“Jurassic is a legacy and a classic. Steven Spielberg created something pretty spectacular. It’s actually really interesting, when I look at it, I ask, ‘How has my life changed since being Lex?’ And I can literally walk into just about any city in the world and people will know who I am.” The envy of children around the world as she encountered a park full of dinosaurs and adventure in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park, Ariana Richards has never given up on her childlike wonder or her love of acting despite stepping out of the spotlight in the late 1990s to focus on her career as an artist and painter. So, how did 38-year-old actress turned artist get her start in Hollywood and, more importantly, how did she catch the legendary Spielberg’s eye? Let’s find out!
With her mother working as a public relations expert and film producer, Ariana Clarice Richards already had a few connections in show business when she came into this world on September 11, 1979 in Healdsburg, California. At eight years old, she made her acting debut in the 1987 television film, Into the Homeland, and went on to appear in more popular television series like The Golden Girls, My Sister Sam, and Empty Nest before making her first feature film debut in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988. Picking up a few more minor roles in Face of the Enemy and Prancer in 1989, Richards saw her career take a new turn in 1990 when she was cast as Mindy Sterngood opposite Kevin Bacon in Tremors.
Starring in Switched at Birth in 1991 and earning praise for her performance, Richards was on the brink of a huge break when Steve Spielberg came calling and invited her to audition for the part of Lex Murphy in his newest film, Jurassic Park. “I was actually there in his office when he asked me,” Richards recalled. “He had already seen my work in previous films I’d been in, and I guess he liked it. and I’d been put on tape screaming, so apparently, he liked my screaming as well. He was just really friendly and put me right at ease. We chatted and had a good time, and by the end of that meeting he was saying, ‘So, Ariana, are you busy this summer?’” Later, Richards learned that Spielberg knew she was right for the role after seeing her in Disaster in Time with Jeff Daniels.
With Richards’ high-pitched scream and her previous work earning her the part of Lex Murphy, Richards was officially a star after Jurassic Park hit theaters in 1993 and broke every box office record imaginable after a $65 million marketing campaign helped the film bring in over $900 million at box offices worldwide, which made it the highest grossing film at the time. Richards and her costars became overnight stars as the young actress later reprised her role for a cameo in the 1997 sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
“I can speak from the perspective of being a child working on that set, and for me it did hold that sense of wonder,” Richards said of her experience on Jurassic Park. “I think that’s a really good word for it. It wasn’t about analysis; it wasn’t some mechanical, measured feeling to being there on that set. It was always varied and new. And then for a young person, to get a chance to kind of simulate what it would be like to step back in time with the dinosaurs, I would say Joey (Mazzello) and I got to be the very closest to that experience.”
Cashing in on her stardom and appearing in popular series like Boy Meets World, Richards later reprised her role as Mindy Sterngood in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection and added over three dozen credits to her name before stepping out of the spotlight to focus on her passion for painting and art, a decision that was inspired by her work on Jurassic Park. “For me as a 12-year-old actress, who turned 13 during the filming, it was an adventure just to experience what it was to be on the set of Jurassic playing this interesting character and working with Steven Spielberg and working with the dinosaurs and everything that happened afterwards was a surprise,” she admitted. “It was a pleasant surprise to see how well the movie was received by people all over the world.”
With Jurassic Park standing out as the highlight of her career, Richards felt confident enough to step away from acting as she earned her Fine Art and Drama degree from Skidmore College and enrolled at the Art Center College of Design. Over the years, she’s continued to focus on her art and has studied under professional painters while living and working in Salem, Oregon where she paints at her own studio, Gallery Ariana. She’s also shown plenty of talent as a painter after earning the 2005 National Professional Oil Painting Competition and the Art of the West’s Award of Excellence in 2006, but nothing can compare to the beauty found in one of her first landscapes—a landscape of Jurassic Park featured prominently in her gallery!
Of course, the 38-year-old doesn’t rule out a return to acting and says she’s still very passionate about her work in front of the camera. “People ask me, ‘So, did you step away from acting or decide to leave the business?’ I let them know it’s not about making a choice,” Richards says. “Acting is always going to be something that’s in my blood. It’s more that my interest has been really taken by visual art and doing the oil paintings for people. But, at the same time, I still have an agent. If some really interesting role came along and found me, I’m sure I’d be thrilled to do it.”
With her last credit coming in the 2013 film Battledogs, we can’t help but think that an offer from Steven Spielberg himself just might bring Richards back into the spotlight once more! “If Steve does one day decide to write me a role, it would be an even greater challenge to turn that down,” Richards admits. And, while Richards didn’t make a cameo in Spielberg’s 2015 release of Jurassic World, we can’t help but wonder if the former T-Rex star will find her way into the 2018 sequel... After all, Jurassic fans are certainly overdue for another Lex Murphy scream!