Eric Johnson knows a thing or two about bad guys. But off screen the Canadian born actor is about the furthest thing from a villain. Imagista caught up with Eric shortly after the latest installment of the “Fifty Shades” franchise further jettisoned, the ever modest Canadian, into stardom. Eric describes himself as an incredibly boring (we doubt it) person when he’s not working. Lucky for Eric though, not-working isn’t part of his current career trajectory.
Entertainment/Fashion Director: Christina Pacelli
Styling Assistants: Caroline Curtis and Katie Eason
Grooming: Sacha Breuer at Starworks Artists using Tom Ford for Men Skincare and Bumble & Bumble Haircare
First Assistant D.O.P: Braden Moran
Second Assistant: Matthew Chan
Third Assistant: Calvin Cheng
Production: GUNN + GUNN
Location: Level Furnished Living
INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
STORY BY KATINA GOULAKOS
Imagista: Your Instagram bio reads: “I stand where directors tell me and say what writers write for me- professional puppet.” is that really how you see yourself?
Eric Johnson: It depends what project I am working on; I’m either a puppet or a prop sometimes, you just get moved around (Laughs). No actually, to be honest, I have been pretty damn lucky in terms of who I have worked with especially with regards to how collaborative and open to ideas they have been. I actually feel creatively empowered so to speak. Twenty five years into this and I am still not bitter (laughs).
Imagista: How did you first get into acting?
Eric Johnson: I think the idea of having an audience was always something I enjoyed, whether I was at the dinner table or the hockey rink. What really started it was a summer camp I did for two weeks when I was nine and the people who ran the summer camp did full year classes for young actors doing theater. I fell into it there and I did not love it all the time, there were things I did not like about it.
I hated doing the hard work and the practice, I just wanted to be on stage I think like most people do.You know I would stick it out and do my final performance at the end of the year and it would set me up for the next year because it was such a high. That theater company became my first job, they did family theater productions in Edmonton. The first show I did was The Secret Garden and we did a two week run of twenty something shows and it was an awesome experience being on stage in front of so many people, also there was the bonus of missing school. Working with adults and having to deliver at the same rate as an adult, having those kinds of demands was very fulfilling in so many ways. I could not imagine doing anything else, I feel so grateful to have found something I wanted to do early on and I was even more fortunate to be able to do it. Acting is a lot of asking permission and somewhat needing validation from those around you about what you do. That can be brutal I guess it all depends on how you take it. I think it is probably similar for writers and painters and musicians or anything creatively. I do not think it is ever purely for oneself. You are doing it for some audience in some regards, however you may feel about them.
Imagista: I would love to talk about what you have going on recently. You just finished shooting another Fifty Shades, how many of the films are you in?
Eric Johnson: I am in the second and the third one.
Imagista: What has that experience been like both from an acting point of view and from an industry point of view?
Eric Johnson: I do not think there is any worry about being typecast. It is a little surreal to be part of something that has such a global awareness. Even going into the first movie, it has a massive global awareness. The book was so successful it was translated into I think fifty languages so it is really international. To find anything today that is that international is very rare, especially today.
I think audiences are still fragmented and everyone has their own niche. The thing that was so exciting for me was how excited the fan base was about these films and how welcoming they were on social media to me personally in regards to being brought into this world. I think under circumstances, something like that can be super overwhelming but it was anything but. For me, it was really fun to have people be excited that you are part of, then to also have them show up.
From an acting side of things, I really did not know what to expect going in. It is a big franchise and you do not know what the tone is going to be on set. This is not a little independent film, this is a very different machine. Honestly, I was really blown away by the experience and how creative it was and how much opportunity there was. James Foley was so welcoming to ideas. A lot of my stuff was with Dakota and I was constantly blown away by the nuance that she brought. I do not think she gets the credit she deserves, I think she did a remarkable job in this film. There are some things that she did that would be almost impossible to pull off and she does it with such humility. It was really fun to play and we got the opportunity to do some fun work, despite the fact that I am mostly being awful to her every time I see her. It was a really rewarding experience.
Imagista: Where was the movie shot?
Eric Johnson: It was shot in Vancouver which is where I used to live. I was working with a crew that I actually knew from years ago. So it was a really comfortable, familiar, warm environment. We had some great laughs and I genuinely looked forward to everyday that I went there. For me it has always been about the process and the experience of doing what I am doing, not as much for the end result, which is arbitrary at the end of the day.
Imagista: You were also on The Knick, where you worked with an incredible cast. Can you talk a little bit about your experience on that show?
Eric Johnson: That was intense, it was very surprising. I kept waiting to be fired, it was a little surreal to be honest getting in there. To be working with a filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh was incredible. It was like a dream job, to even get one day on a film with him, then to be able to do twenty hours of television with him and his team. There were surreal elements to it and it was incredibly empowering.
For a man that does so much on set, he does so many things you would think there would be a level of micromanaging and it’s the complete opposite. The expectation is for you to come in and do the best you can. I do not want to speak for all of us but everyone brought their best game and nobody wanted to be the weak link and nobody wanted to drop the ball. Everybody was pushing hard to bring their best, it was just an amazing environment to be part of.
Imagista: How do you feel playing such “horrible” people?
Eric Johnson: One of the things that I look at is the bad guy always feels like what they are doing is right, which is so true in life. People believe that their behavior is okay even when it is not. No one is inhuman, we are all very human and sometimes human behavior is horrible. For me it is just going that rabbit hole and horribleness of humanity. Bad guys usually get cool coats like a leather jacket, we do not get the girl though. We usually get to win for most of the movie and then we usually lose right at the end. It is fun I am not going to lie, being the bad guy is fun.
In Fifty Shades, being this horrible misogynist that abuses women was awful, those are not days on set that you really relish, I kind of scrub that from my brain with a bottle of wine. It is fun I guess with anything, I do not know why I always play bad guys, people look at my picture and think “Hey that guy looks like an asshole, let’s bring him in!” One of the first jobs I ever had was being the neighborhood bully.
Imagista: What do you do when you are not working?
Eric Johnson: I realized I am an incredibly boring human being when I am not working. If I am not working on someone else’s project then I am working on my own. The whole development world and getting things off the the ground, I have so much respect for people who get their ideas off the ground. I always think of Scorsese with Gangs of New York which took about twenty years to get that project made.
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