Whit Hertford, Jurassic Park’s ‘6-Foot Turkey’ Kid, On Working with Spielberg: “He’s a Very Calm Presence”

The name “Whit Hertford” may not be immediately recognizable, but if you’ve seen Jurassic Park (if, by some miracle, you haven’t seen Jurassic Park, go watch it on Peacock this instant), then you know him as the bratty kid at the Montana dig site who underestimates the ferocity and cunning of velociraptors. That is until he’s terrified into silence by a talon-wielding Alan Grant (Sam Neill).

“Whenever people bring up the movie, it’s not my first thought that I’m in it,” Hertford told SYFY WIRE over Zoom in honor of the movie’s 30th anniversary last summer. “My first thought is, ‘That’s a cool a movie.’ It’s like my third thought that I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah…I’m f-in’ in the beginning of that. That’s right.’”

Calling a vicious predator of the late Cretaceous period a “six-foot turkey” sounds funny, but YouTuber “SharkandDinoman” makes a very good point in the comments section of the video below: “That kid has no idea how scary … regular-sized turkeys are. A six-foot turkey would be nightmare fuel.”

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“I think it’s a really funny line,” Hertford said when we brought up the six-foot turkey argument. “I think it’s totally what a kid of that age who’s being a punk would say.” Despite a memorably snot-nosed performance, the actor says he was often the subject of bullying in his own youth. “It’s really weird that I ended up playing more bully characters on screen when, in real life, I was the one that was always tormented.”

Thankfully, not all of his peers were jerks. When Jurassic hit the big screen in June 1993, one of his classmates organized a group trip to the theater. “We all went and saw the film in the theater as a group, which was really sweet and really cool. I remember they all stood up and cheered when [my scene] was happening and pointed at me to the rest of the people in the theater.”

Whit Hertford on Fame in the wake of Jurassic Park

While the encounter near the start of the film only lasts for about 90 seconds, it proves that there’s no such thing as a small part where Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur opus is concerned. In addition to establishing up front Grant’s dislike of children, the scene also foreshadows the death of Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) over an hour later. As an added bonus, the gruesome description of how a raptor might eviscerate prey before eating it alive is a fantastic nod to Michael Crichton’s darker source material.

“I don’t know if I figured out how crucial it was to the structure until later when I started writing and directing myself,” Hertford said. “But I knew that it was memorable, because I was getting recognized all the time. And you know, I have a freaky face. These eyeballs, they haven’t changed at all. That’s the thing that carries through and has longevity, is I got these same peepers.”

Those iconic “peepers” were put to the ultimate test when the actor went on a night run during the early days of the pandemic with nearly all of his face obscured. “I … had a mask and a beanie or a hoodie because it was cold. So I had that much showing and I turn the corner and somebody went, ‘Jurassic Park!’ I mean, 30-some odd years later and only seeing this, that’s crazy.” 

Whit Hertford on Working with Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park

As casting director Janet Hirshenson told us, everyone in Hollywood wanted to be a part of the movie. Even Hertford  — whom audiences might also recognize from Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child — knew how big it was going to be at the age of 14. 

“I was a pretty savvy kid and had watched plenty of Spielberg films,” he told us. “So I knew that it was going to be very, very hyped-up, and probably massive.” The dig site exchange was filmed over two days in the Mojave Desert (representing the fossil-rich Badlands) in sweltering conditions. “It was 125 degrees,” Hertford remembered. “So they shuttled us, I don’t know, 500 feet from base camp to set because it was so hot.” 

He went on to describe Neill as being “very quiet” and “very intense,” which ultimately helped drive home “that immediate dynamic where I was intimidated by him.” Laura Dern shared more in common with Ellie Sattler, in that she was more easygoing around kids. “Laura and I talked about Pearl Jam and music and bands on set and in the shuttle. She was really, really great and very kind. I probably had a crush.”

Spielberg, who had long since proved his ability to direct young actors, was very much “down to earth,” the actor said. “He had this knack of making me feel like I was his friend and that we had an immediate dialogue and connection in a very organic, normal way. I think that that’s why part of his his legacy is that he’s incredibly good with with kids. He has a real ability to push away all of the [noise] and stress and make it feel fun, make it feel easy and calm. He’s a very calm presence.”

An extended version of the boy’s feud with Grant does exist somewhere and involves the kid walking on top of the recently-unearthed dinosaur skeleton. “It’s before the ‘six-foot turkey’ line,” Whitford revealed. “Sam Neill’s supposed to yell at me. We did one take and then Steven had me do it again and came over and whispered, ‘As you walk past camera, why don’t you whisper ‘A**hole’?’ And because my stepdad was just off camera — and [because] I did not like him and wanted to be a rebel — I was very excited to do this.”

At the end of the Mojave shoot, Spielberg promised to work with Hertford again — a promise that remains unfulfilled three decades later. “What do you mean, Steve?” joked the 45-year-old Hertford. “Was I supposed to be [David in] A.I.? Was I supposed to be Shia LaBeouf in [Kingdom of the Crystal Skull]? What’s happening? Let’s go.”

The end credits dub Hertford as “Volunteer Boy,” though the actor distinctly remembers his contract bearing the name “Eddie” (interestingly, a character by the name of Eddie Carr would appear in the sequel four years later).  No backstory was ever provided to the actor, but it’s probably safe to assume that he is the child of one of the paleontologists. “I don’t think he would probably get there on his own,” mused Hertford. “There’s never been any fanfic. I’m waiting!”

His only real gripe about the subsequent franchise is that none of the child actors were brought back for the Jurassic World trilogy. Think about how cool it would’ve been to see Volunteer Boy/Eddie working as Alan Grant’s research assistant in last summer’s Dominion.

“I’m alive. I haven’t retired,” Hertford concluded. “Is there something in it for the kids? Maybe there’s a door. Maybe somebody can take it. Maybe Matt Reeves wants to do a darker Jurassic Park.”

Jurassic Park is now streaming on Peacock along with The Lost World, Jurassic Park III, and Jurassic World.

Originally published Jun 8, 2023.