Interview: CEREMONY actor Jake Johnson

Chase Whale

by: Chase Whale
April 8th, 2011

Jake Johnson should be in every movie. In the only two I've seen him in (PAPER HEART and CEREMONY, respectively), he's stolen the show. His comedy and comedic timing is top notch. I met Johnson almost two years ago when he was touring with Charlyne Yi for PAPER HEART; to show you just how much fun these two are, check out our video interview with the duo.

I saw CEREMONY at TIFF and have since wanted to speak to the crew about the film (interviews with writer/director Max Winkler and actor Michael Angarano coming soon). This was made possible when I met Winkler and Angarano at SXSW. Max connected Johnson via email, where the below interview was conducted. Read on as we discuss CEREMONY and taking chances with first time directors. Also, stay tuned for Alanna's interviews with Winkler and Angarano.

How did you get your start into acting?

I did a two man show in NYC called The Midwesterners with one of my oldest friends Oliver Ralli. We were directed by another friend of ours, Bill Bungeroth (now the director of Chicago's Second City Main Stage). We performed throughout NYC and toured the country performing in any festival that would take us. After years of performing on stages, I moved out to Hollywood and started grinding my way up through commercials, one line parts, etc.

You’ve worked with Max Winkler before on Clark and Michael - is this how you got involved with CEREMONY?

Yes, after working on "Clark and Michael" Max and I started working on multiple ideas together. When CEREMONY came together, he told me from the beginning he wanted me in his movie (he just didn't know for which part). He was forced to put me through the ringer, though. I auditioned at least five times for it. But Max was always in my corner. Max is truly a good person to have fight for you. He's loyal, talented and fierce.

From the beginning of pre-production, were you always supposed to play Teddy?

No. Teddy was originally written as British. As soon as Zoe became Uma Thurman, Max started considering me as Teddy. We had to rethink and refind the character, but Max and I like a lot of the same stuff. The note Max would give me throughout production was, "Weirder, Jake. Go for it." It's probably the best direction I've ever gotten.

Your character is constantly drunk and pretty much does whatever he wants - what was it like during shooting?

Like that...I'm kidding. It was a really fun shoot. Max let me have a lot of freedom and he really respects his actors, so we were able to try things and feel ownership. I couldn't imagine a better working experience.

You play Uma Thurman’s brother in the film, how intimidating was it playing along side such a brilliant actor?

She's a great actor and made it very comfortable to act with.

You’ve been in a lot of large studio films in a co-starring role. Do you think it’s easier and less pressure to have a lasting career in film by doing that vs. taking the leads and having to keep up the box-office numbers?

I do. I'm also at a stage of my career where I feel I have a ton to learn and so not being the lead takes some pressure off. Acting in movies/TV is so different than acting on stage, so it's a process. I am not in a huge rush to be the main guy. I am also not in a huge rush to be a big movie star guy, either. I'd be very happy being a working character actor, as long as I'm working a lot.

Your comedic timing is flawless - do you have any aspirations for plans to direct a feature?

Thanks, Chase. Yes, I would love to direct. I am using the time of being on sets now to absorb as much as I can in terms of lenses, set-ups, etc. Hopefully one day, I have the opportunity to direct, but, like being the lead in a project, I am in no rush.

What can you tell us about two of your upcoming films, JUNK and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED?

I'm not allowed to say much about SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED besides that I am really excited to be working with such talented people and with a great script (I don't know much of anything about JUNK, I worked for a day on it because Jasenovic asked me to. They all seem like nice people, though, but I'm in the dark on it.)

Some of your work has been with first time directors. How do you go about deciding to take a chance with that person?

As an actor I like being given some freedom, but I also like the director to have a vision. In terms of first time directors, I like to meet with them, get a drink, and see if we see the script in the same way. If we do, and we see the process of actually making a film the same way, then I like to roll the dice and see what we can make. At the end of the day, you gotta gamble a little in this business.

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