Jenna Johnson “The Watchers”

Jenna Johnsonis a multi-talented flourishing actress and artist in LA. Open hearted, courageous, and self-expressed, she believes that mass empowering change can be achieved through a successful career in entertainment. Jenna was the lead of the supernatural short film “The Graveyard Shift”. She studied Theatre and Gender Studies at the Northwestern University. Jenna has danced professionally in Chicago with Culture Shock Hip Hop Dance Co. and Be The Groove, a rhythmic performance ensemble.

Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.

Welcome Jenna. Tell us about yourself.

HaHa!!!  Oh my, what a question.  Me.  About me…?  How bout, I’m a collage of many things.  I’m a Chicago suburban bred big family loving gal, an irrational stubborn dreamer, a grounded, hippy spirit, a loner who LOVES to connect with you, and a huge passionista of the holistic health world – specifically in regards to how foods and living a life that you love are the root of your health.  I attribute my love for life, sense of play, humor, and work ethic to my family and suburban neighbor filled upbringing.  I attribute Chicago, the city itself, for giving me the affirmations I needed professionally to know that I am meant to be in this business.  And L.A. – MY LOVE – I attribute to breathing life back in to me and continuing to fill me with inspiration.  I found HOME in the grander sense in L.A.  It’s a city that celebrates energy and has made an industry out of the mysterious thing. 

P.S.  I am the black sheep of my family and the only one out of my 3 sibs and tons of cousins to have moved across the country to pursue an artistic field.  I’m a believer that you don’t need to have grown up in NYC taking Broadway voice lessons all your life to be in this business and am continually reminding myself that no matter how stressed I might get when things don’t appear to be happening in my career on the ideal timeline I may have in my head, that it is never ACTUALLY too late… and that goes for anything.

Describe your passion and why did you get into acting?

My passion and why… well, as early as I knew how to spell things, I would create lists of the things/professions that I wanted to be when I grew up.  And these lists were LONG!  At the top of this list was ALWAYS ‘actress.’  It was often followed by: dancer, singer, scientist who develops cures, witch, fortuneteller, fashion designer… but to be an ACTRESS was always the pinnacle.

I had a strong desire to be ‘known’, ‘understood’, ‘seen’ and ‘expressed’, which acting embodied for me.  And as an actress, I would be able to live out ANY life possibility, therefore having the opportunity to play and believe myself to be in so many versions of life – which was PERFECT for my imaginative, I want to do everything see everything self.  I could ‘save the world’ with my voice because people would listen.  And then I could retire young and still become a scientist.

My lists, at least when young, were harmless in my parents’ eyes, so I was never convinced I couldn’t be everything I dreamed.  As I got older, so as to save me from disappointments, my parents and other well-meaning adults began to instill fear into me regarding my acting dreams (all out of love) but it was too late to detour me.  Thank, God (smiles). I also realized early, it was also the most AWESOME feeling to make people laugh…I was THE storyteller of my family and probably of my grade school up until 2nd grade or so.  I made up crazy stories…my favorite being one called Buttmeat I believe. 

I do have to say that as I’ve gotten older, my passion and reasons why I am an actress have matured.  To me, acting is a lifelong study of people and living itself, a goal without an end and I like that.  What I thrive on most in life is connecting with people in a really intimate way and as well as connecting magnitudinally.  These interactions always seem to take place in the artistic communities I involve myself in, as well as in the conversations had in a play or film.

Talk to us about your “Chronicles of the Dead” experience.

Let’s see, Chronicles of the Dead came about due to one of those ‘you meet everyone for a reason,’ happenstances.  The creators of Chronicles of the Dead are an extremely talented young bunch of film makers (3N Films) whom I’d auditioned for 2 years ago for a previous project, called The Monica 90404.  I’d booked a role for a season two character of theirs but production was cut short after season 1.  We maintained a strong relationship though from it all and 2 years later I get the call that they’re putting together this epic zombie chronicles series and that they’d like me to take part in it by playing a guest role in their episode #3.  I answered with nothing short of a ‘HELL YEAH!’

I played the role of Rachel, a friend of the 3 main characters, who finds herself knocked out in the passenger seat of her now dead friend’s car at the beginning of the episode after trying to escape the sudden zombie apocalypse.  After my shock, I try to make it by foot amidst bloody body strewn streets to my friends’ apartment, and…?

