Kaiser Johnson was born Eric Kaiser Johnson in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Instead of going to high school, Johnson went early to college, and garnered three Kennedy Center acting nominations for roles as diverse as a dying boy in Edwin Sanchez’s “Icarus”, Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, and a brutal murderer in Rashomon. Johnson is being spotlighted as “the next big thing.” You can see him in the upcoming film, “Little Boy” and on television in “So Awkward.”
What made you decide to get into acting?
Johnson: I first got into acting in sixth grade, almost accidentally, when I filled in as the prince in Cinderella for my middle school play after the guy they originally cast dropped out. I loved the whole experience, and wanted to do more. The next year, I saw a production of Romeo and Juliet, where they had a Q&A with the actors afterwards. One of the actors said something in passing like, “well, we’re actors, so this is our job”. As soon as I realized that acting could be a profession, I wanted it to be my profession.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Johnson: Sure! I grew up in Edina, Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis, with two sisters and two brothers (and a couple of dogs). Minnesota was a great place to live, with 10,000 lakes for the hot summers (my grandparents had a lake cabin), sledding hills for the snowy winters, real fall colors, beautiful spring, and nice people all year round. My parents homeschooled us for most of our academic careers, but we were also involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. We played baseball, football, and did martial arts (I have a 2nd degree black belt in Karate). And eventually, all of us kids ended up starting college early; I started when I was 16. I finished my degree at the University of Minnesota – Duluth, where I really got into the outdoors, into hiking, rock climbing, and adventuring in general. I spent a year in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) doing theater after college (since I finished early, I figured I could stick around a little while), then I made the move to LA.
It looks like one of your first jobs was a spot on Days of Our Lives. Can you talk about what that experience was like? What did you learn?
Johnson: Working on Days of Our Lives was great, even though it was only one day! Soap operas move so quickly, with 60-90 pages being shot a day, that they really run like a play, which was fun for an actor like me, coming from a theater background. It hit home the importance of being “off-book” (knowing your lines) whenever you’re on set, and adapting constantly to new situations (several actors had lines changed while they were shooting the scene). It was my first job on a real, union set, and a great introduction to the business.
You did a bunch of television and movie spots and then landed a recurring role as Adam/Redmond (various other names) on G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense. Can you talk to me about that role. How did you land it? How would you describe Adam?
Johnson: Well, I’ve actually been on The Apostle of Common Sense for 3 seasons now. I’ve done 29 episodes and played almost as many characters from the writings of G.K. Chesterton, who’s probably most famous for his Father Brown character (currently played by Mark Williams on the BBC show), or for “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The Man Who Was Thursday”. I met the writer/producer of the show and hit it off; he ended up asking me if I’d like to audition for the show, since they were looking to fill a couple of roles. I did, booked it, and in my second season got bumped up from recurring to series regular. Adam Wayne was a great first role to play… he’s a character from The Napoleon of Notting Hill, a fierce idealist who fights to save his homeland, even though his homeland is “only” a poor tiny neighborhood in London, and he’s only saving it from having a highway being built through it. But as he says, “That which is large enough for the rich to covet is large enough for the poor to defend.” He’s such a firebrand that he inspired real-life revolutionary Michael Collins to lead the fight for Irish independence.
After that show you had another recurring role on Hipsters Anonymous as ‘X’ — as this point from one of your first roles on Days of Our Lives to Hipsters how had you grown as an actor? What changes did you make in preparation? How did landing this role change the course of your career?
Johnson: I think I had relaxed a lot! I had done more TV, and a number of films, and I remembering feeling much more comfortable in front of a camera than I had when I first started. Having come from theater, acting tended to be bigger, so it took a lot of trust to move to the intimacy of screen, trust that the audience will see what’s really going on for the actor without any hand-holding. And even though Hipsters Anonymous is a comedy, the same rules apply… personally, I’ve always found subtle serious comedy to be the funniest, whether it’s Jason Bateman’s deadpan delivery on Arrested Development or even the over-the-top but dead serious stuff that Leslie Nielsen delivered in Police Squad or Airplane. So, as much as possible, I try to keep my comedy acting straightforward and serious, just serious under stranger circumstances!
Recently, you completed a role as Cpl. Peter Stuff on Little Boy. Can you tell us what it’s about?
Johnson: Yeah, Little Boy is a family film set in WWII where a boy believes he has the power to end the war and bring his dad back home, if only his will and faith are strong enough. I got to play Corporal Peter Stouff, the CO of the little boy’s dad’s (played by Michael Rapaport) platoon. What a ton of fun… after a “boot camp” and weapons training with the 2nd unit director and stunt coordinator (the incredible Garrett Warren) we spent the next 3 days tramping around in the jungle with guns and gear, a bunch of talented stunt guys, and a number of actors I really respect and loved working with.
You worked with some serious actors on that set. What was that like?
Johnson: Over the course of the shoot, I got to work with Michael Rapaport and Sean Astin, and had a brief scene with Emily Watson and David Henrie… all really talented actors, and all really different actors. Seeing the way they prepared for their scenes and got emotionally ready to shoot was incredible. Michael would go from joking with the cast and crew to getting very serious and intense, Sean always came in knowing exactly what he wanted to do, and was so friendly and welcoming, David would stay “in the zone” over the whole course of the day, and Emily was friendly, but always kept herself very emotionally available for the scene. Such an inspiration to be on the same set as all these folks!
When does Little Boy come out?
Johnson: Little Boy comes out on April 24th! Go see it at a theater near you!
What are your next upcoming projects? What are you working on now?
Johnson: I just finished shooting “Bigger Than the Beatles” (which should come out later this year), the true story of the relationship of Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, and Charles Manson, the cult leader. I play Tex Watson, the nice guy who’s new to town and ends up murdering 7 people on Manson’s orders. It was a great, complex role, and everyone on the cast turned in incredible performances. Also, it’s a bizarre story that very few people know.
I also just finished writing a pilot with a good friend of mine… I can’t give a lot of details, but it’s a fun, crime/revenge dramedy, like White Collar, or Suits, with great characters and super-relevant subjects! Stay tuned on that one…
You have such a huge fan following. Do you think that helps you when going into auditions or working on tv/movie sets?
Johnson: You know, it’s helped me get connected with people in the first place, where they might not otherwise have thought of me, but I think in the end, what happens in the room and on set demonstrates the work you do and the talent you bring. But (and I guess this leads into the next question) the fans are awesome, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate all the support I get! It’s great to have all that love, and it makes dealing with the occasional troll (or are we calling them haters now?) a lot easier!
You are so interactive with your fans on social media. How important is your fan base to you — and is there anything you would like to say to them?
Johnson: I know how much it has always meant to me to have someone I care about show an interest in my life… and I think social media gives us the opportunity to be so much more accessible and to make a difference or shine a little light into someone else’s life each day. I’m so grateful to have such supportive, funny, kind friends and fans… I feel incredibly lucky and appreciate all of you so much. Thank you!
Anything you would like to add?
Johnson: Go see Little Boy on April 24th, and say hi on twitter or facebook, I always love hearing from fans!
Photo Courtesy of: Prime Entertainment Publicity, LLC