When Isaiah Russell-Bailey wrapped filming for Crater, Disney+’s newest sci-fi blockbuster, he was 15 years old and the world was in the midst of grappling with a pandemic.
“We had to wear masks 24/7, covid tests every other day. We couldn’t be standing close to other people until we were filming the scenes where we had to be close to each other,” he told Blavity in a recent interview about his experience filming during COVID-19. “The crew couldn’t be close as well because they were scared that one of the kids would get COVID and we would’ve had to shut down or stop shooting for a little while.”
“We were very isolated from each other, which is something that I’ve never had to experience before.”
Now 17, Russell-Bailey had time for his nerves to set in ahead of Crater’s release on Disney+. He plays Caleb Channing, who was raised on a lunar mining colony and is about to be relocated on a faraway planet following the death of his father (played by Scott Mescudi, aka Kid Cudi). Inspired by the 1986 film Stand By Me, Crater is a coming-of-age story in which Caleb and his friends hijack a rover and go on an adventure to explore a crater as his dad’s final wish.
“It’s gonna be a very unassuming movie,” says the actor ahead of the release. “The end is gonna be very unexpected. People already probably have the notion that this movie is gonna be a kids movie that only caters to the younger generation – but it’s a movie that every generation can watch from mom to great-grandma. And they can all sit down and enjoy it and connect through it.”
Prior to filming, the cast had two weeks of stunt and harness training to practice getting the slow motion and moon walk right. Russell-Bailey says being skilled in parkour helped him do a lot of his own stunts.
“They allowed me to play around with the harnesses to figure out how the stunts were gonna look,” he says. “Sometimes they would allow me to do flips on set just to get some practice in. My training really did come in handy when filming this movie.”
Russell-Bailey also prepared for the psychological aspect of his character. The film involves darker elements involving Kid Cudi’s character that the audience may not expect and that took the actor aback when reading the script for the first time.
“Getting in the mindset of Caleb and the amount of grief that he’s going through was pretty hard,” he says. “I had to do a lot of research and I had to ask people around me who have lost family members or close friends how that felt, because fortunately, I’ve never had to deal with that kind of pain and grief. I had to stay in that mindset for months – so when I was playing Caleb on screen, that emotion was really coming out to the audience.”
Prepping for the role also meant building chemistry with other cast members like Mckenna Grace, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong and Thomas Boyce. They spent time together almost every weekend going on swamp tours and playing in the pool at the apartment complex they were staying at.
That chemistry is visible in various scenes, including one in which the friend group comes across a futuristic model home.
“That was probably one of the most fun scenes to shoot to be honest,” he says. “We had pillow fights, as you probably saw in the movie. We jumped around the rooms. We ate so much of the space food, that space ice cream was amazing. It tasted great. It was a very fun scene to shoot.”
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He also spent time with Kid Cudi before shooting. They got to know each other over dinner.
“We both are method actors in a way – we rehearse between takes and we like to stay in character. We really tried to create a safe space between each other,” Russell-Bailey said.
Building on-screen chemistry between father and son was especially important in regards to representation.
“I feel like a lot of people are going to like the bond between Caleb and his father – a Black son and a Black father – because usually when a Black son is raised by a single parent, it’s the mom who’s in the house and the dad, you know, walks out of his life or is never there,” Russell-Bailey says. “Disney rewrote that narrative and you get to see the bond between a Black child and his father. So that’s what kind of makes this special.”
The pair also bonded over their love of music. Russell-Bailey got feedback from Cudi on beats he produced.
“I would love to get in the music business,” the 17-year-old actor says. “I’ve always wanted to produce beats for artists one day or for a movie soundtrack. [Kid Cudi] gave me a lot of advice. He actually listened to some of my beats and told me his thoughts on them and he really liked a lot of them so that was a very meaningful experience. It meant a lot coming from him.”
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Much like his Gen Z peers, Russell-Bailey wants to diversify his skillset.
“We all wanna do so much in our lives because we are exposed to so much when it comes to social media and different platforms. We just all wanna give each other opportunities,” he says about his generation.
The actor is currently producing a project with IB Entertainment, his own production company. Although details remain confidential, Russell-Bailey says he wants to keep pursuing working behind the scenes.
“It starts with ownership,” he says. “I want to be behind the camera. I wanna write, produce, direct and give other people opportunities.”
On the set of Crater, he operated the camera for one of the last scenes they shot. It was a first for him and an experience that strengthened his love for filmmaking.
Russell-Bailey makes it clear he is here to stay.
His dream role? Miles Morales, the only Black Spider-Man in Marvel Comics. The actor points to the character’s love for science and the tight bond he has with his family and friends, as inspirational. It is also what makes him relate to that character.
“I’m gonna be doing big things in this business. Watch out for Isaiah Russell-Bailey, you’ll see me around pretty soon.”
We can’t wait to find out.
Crater is now streaming on Disney+.