The role was a BLAST.  I got to play really physically, which was a first for me.  It involved many takes of me running and hyperventilating and reacting to a very realistic, dedicated, enthused group of zombie actors.  The makeup for this show was stellar, fun, and messy.  I love messy.  How often does one get makeup guts to play around with?  Loved every bit of the experience.

The show is still slowly being leaked to the public bit by bit.  Keep an eye out for it!

What’s your one best gig thus far?

Wow, well, this year has been quite a year.  It’s been a huge health-healing year for me, which took up a majority of my focus for many months, because without your health, you have no actor tool.  During my most significant body altering time (a highly restrictive food regimen was necessary to beat an infection and constant fatigue), I was in rehearsals for my first live performance Burlesque role.  I hadn’t danced professionally since Chicago, and loved making movement a part of my life again in this bigger way.  I was also in awe of my body and its transformation throughout this time and loved that I had dance as a way to celebrate my return to health.  

I’m not sure if I would call this particular show my best gig.  It was a show called the TONY CLIFTON SHOW (a raunchy, blasphemous, comedy review show with the epic legend, Tony Clifton).  BUT it was a show that challenged me, was exactly what I’d asked for (which is empowering), and was my biggest step thus far into playing a titillating role that celebrated my sensuality, playfulness and stage spark.

Besides this live role, I’d also say that my first ever-significant live role was perhaps my most significant.  In 6th grade, I had the opportunity to be in the JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT in Chicago with Donny Osmond.  Being a part of such an inspiring talented adult cast as a little one COMPLETELY affirmed that acting and the magic it created and magnetism I’d feel on stage, that it needed to be a part of my life. 

Any upcoming projects you would like to discuss?

Oooohhh yes!  This month and next are VERY exciting for me.  I am working on a fantasy action web-series called The Watchers where I play Sasha, who is part of an order of warriors dedicated to protecting the mortal world from its supernatural counterpart. I will be a Waitress in a short called ‘A Little Tip’ that plays around with racial and sexual political ideas shooting end of Nov.  And in December have plans to shoot my first druggy role in a passion project of young filmmaker/actor Sam Brodie (brilliant), as well as a short that my friend Lane Thomas and I will both act and produce, that is written by Lane.  It’ll be a short breakup piece in the vein of the film LIKE CRAZY.  Where the loose dialogue but strong story line points will lend itself to improvisation and a real authentic relational feel. 

And all as a Red Head!  Up until November I’d been a natural blonde.  Against much advice (mainly loved ones trying to save me from making a perhaps regretful and high maintenance requiring change), I took the plunge that I’ve been wanting to do for years, and dyed my do.  I could not be MORE pleased.  I feel a natural red head already, and am ‘passing’ as natural as well, so ssshhh don’t tell anyone otherwise.  The color lends itself to my playing spunkier, quirky and attitudinal roles that I enjoy and instinctually resonate with.  

What are your leisure time activities?

Oh MY.  My leisure activities include practicing yoga, exploring coffee shops that intrigue me…love trying new places and love traveling to new cities and infiltrating the local scene, reading spiritual/personal growth-ing books, writing poetry with no concern of perfection (the one area I have had the least study in and least amount of self-judgment which often leads to inspiring result), walking around a boutique laden street and conversing with shop owners in that bigger way – with the intention of making someone’s day.  Know what I mean?  Oh and dancing, whether to my favorite song on repeat while walking down the street (currently obsessed with Electric Guest’s ‘This Head I Hold’) or in a class, most likely at Hollywood’s The Edge dance studio.   

If you could live anywhere where would you build your dream home?

I am consistently seeing and spending time in many cities over this current chunk of months for acting and promotional work, and falling in love with SO many areas. I was recently in Alexandria, VA and was completely charmed by its liveliness, historic feel, walkability, and autumn colors.  Right now, I am in Seattle at a quirky coffee shop in an old crooked building with odd furniture and a fake fireplace that makes me feel as if I’m sipping on coffee in a dollhouse.  I’m digging Seattle too.  Can I return to you later with an answer to this question?  Right now, I can imagine a happy future vision of myself in too many places.

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