasn’t in rehab.” And he was like, “Really? Are you sure? I had a friend who told me you were on the road to recovery and so I was so excited that you were doing this and I wanted to talk to you about it.” I just had to be like, “No, no, no, no, no. No. No.”
AVC: You were probably like, “Well, I was in high school for a while…”
JL: Exactly. I played water polo. I got sunburned a lot. It was pretty minor.
AVC: You were in Jerry Maguire in 1996, but you were still rocking the buzz cut when you were on Dawson’s Creek four years later.
JL: That was a blast, too. I auditioned for that as well. My sister said, “If you really love me, you’ll book this.” So I had zero pressure going into that audition. But I booked it and my sister was like, “Wow, you really love me.” Because she loved, loved Joshua Jackson. So she came and visited the set, and she met Joshua Jackson. I think that won me a lot of points.
AVC: As long as you didn’t squeal on her.
JL: Oh, I totally did. I totally did. But it got her a hug on Valentine’s Day, so sometimes you have to let those things slide.
My sister was like, “Hey Josh I’m a big fan,” and I was like, “Josh, she’s a really big fan. Like a really big fan.” And she was like, “Oh my God!”
AVC: What’s For The Love Of Money? It’s got a pretty big cast for a movie I’m not sure I’ve heard of.
JL: It was a crime drama that I did in 2010. It had James Caan in it, Edward Furlong, Steven Bauer.
I want to say that was my first movie back from high school. I’d been auditioning for year and going to acting class, and I hadn’t booked anything, so that was my first thing back. I was playing the younger version of this guy who is now my acting teacher. I met him on For the Love Of Money. Joshua Bitton. He’s a great guy, and an amazing actor, and it was a really great experience. I look a little like him, but they permed my hair because he has curly hair. So I actually have permed hair in my license picture still.
AVC: A perm lasts for months. Why didn’t they just curl your hair every day?
JL: Yeah, I don’t know. I didn’t ask questions, I was excited to be working. I was like, “Go for it!”
AVC: Did they shoot that movie in L.A. or did they shoot that in Israel, where it’s set?
JL: They shot it in L.A. They shot on Spring Street, which was mostly owned by the guy who financed the movie, so he shut down a good portion of it just to shoot, because he owned all the buildings.
AVC: What did you do on My Life On The D-List?
JL: Kathy Griffin had this ongoing joke about, like, I think having a crush on me or something? Something funny like that if I remember correctly. I’d met her a few times but I believe this is when I helping some dog charity where you walked on a fashion runway with your dog, and there were a bunch of clothing lines that represented it and it was… something for dogs. I’m trying to remember… but I interacted with her on that, and she’s hilarious. She’s really cool.
AVC: What’s MotherLover?
JL: That was a web series produced by the Russo Brothers, who did Arrested Development and now the Captain America movies—the current ones—and then also Justin Lin, who produced The Fast And The Furious. It was for Justin Lin’s web channel, YOMYOMF. One of my friends directed it and was like, “Hey do you want to do this thing?” It was with me and Ki Hong Lee, who is now on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and is in The Maze Runner, and that was such a fun experience. We shot that in two weeks. We had a great cast: My dad was Joel Murray, my mom was Carolyn Hennesy… it was a blast. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life.
AVC: Joel Murray is one of Bill Murray’s brothers.
JL: He’s hilarious. He is hilarious. He’s great. I said, “I couldn’t think of a better person to be my dad in this.” He killed it.
AVC: There are so many interesting web series now, which has to be good for actors.
JL: It is. You know what? Like I said, sometimes you just gotta get in front of the camera because sometimes you have a long break between things, or you’re auditioning and maybe nothing’s really happening. But it’s inspiring just to work on something and just kind of keep the creative juices flowing.
AVC: A lot of people still love Like Mike, and it had a pretty major cast. Crispin Glover, Jesse Plemons…
JL: Oh, man. Jesse’s the greatest, seriously. Jesse’s amazing. I love that kid.
