JJ Abrams: “We do live in a world where the unbelievable is very possible”
From a brave and dedicated kid with a dream, to now CEO of his own Production Company, working alongside his childhood hero, and father of three, ruled with grace and humility, he is easily one of my favorite people; a friend that everyone deserves.
What would you say has been the greatest mystery in your life?Ultimately the biggest unsolved mystery, or unsolved question, is how to the best parent I can be. You do what you think is the right thing in the moment and all you can do is really wonder about the consequences of what you’re doing and saying. Probably because a lot about being a parent is reminding your kids that actions have consequences and as a parent there you are yourself taking actions that have consequences and the question itself is what would be the lasting impact of what you do. And I say it’s a mystery not because I don’t see evidence of wonderful people in our children, but (pause), ya’ know, parenting is little bit like tricky medicine. You don’t know sometimes when you take that pill weather or not the headache would have gone away on it’s own or not. I’m always questioning, and I know my wife is too, exactly how we are impacting and I’m sure inevitably screwing up our kids (Laughs). But it is the thing that is the most vexing, ongoing and unanswered of mysteries.
Where did the name for the company, Bad Robot, come from?Bad Robot was the title of a children’s book that I wanted to write, that I never ended up writing, about this little character. At the time, I was doing this show called Alias and had to turn in a production card for the end credits of the show that Monday. So, that weekend I thought, “screw it, I’ll just call it Bad Robot.” I drew an animated robot at the end and had my two kids say Bad Robot into my laptop microphone. I sorta’ slapped it together to turn it in and when it came time to air the show I thought, “let’s just keep it.” So, it just kinda’ came out of an idea and a deadline. Which is, by the way, my credo.
What would you hope for people to remember about you and your work?I never have been someone who takes my job particularly seriously in that I don’t feel like what I do is remotely as important as the number of jobs that are out there. The idea that I or my work would be remembered feels like something I’ve never really considered (pause)… I would hope that the stories I’ve been involved in telling and the entertainment I’ve been associated with has given people, not just satisfaction, but ideally at times a sense that they are capable of more than they think and that they are reminded of the possibilities of what’s out there. While I of course understand that the odds of finding an alien are slim, or tossing a penny when buying your newspaper and suddenly being able to hear people’s thoughts is unlikely, but it would be nice if people felt like some of the work that they’ve seen and I’ve been associated with reminds them that we do live in a world where the unbelievable is very possible.
When was the last time you were validated?Usually it happens with my family. Watching my daughter play the guitar or the piano and sing in front of her school makes me feel like I had nothing to do with that and yet there she is in a place in her life where she is confident enough to do that. Also, watching my oldest son designing something on a graphic’s program that is incredibly cool. I think to see your kids exceed what you believe you’re able to do and to amaze you is the greatest validation. It’s not a validation of anything that I have done or that my wife has done, but it’s a validation of that as a family something is at least is working.
In work, I was very lucky to get to make a movie last year called Super 8 that Steven Spielberg produced and although I was terrified I was going to disappoint someone who was my idol, to work with him and have him react positively was a moment.
Everyday, I work with an incredible group of people and to be able to see them do a good job, and again its not that I feel a personal validation as if what they did was my doing, but it’s validation of a unit functioning. It’s less about an achievement of my own and more of a group effort that has moments when someone gets to peak and do well. I feel proud to be involved in an organization that has moments of greatness.
Tell me about the moment when you knew you were exactly where you are meant to be, doing the exact work you are meant to be doing?There have been moments when I felt like this is great and I feel really at home. But I will say, that those moments are also to be sure, bookended by moments of utter panic and feelings of complete horror and how the hell did I get here “ness.” I remember feeling really good when we were filming the first Star Trek. I was in the zone, I knew what I was doing, I had a great crew and cast. And I also vividly remember feeling on the set one day, “holy shit, this is a an utter disaster. I don’t know how to shoot this scene at all. I’ve made every wrong choice…” And not to say that either one of those feelings are right. It’s a little bit like being in a relationship when there may be a day and you feel like I am so in love with this person and then there are days when you’re like oh my god this is an utter disaster. And truthfully, time will prove out that you can’t really judge a life experience in any moment, its all an aggregate. Just like every one person is a combination of traits and attitudes. The person who is the most generous and kind and funny can also be someone who has personality traits that are repellent to you. In every situation, even when you feel like I’m kickin’ ass, at the same time, give it a minute, you’re going to have doubts. And if you don’t have doubts, then you’re not taking risks and something special won’t come out of it.
If you were to think of your life as a class, what would you say has been your greatest lesson learned?I think the title of the class would be “Trust Your Own Voice”, and the subtitle of the class would be, “Listen to Others.”