Josh Morrell was in third grade in an American school in Stuttgart, West Germany, when a casting director came looking for children to be in his next movie, Joey. Even though it was to be filmed in Germany, the movie is about an American family, so the director wanted American children to be extras (people who have minor roles), because “nobody looks more like an American than an American.” The director planned to hire a child actor from Hollywood to be the star.
After seeing Josh and making several videotapes of him, the director decided that he didn’t need a Hollywood actor after all. Even though Josh had never done any acting, he was a natural in front of the camera and had just the look that the director wanted. He asked the Morrell family if Josh could be the star.
“We were excited for Josh,” says his mother, Suzan. “We knew that it would be a great experience for him as well as a lot of hard work. We told the director that Josh couldn’t work on Sundays. He needed that time to attend our American Servicemen’s Ward and to be with our family.”
The director said, “Since we knew in advance that Josh went to church on Sundays, we planned around it. It was easy to work with Josh. His religion is very family-oriented. The whole family was dedicated to helping Josh do well in the film.”
For over four months Josh worked on location. His mother tutored him so that he could keep up with his schoolwork. Between filming and schoolwork, he put in about fourteen hours a day. On Monday nights the family held family home evening during breaks in filming.
When people ask Josh how he could memorize a whole movie, he tells them, “I never had to learn it all at once. I just memorized what I had to do that day. We did a lot of rehearsals until we did it the way the director wanted.”
How did Josh speak German so well for the film? “That isn’t Josh’s voice you hear in the movie,” explains his father, Reid, a United States Army officer assigned to Stuttgart for four years. “The movie was filmed in English and later dubbed in German.”
Sometimes the middle or end of a movie is filmed before the beginning. It is expensive to build movie scenery and to move equipment. Once a movie scene, or set, is in place, all parts of the movie using that set are filmed. Two-sided shells of an American suburban home and an old abandoned house were built for outside filming. The houses’ interiors were built inside sound stages, or buildings that keep out unwanted noises.
In the movie, Josh has magical powers and can cause toys and other objects to move. “They used a thin fishing line to pull the toys,” Josh says, “and special camera techniques.”
Fishing line was also used to make Josh “float in the air.” Once the line broke and Josh fell, knocking over a makeshift wall behind him. With the wall partially down, Josh lay on it and was pulled up, creating the same floating-in-air effect.
Joey was released in November 1985, and it was second in box office attendance in West Germany. Josh has received many letters and presents from admirers. One sixty-four-year-old fan wrote, “When you played Joey, you gave us old folks such joy.”
Josh’s parents and his five brothers and sisters—Baird, Tia, Natasha, Selize, and Luke—all worked as extras in Joey. A big surprise for the Morrells came on opening night when they read on the screen that the film was dedicated to them. The director said, “I’m really glad that I met the Morrell family. I like this kind of people. I know now that I need to make some changes in my life.”