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A Boy and his Dog: Josh Wiggins Star of Max

Jun 22, 2015

By: Lynn Barker

16-year-old Josh Wiggins of Houston, Texas is being called a “young Leonardo DiCaprio”. He’s a natural actor who got mega-praise for his portrayal of a troubled teen in the indie movie Hellion. This week you can catch Josh in Max playing Justin, a teen living in the shadow of his heroic older brother who is serving in Afghanistan. When bro is killed on a questionable mission, his service dog Max is taken in by Justin’s family.  

Justin (Josh) tries to make friends with MaxJustin (Josh) tries to make friends with MaxCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Both Max and Justin have to readjust to a new life. In working with Max, Justin learns responsibility and that friendship can extend to the furry members of a family. We asked Josh about his sudden stardom, working with the group of dogs playing Max, fun on and off set, his musical taste, what his buddies in Texas think of his success and more!

Kidzworld: Working with the different dogs playing Max, did you have to meet and bond with all of them before shooting or how did that work?

  • Josh: Yeah, after my first audition, we went to the facility where they were training the dogs and I got to see all of them there and hang out for a while and even before we started shooting I was in cages with them and running around so we bonded a lot.

Destined to be best palsDestined to be best palsCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: I read something about using snacks on your face as a training method?

  • Josh: Oh yeah. They put baby food on my face and I had no idea baby food smelled that bad but once it’s on your face in 100 degree heat.. eww.

Kidzworld: Oh so the dogs would lick you and jump up and love up on you?

  • Josh: Yeah.

Mia (Carmen) and Chuy (Dejon) give Max a treatMia (Carmen) and Chuy (Dejon) give Max a treatCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: In Hellion you played the older brother trying to take care of a younger one. In this you are the younger brother taking care of a dog… was that a weird shift for you?

  • Josh: I think there are similarities between my character Justin and Jacob (from Hellion). I think in Max, Justin caring for the dog is him thinking of Max as the embodiment of his brother and that’s why he pushes it away at first because he doesn’t want to deal with any conflict. He’s not mature enough for it but once he is kind of forced to take care of the dog, he learns responsibility and grows up and becomes somewhat of a man.

Kidzworld: You must really be able to relate to this character in that you have a brother who was in the military, have dogs at home and your dad trains dogs to bomb sniff for the HPD. With that background, was there anything about the dogs you worked with or the story that surprised you?

  • Josh: I think what surprised me is how well-trained these dogs were. (The trainer) could tell the dog to put his tongue back in his mouth and he’d do it. It was pretty impressive. There were a lot of tricks they could do. I was surprised at how close to the dogs I got. There was some real affection there. It’s like working with people. If you are with the same person for a couple of months, you get pretty close and it was just like that with the dogs.

Max on duty in AfghanistanMax on duty in AfghanistanCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: Tell me something funny that happened while shooting.. with the dogs or with people.

  • Josh: Whenever the dogs would need to leave set because they would get hot or something, they’d need a stand-in for my shots and their stand-in was a stuffed animal on 2 by 4’s. In some scenes I’d just be standing there yelling at a stuffed animal which I felt like was just insane. It was weird to look at and those were serious scenes too.

Kidzworld: You do some wild bike riding in the film. Is that all you and did you grow up riding a bike and going on adventures?

  • Josh: Yeah but a lot of the jumps were my stunt double Keith but a lot of just riding down the mountains I did. I’m a teenaged kid so I’ve ridden a bike before obviously but nothing to that degree like mountain biking or anything. That was new to me. I rode it around too.

Justin (Josh) on his bike with Max alongsideJustin (Josh) on his bike with Max alongsideCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: How was working with Mia Xitlali who plays Carmen?

  • Josh: This is her first job and you wouldn’t know it. She was really good to work with.

Kidzworld: Did you hang out off set?

  • Josh: Me, Carmen and Dejon LaQuake (who plays Carmen’s brother Chuy) would hang out pretty often. We’d go to dinner and swim and stuff. We bonded a lot.

Mia and Chuy help Justin with MaxMia and Chuy help Justin with MaxCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: You got discovered by making YouTube videos. What were they about? You would write and star in them or what?

  • Josh: It started out just me and my friend goofing around and we’d post it on YouTube. As we kept going it kind of evolved, for me anyway, into a love for movies and an appreciation for that kind of craft.

Kidzworld: When an agent or producer then saw it and checked you out, were you super surprised?

  • Josh: Yeah. I never thought it would lead to something in the actual movie industry. I almost didn’t go to the audition for Hellion because I was so nervous but I’m glad I did.

Kidzworld: What actor or actress do you most look up to?

  • Josh: If I were going to model my career after anyone it would probably be Leonardo DiCaprio. I haven’t seen a movie he’s been in that I haven’t liked. I think the only movie of his I haven’t seen was Basketball Diaries.

Justin with his strict dad (Thomas Hayden Church)Justin with his strict dad (Thomas Hayden Church)Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: What movie are you dying to see this summer?

Kidzworld: What music artist or band are you really into right now?

  • Josh: I listen to Kings of Leon or The Black Keys. Also, The Who, some of The Doors.

Justin is comforted by his mom (Lauren Graham)Justin is comforted by his mom (Lauren Graham)Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: Are you still living in Houston to finish school or are you out in L.A. now?

  • Josh: I’m living in Houston but doing an online school.

Kidzworld: What do your buddies back home think of all your sudden success?

  • Josh: They’re super supportive about it. They joke about it a lot but a lot of times I try not to talk about it because I don’t want it to dominate the conversation. We have a lot of tickets for premieres of Max so I’m going to see if some of my friends can come and see it.


Kidzworld: If you could play any real person or character in a book, who would it be?

  • Josh: Somebody in “The Outsiders” (a novel that was made into a movie a long time ago). If I could be anyone in that, it would be Patrick Soda Pop Curtis.

Justin with his family after his brother's funeralJustin with his family after his brother's funeralCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Kidzworld: Time to remake that movie for your generation. What is coming out next, Lost in the Sun?  Who do you play in that?

  • Josh: I play a kid named Louis who is orphaned in a way and he meets this man named John and goes with him and he takes Louis on a string of robberies. Then, I’m starting a movie called Walking Out.

Kidzworld: What would tweens and teens get out of seeing Max? I mean besides the great dog and cool story?

  • Josh: I think a message is to accept responsibility. Maybe it’s pretty daunting at first but it can really help you grow and mature and become the person you want to be and also to not let society and other people dictate who you become. Just be your own person and tune everyone else out.. um.. and be kind to dogs.

Max Movie PosterMax Movie PosterCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Max is in theaters June 26th!