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Joel was raised in Moscow, Idaho. His parents are both teachers at a private school in Moscow. He has an older brother and sister. At age 14, Joel went to visit his brother during his summer vacation from Middle school. His brother was living in Los Angeles, pursuing acting. Joel had fallen in love with acting himself, after he attended one of his brother's acting classes. So he decided to audition for a television commercial while he was in LA, with the hopes of leaving with $100. An acting coach suggested that he attend a casting call for a top-secret J.J. Abrams venture. After 11 call-backs, Joel landed his first acting job with a lead role in Steven Spielberg's Super 8 (2011). This was his breakthrough role.