JONNY Weston is riding a wave and, if he’s lucky, he’ll ride it to glory and avoid being swept under.
That wave comes courtesy of Chasing Mavericks, a biopic about Jay Moriarity (Weston), a teenager who became a California surfing star after befriending a local legend, Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler). Moriarity went on to surf some of the Earth’s biggest waves at a treacherous spot called the Mavericks, before dying tragically in 2001, at the age of 22, in a diving accident.
Weston, a 20-something actor with only a couple of unreleased indie features under his belt, beat out thousands of hopefuls for the coveted role of Moriarity in the October 26 release. Speaking by cell telephone from somewhere in California, Weston recalls the audition process.
“I auditioned once,’’ he says, “and then I had to wait a month for them to go through the thousands of tapes from all over the world. I waited my month and did a second audition. I think I had three or four callbacks within three weeks after that. Then they tested me with Gerard, and I guess Gerard and I worked really well together right off the bat. They saw that, and I got it.
“Then, after that, they found out that I could surf,’’ he adds. “That was awesome. They didn’t know I could really surf until they’d actually hired me.’’ Oddly enough, Weston knew nothing at all about Moriarity when he first auditioned.
“I hadn’t heard of him,’’ the actor admits. “It was cool in that way, because the first thing that I ever heard of him was the script. I didn’t know the true story until I got that.
“I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of him,’’ he continues. “A lot of people had. I was really into surfing, and really into Maverick surfing, which is what he did, but I guess I hadn’t really been paying very close attention.’’ Once he landed the role, however, Weston set about learning everything he could about Moriarity: what drove him and how he comported himself, in the water and out of it. He spent time with the real Frosty Hesson and also with Weston’s widow, Kim. All of that background work paid dividends once director Curtis Hanson – and later Michael Apted, who took over after Hanson left the project due to health issues – called Action! “I think the thing that was interesting to me about Jay was the separation between him and the surfing community in terms of personalities,’’ Weston says.
“He refused to be involved in drugs and in the (crappy), aggressive energy of the surfing community, especially in northern California. He found a way right through the middle of all that. He was really so good at surfing that he didn’t feel like he needed to be that way.
“Frosty and Kim ... It’s too much for me to even begin,’’ the actor says. “The script is really well written and it was sufficient, but they helped me bring it to life, helped me bring a whole soul to the character. It was really just beyond making a movie for me, because they gave me this massive motivation and all these ideas about who Jay was and all of the layers of him.
“I couldn’t have done the movie without them.’’ While the personal drama will be important to many moviegoers, plenty of eyes will be on the surfing sequences as well. Weston proudly points out that it’s him on the board for many of the “ooh and ahh’’ moments in Chasing Mavericks.
“A good amount of it, man,’’ Weston says. “Actually the majority of it. They put me through some really rigorous stuff, and I put myself on the line physically. I was scared out of my mind to be in Mavericks. It was an experience I’ll never forget.’’ Weston hopes to see Chasing Mavericks catch on with wide audiences, but that’s not his primary concern.
“To be honest, man, all I care about is that the right people like this movie,’’ he says. “I hope all of America likes it and that the critics like it too, but the most important thing is that the people who were involved, Jay’s family and his friends, like it. Everything else just doesn’t matter.’’ Weston will be a very fresh face for most people. Blond, blue-eyed and buff, he was raised in South Carolina and moved to Los Angeles at 18 to attend the University of Southern California and also to pursue acting. He soon landed roles in several upcoming indie features, including About Cherry, Under the Bed and John Dies at the End.
About Cherry, currently in limited release, follows an 18-year-old girl (Ashley Hinshaw) who becomes an adult film. The film also stars James Franco and Heather Graham, with Weston as the girl’s first boyfriend, who takes the nude photos that start her on her way.
John Dies at the End is a comedy/horror tale from director Don Coscarelli, with Weston co-starring with Paul Giamatti, Rob Mayes and Chase Williamson. Under the Bed is a lowbudget horror movie with a cast of relative unknowns led by Weston. Both films have been playing the festival circuit in search of distributors.
“John Dies at the End was the first movie that I ever got,’’ Weston says. “I’m from the South, and I grew up in some really heavy areas, in terms of gangs, for some period of time. My character in the movie is this getaway kid who gets infected by zombies and becomes a real badass.
“I thought I could use all my expertise of being a white kid and normal-looking, except for really white and ghetto and rapperish,’’ he says, laughing. “I thought that’d be pretty fun to drop on someone.
Don Coscarelli directed that, and he’s a legend of cult-classic films. So it was cool to work with him and do that.
“Under the Bed is my first lead,’’ the actor continues. It’s a ‘Goonies’-esque thriller-horror movie. I liked the story.
You have to understand that I did that two, two-and-half years ago, and it was the same with John Dies at the End. I did that about two years ago. So I was just first getting started when I shot those movies.
“What a trip, right?,’’ he concludes.
“I’m waiting for Chasing Mavericks, this huge release, to open in a few weeks, and these other movies I shot two-and-a-half years ago are just coming out.
“That’s like my whole life,’’ Weston says. “I’m like an all-or-nothing person.
My whole life is extreme for three days and then completely dull for three more days.’’