‘Jurassic Park’ Turns 20: Film Memories with Ariana Richards

Ariana Richards, now 33, talks Spielberg, dinosaur goo, and more as the classic turns 20. By Anna Klassen.

Murray Close/Getty

Walking into the quaint art studio in Portland, Oregon, you probably won’t recognize the woman offering to paint your family’s portrait as Ariana Richards, the child star of 1993’s epic Jurassic Park. But if you take a moment to gander at one particular oil painting—that of a young girl holding a spoonful of green Jell-O with a raptor looming in the background—you might put two and two together. “It was actually my first watercolor,” Richards said of the iconic image.

It’s been 20 years since the megahit landed in theaters, revolutionizing the way films were produced and updating the world’s understanding of our fossilized friends.

Richards, now 33 years old, spoke with The Daily Beast about her memories of making the iconic film, which is back in theaters—in 3-D!—this weekend.

Complications on the Set

“It was about four and a half months of shoot time for my character. There was some lag time in the middle because of Hurricane Iniki. It was quite the gigantic hurricane. We went to Oahu to film for three more days to pick up from the last day we missed on the island. Then we filmed the rest back at Universal Studios in Hollywood.”

First Impressions

“Wow. The first day of shooting was on Kauai. We flew over there to begin filming and I remember seeing the triceratops and being absolutely blown away. To see the dinosaur in the flesh—it was so realistic—I could see its fangs heaving, I could see its eyes watering. It was just incredible.”

Lex’s ‘Hacker’ Expertise

“My character had a lot of technical abilities. During the filming, even though I wasn’t a tech aficionado like my character, Lex, I still liked computers and used them regularly, of course. When we did the scene where I’m supposed to save the day as Lex, there was a guy in the other room operating the screen itself. It was being filmed with actual screen time—they weren’t using after effects. I was moving the mouse, but they didn’t have the mouse hooked up to the screen initially. But I asked, ‘Would it be OK if I actually operated this system?’ in this scene. And the guy said ‘OK, we’ll let you do that.’ and they liked what I did.”

Working With Spielberg

“I have so many good memories. He brought so much fun to the experience for us as kids. He was so warm, energetic, and enthusiastic in his responses to us. When we would get a scene just right, he would jump out of his seat and run over and give Joey and I a big hug and say, ‘That was exactly what I wanted!’ Those moments really stick out to me now, after all those years. As an adult, it’s nice to look back and say, ‘That’s pretty great [that] I got the chance to work with this extraordinary group of people on this film.’ And I’ve still stayed in touch with Steven over the years.”

Favorite ‘Jurassic’ Actor

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“Joey [her on-screen brother, played by then-8-year-old Joseph Mazzello] and I had a great time together because we were both kids. In between scenes, we could be found exploring the vast sets of Jurassic, all of the locations, all of the foliage that obscured us from view and provided great hiding places. We managed to have a good time together.”

Acting Outdoors

“This was perfect for me because I enjoyed being a tomboy. I was always outdoors playing, horseback riding, and show-jumping. I was very active in so many different fields. Also dance, always being outside. I liked the fact that Steven gave me a very physical role with a lot of variety to it.”

Lex’s Many Stunts

“Of course I wanted to do all my own stunts. It was all in good fun—I was never doing anything that I was scared to do. I was never scared for my safety or anything. They had a really good stunt lady to be my stunt double and she had been in Cirque du Soleil, and that tells you something. For example, there was that moment where I’m in the crawlspace and I fall through the ceiling and grab the edge of the ceiling and look up. It’s actually her body that went flying down, and they superimposed my face over her face as she looked up. That was actually a landmark moment for film special effects. It was the first time that something like that had been done. They did let me try the stunt, and so I tried it and they said, ‘…OK, bring in the stunt lady.’”

‘Jurassic’s’ Biggest Stars

“I was absolutely impressed by the dinosaurs. Every day when I would walk onto the set at Universal, I never knew what dinosaur I would find. Or even on Kauai, I never knew what amazing creature they had flown over to be there on set with us. It was always a complete surprise and I was in a state of wonderment over these creatures. It allowed me to develop an interest in dinosaurs.

Jack Horner, who was the paleontologist that the Alan Grant character [played by Sam Neill in the film] was based on, spent a great deal of time on the set as the adviser. I would enjoy chatting with him in between takes and learning interesting facts about dinosaurs and their history. After the filming was completed, he invited me and my mother and sister to come out to a real dinosaur dig in Montana. We had just finished the London premiere and flew directly from there to the hills of Montana. We had no running water for four days, we were sleeping in tents on the ground. But the experience was so rich, getting to know Jack, and walking around the hills with him. He taught me all sorts of things about dinosaurs.

It was a pivotal moment when we were walking around and he said, ‘Right here, Ariana, is where the avalanche weathered away exactly to the period where the raptors were walking.’ We looked to the ground, and he picked something up and said, ‘This is a raptor forearm.’ He started piecing together these bones and showing me how they were hollow inside, just like a bird. And he let me keep them! So I have my very own raptor forearm.”

Favorite Scenes

“It’s a toss-up at the moment between the T-Rex attack and the scene in the kitchen. I guess I have to say I really enjoyed the scene in the kitchen because of how chilling it was to watch—and the level of suspense and intention produced from that scene.”

Being Covered in Dinosaur Snot

“I can’t even tell you how many times I have been asked about that scene. That scene was all about Steven enjoying it. We shot that scene a few times. I would get sneezed on and the makeup person would wipe me off, and they’d shoot the cannon at me again and cover me with that goo. By the third take, the goo was dripping off my lips, and I heard Steven yell, ‘Cut!’ as he was laughing. He got such a kick out of it and said it was perfect.”