AVC: He’s doing so well.
JL: He—and I remind him of this every time I see him—but on the first day we rehearsed, I told my mom—we were both under 18 so our moms were on set—but I told my mom, “That kid Jesse’s amazing! He’s a movie star! That kid’s incredible!”
Jesse’s great. And his mom’s great. He comes from a great family. He’s an absolute amazing person to work with, an amazing person to know, and that was an amazing experience working on Like Mike.
AVC: Did you play basketball in that or was it just straight up acting?
JL: We played a little. We were always playing on set. I got really into basketball after that movie.
That was actually another really interesting casting process. The director was directing a movie that I tried to get the rights to when I was like 10; it was a book called When Zachary Beaver Came To Town and I thought it was such a good role, so I tried to get the rights. Another company got the rights before me and I tried to get a meeting with them, but they said I was too young. They were going to film it when I was 10 or something and the character was 12, but they ran into some delays and I ended up being around the perfect age. So I finally got a meeting for it, and I met with John Schultz the director, and I was like, “I really want to do When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, and I’ll do anything.” So he said, “Will you do this movie Like Mike with me so we get to know each other, and then we’ll shoot When Zachary Beaver Came to Town next year?” And it was awesome. I walked out of the meeting with two jobs. It was the greatest day ever.
AVC: Did Zachary Beaver movie get made?
JL It did. He kept his promise and I worked on that and it was amazing. It opened at Tribeca and it was a great experience. Both of those were, really.
Like Mike was probably one of the most fun experiences, because it was one of the only movies I worked on where everyone else was around my age or a little older, so we had such a good time filming. And Bow Wow was really fun to work with. He was so funny. He was hilarious.
AVC: Do you remember what he goes by now?
JL: Shad Moss is what he goes by now. But when I knew him, it was Bow, back in the day. I called him Bow.
AVC: You have a project coming up called Pitching Tents. What’s that? Kevin Farley is in it.
JL: He was great to work with.
It’s an ’80s summer comedy, kind of like Wet Hot American Summer. It’s a little different than that, but kind of the same-ish flavor.
I got to work with three awesome people: Booboo Stewart, my friend Marco James, Michael Grant… all these young, really talented people. We shot in Connecticut last summer and it was such a great experience. I got to work with some of the nicest kids ever, and we’re all still friends. We were working pretty much in the wilderness the whole time. It was like palling around with a bunch of your friends… in ’80s wear. I had really high white socks on the whole time, and short shorts. Understandably.
AVC: What do you remember about shooting The Little Vampire?
JL: I got to go to Germany and Scotland and spend like half a year there.
AVC: That would be great when you’re a little kid. And when you’re an adult.
JL: You know, people always knock on on-set education, and I think you have priceless opportunities, like going to Scotland and Germany and learning about different cultures. That’s one of the greatest things about having an on-set education, besides having a private, one-on-one tutor. Just the amount of museums and the amount of experiences I had were amazing for a kid that age, and it has greatly improved my life, especially being on location that long.
That was a really fun experience, too. There were a lot of great actors on that, and filming in that whole world of Little Vampire and the stuff they created was really great.
AVC: There were a lot of guys in that movie who are still working and still well-known in Hollywood, like Richard Grant and Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter, for instance. That’s got to be a good lesson to learn as a kid—hang in there, keep working.
JL: Exactly. To be completely honest, that’s all I’ve ever wanted in my life. I just want to do this for the rest of my life. To see someone like Richard Grant—he’s been doing this for years, and he’s such a solid, great person to work with. It’s really inspiring. It shows you that, like I said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I’m 25 so I get impatient, but I have to remind myself about that because I just want to work, work, work.
AVC: Well, you’ve also been working working for a long time already. Some older guys might’ve been working for 20 years already, but so have you.
JL: Exactly. Thank you for reminding me. I get really hard on myself, so it’s good to look at people like that and remind myself to continue working. Because this industry rewards people who stick around and keep at it, who keep improving.