You may not know him by his name, but if you are a fan of smart, character-driven TV, you know Kenny Johnson. I identify with Kenny, mostly from his work on the Golden Globe-nominated series "Saving Grace," which also starred Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter. But there is a plethora of other series that Kenny has starred in, which include "The Shield, " "Cold Case," "Sons of Anarchy," and most recently "Bates Motel."
Kenny Johnson was born in New Haven, Connecticut and when he was a small child his family moved to a small town in Vermont. His father owned his own business, while his mother got interested in local politics. But Kenny's childhood was far from idyllic. Let's just say it was a very dysfunctional life, and Kenny did not fare easily as a child and young adult.
First his dreams were focused on athletics. But after he fractured a vertebra in his lower back, his dreams were broken as well. Kenny admits he has had a force leading him through his life and that this force took hold of Kenny when he surely should have perished. It was a wake-up call for Kenny.
So, what do you do when all your dreams are dashed and your life is a mess? That's right, you go to Hollywood.
With only $500 in his pocket and an airline ticket in his hand, Kenny traveled west of hopes of a better life, "I bought a really old car with $500 and I didn't know a soul. I got a job at Jack LaLanne's as a nutritionist. On rainy nights I slept in my car, and all other nights I slept in a sleeping bag on the roof of Jack LaLannes. I had no money, but I felt free. I learned from this that simplicity is the purest form of freedom."
What propelled Johnson into acting was a plea from a friend that was making a movie and had written a part just for Johnson, "I told him I wasn't an actor, but after he kept after me and I decided to do it as a favor for him. Once I was on the set and the director yelled, 'Action,' time stood still - just like in the movies. And at that moment I knew - this was what I was going to do with my life."
Johnson continued, "Becoming an actor was like facing all my insecurities and demons. But as uncomfortable as it was, I made myself seek out the best acting teachers in America. I was lucky to get to study with Larry Moss. He has coached about five Oscar-winning performances.
Now Johnson will be seen in two feature films this year. "Solace," a mystery thriller that also stars the great Anthony Hopkins and "Check Point," which a film hearkens back to movies like "Rambo."
In "Check Point," Johnson plays a Marine that upon returning home from his third tour of duty finds out that his entire family was killed while he was gone. The Marines kept this information from him until he had returned home and had been debriefed. The shocking news turns his character "Roy," into a homeless man. Living with Roy is another man that is autistic and tells of hearing that in their small town in North Carolina that there are plots to overthrow the government. At first, no one listens to this man, but soon Roy finds out that the plots are real and that many of the residents of their hometown have embraced a movement to overthrow the government. Basically, a story of home-grown terrorism.
It is Roy along with a band of brothers that stave off these terrorists from taking out the White House and stop them from overtaking the nation.
When Johnson is looking for the next part he looks for great writing, "I also look for characters that are flawed. I like humanizing dysfunction. There's a lot of things that I won't go out on, because I believe that if you're going to do something - it has to be something that is personally impactful and has meaning. I've turned down jobs that would have made me a lot of money, but I pick projects in which the writing speaks to me."
No doubt, that this approach to find his next role will always pave the way for good solid character building and parts that we, as filmgoers find interesting and long for when we enter a movie theater. You may not know Kenny Johnson by name, but it's certain you know his work. And how lucky are we for it?