In 1993, B.D. Wong took the role of Dr. Henry Wu, a genetic scientist, in Jurassic Park. The character, a secondary part of the film’s plot, was one of the only park employees to escape the rampaging dinosaurs on Isla Nublar. But while Dr. Wu survived, he was never brought back in either of the subsequent sequels. It wasn’t until this year’s franchise reboot, Jurassic World, which was conceived and directed by Colin Trevorrow, that the character re-emerged, this time as a central aspect to the action. Wong, who has spent much of the past decade on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, heard about the possibility of Dr. Wu’s return early on but wasn’t sure whether to believe it.
“It was sometime during the writing process – I’m not exactly sure how far along Colin Trevorrow was in writing the script – when he asked me if I was interested in doing it,” Wong says, sitting outside a resort in Hawaii, where much of Jurassic World was filmed. Although he’s now here doing press for the Blu-Ray and DVD release of the film, out this week, ironically Wong’s scenes, most of which take place in laboratories, were shot on soundstages not located in Hawaii. “Of course that was a no-brainer for me,” he continues. “But I didn’t really take it that seriously, just because inquiries like that come and go, and they more often go than they come. I just let it go and it was months and months later that they came back and said it was actually going to happen. And I was really happy about that.”
Wong’s interest wasn’t just in simply returning to the franchise. Instead, the actor wanted the opportunity to find more complexity in Dr. Wu and to explore the character more fully. “I felt a little short-shifted the first time,” Wong admits. “I really have to say the first time I felt we just dipped our toe in the water for what that character could have been, particularly compared to the character that Michael Crichton had written. The first time around I felt like I was left out of the fun part of the movie. The character was very full in the novel, and not so much in the first movie. So the opportunity to come back and flesh it out a little bit, to darken it, to make it a little more interesting, to make it a more complex character [was interesting]. As an actor that’s an opportunity you really want to take.”
The actor adds, smiling, “I have a really close friend, Nathan, who warned me this would happen. He’s kind of a science fiction fan or whatever – he’s a science fiction nerd. And he said ‘This is obviously going to happen. It’s going to happen again and you’re going to get called in to play that character.’ And it was exactly the way he said it would play out. So that was a fun thing between my friends and I.”
Jurassic World, which has impressively grossed over $1 billion since its release this summer, brought the action back to Isla Nublar, imagining an even bigger park with even more dinosaurs, including a genetically modified terror called the Indominus Rex. It’s that creature that Dr. Wu has spent his career developing. Although we get little backstory in the film for what Dr. Wu has been doing since the action of the first film, Wong has some idea on that the past 23 years have meant for the character.
“It’s all about upward mobility and exploring technology,” he says. “As we’ve all seen, in every aspect of our lives now, ten years of technology represents incredible leaps and bounds and new amazing things happening. So it was no different in the story. This guy was going to continue to push the boundaries of genetic technology and was going to be able to do more and more amazing things – and more and more scary things. It reached a point where those things became reality and he made them happen, and as a result he’s a little blind to the scary things that all come with it.”
In Wong’s opinion, Dr. Wu doesn’t see a real problem in his actions, which is, of course, what makes the conflict emerge in Jurassic World. “He really thinks this technology is going to change the world,” the actor reflects. “I don’t think I’m making that up from my own actor-y kind of backstory. I think he really feels that you can do amazing things with this technology and that we’re just scratching the surface with a theme park. I think he wants to continue to have this kind of workshop where he explores and pushing the boundaries of all this technology so he can continue to things that amaze people.”
But is Dr. Wu a villain? Certainly he is instrumental is manufacturing animals that should not exist in nature and he enables them to wreck havoc on a park filled with innocent people. He may not necessarily be as bad as the film’s more obvious villain, Hoskins, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, but he’s pretty bad.
“The connotations of that word are so complex,” Wong says. “For me, I think he is a villain in some ways because he acts as an impediment to the positive rising action of the movie or of the franchise. But I think he’s a little different from a villain. First of all, Hoskins is the villain of Jurassic World – he’s the juiciest cinema villain we’ve seen in a long time. I’m just a piggy-backing minion to his grand scheme.”
Two sequels to Jurassic World are already in the works, with Trevorrow onboard to executive produce and co-write the script for the next film, expected in June of 2018. It’s unconfirmed whether Wong will return alongside co-stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, but he’s game. And he’s got a plan. “In terms of the franchise, I think there’s potential for Dr. Wu to continue to play the role of a villain in a really big way,” Wong says.
The actor, who recently had a two-episode arc on Mr. Robot and will return to Law & Order during November sweeps, sees Dr. Wu has evidence that Hollywood is making some strides when it comes to diversity, which he feels his role in Jurassic World is part of.
“I can’t deny that the progress is tangible and that I feel and see the progress, and that the things I’m doing now I hoped I would be able to do when I first started out,” Wong says. “There’s a lot motion forward in a positive, but it’s [still] a lot of steps forward and a few steps back. But having said that, I feel very positive about it. It’s encouraging and I think people are letting going of their attachment to a character’s ethnicity or sexuality or whatever as being the defining element of that character’s existence. I hope we can continue to let go of that and the person can just be there and be a person.”