Interview: Camrus Johnson from There’s…Johnny! chats about his new role

Courtesy: NBC Universal
Courtesy: NBC Universal /
Courtesy: NBC Universal
Courtesy: NBC Universal /

Camrus Johnson is hitting big in the new show There’s… Johnny!

You may not recognize the name but Camrus Johnson has all kinds of talent. Singing, acting, writing, artistic, maybe he can do a handstand with no hands? Born in Camden County, Georgia, he found acting at the age of 15. Where he learned that being creative in Drama counted as much as multiplying eight-figure numbers.

He just broke into Hollywood in 2013, so he is making his bones, but his talent is prevalent and obvious. You may have seen him in a couple of episodes in the Luke Cage series on Netflix. He is now in the comedy There’s… Johnny as Rasheed. The show stars Tony Danza and is produced by Paul Reiser.

Hidden Remote had a chance to chat with Mr. Johnson about his role as Rasheed, how black actors are being treated in today’s Hollywood, and future projects.

Hidden Remote: How’s your day been so far?

Camrus Johnson: Not bad. Been very busy. It should be over already. It’s only halfway. I have already been to two different auditions and to a celebrity charity event.

Hidden Remote: Busy is right! Tell me, what was it about acting that inspired you to take on such a difficult field?

Johnson: It was the only class where I could be in class and just play. I was so used to getting in trouble for talking too much and daydreaming in the class. If you are daydreaming in class you’re not paying attention; if you’re daydreaming in acting you’re working.

Hidden Remote: Right on, what kind of roles do you normally look for when hunting down movies or TV shows?

Johnson: I really enjoy the character that could be anyone. Anyone you could put in place as long as put in that essence of that character. Because coming from an African-American male actor I’m going for the “black guy” in the projects and what you’re going to be playing is the “black dude.”

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Sometimes it’s really cool because a lot of the characters like the one in There’s…Johnny, he is the black character. About his own struggles and talks about his own past and what it’s like being black. Who he was growing up, and then in other roles I get to be “that guy.”

You’re not really sure he could be anyone. He’s just like every man. A character that has complex levels to him. I really like someone who I can sort of create and embody, I like a character that already has levels that I’d like to be able to jump into that and add my own stuff on it.

Hidden Remote: Do you find that black actors are still being pigeonholed into the stereotypical role or do you see that diminishing? Where do you see that from the 1970s (Johnny Carson time period) compared to what is today?

Johnson: I mean it definitely getting better and it’s getting so much better for so many of us. A friend told me recently that black is in right now which is kind of cool because a year and a half ago I was auditioning for only drug dealers.

In the beginning of last year of ’16 in three weeks I went in for three different leads, three different projects, and every single one I was either selling drugs or selling guns. I was a rapper that got discovered and that was all the same person. There was no level, there was nothing I could show with them. It was just like I am the struggling black man. that wants to be, it’s like the story that we’ve heard a million times and that was just last year.

It’s not like those don’t exist yet you should be on-screen. But at the same time, there are so many different types of black people. There are black lawyers, there are black doctors, black nerds, those are the roles that I can’t go out very much because they aren’t on paper as much as they should be.

There are now avenues for black characters of all different shapes and sizes. Now we just were people we did what we’ve been wanting to be on camera for the longest time just like that guy could be black he could be white he could be Asian, he could be anything. It’s just not the black dude from the hood anymore.  Of course, there are plenty of us, still getting pigeonholed and playing those characters and hopefully that everyone will be able to break out of that in a way if they so desire. But I would say now we’re in a much, much, much better place than we used to be.

Hidden Remote: That’s good news. I have noticed that most big powerhouse films have Samuel L. Jackson or Denzel Washington as leads. It doesn’t seem like big studios want to take a chance on unknown black actors. Is that how you see it as someone who is not yet necessarily known nationally?

Johnson: Honestly I think that it goes for everybody. There are so many projects where people can say: “Oh, why did he get the part he is in every other movie?” I can’t ever say anything like that about them, Samuel L. Jackson or Denzel, because they are not only my heroes but they paved the way for so many of us to eventually get to where they are right now. They work just as hard as the rest of us.

So if seven different movies are looking for leads, and that is what we all want one day. I’m not going to say maybe they should do five and give me one to give my friend one. If they get seven then they deserve those seven because they’re hard workers. They are killer at what they do, and they’re good people.

In order for us to get to where we are it takes time. Denzel and Samuel L were not overnight successes. they’ve been working for years and it took them years to get to where they are.  It took me years to get to my first big project. That is what the rest of us just have to do we have to just put that same amount of work. I mean there’s so many different avenues to be the leads now.

There are millions of TV shows out and now you can create your own indy movies in addition to all the blockbuster movies that are out there right now. So if it is hard for me to get a lead in a blockbuster right now. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s a lot more possible to become a lead of an independent film. So many independent films are blowing up now that might at as well be a blockbuster film.

Then because there’s so much TV being a lead in a TV show isn’t nearly as hard because there are so many of them. So, I think it’s more so instead of saying it’s not fair that the big black male we all know are killing it. I think it’s more so when is it my turn to join instead of stepping in their place.

Hidden Remote: Do you feel that avenue is more open now than maybe what people realize; Where it is the same black actor playing the lead role. You find that you have a bigger chance or more of an opportunity to actually achieve that?

Johnson: Yeah definitely. Because it’s getting to the point now with there finally more characters that are being written for us because before we were sort of an afterthought. It’s like “oh man! We get a black guy here then all white people.” Don’t even get me started on Asian actors and Hispanic actors and you’ve got one black dude.

Now it seems to the point where not only are white actors starting to think they should embody more color in here, but it’s also just more black writers, and there is more writers of color and directors and producers of color.

Whenever we’re doing the casting the project was more normal for someone to say: “There is a lot of white people here.” Maybe you could spice it up a little bit maybe. Yeah, I’m starting to see that there’s more people noticing what a whitewashed project looks like.  I see a trailer and I only see white people, I’m thinking there has got to be a good reason for this because in my world I see every single color every single day and it’s not like that for everybody.

But there are so many different kinds of people in the world. And if you’re going to just have one type of person there has to be a very specific reason for it and if there is no reason for it then maybe we should talk about it.

Courtesy: NBC Universal
Courtesy: NBC Universal /

Hidden Remote: Let’s talk about your character Rasheed. What commonalities do you find in Rasheed that he dealt with in the 70s that he would deal with today?

Johnson: A lot. I mean Rasheed has this big piece where he talks about how hard it was growing up. How black people wouldn’t accept him, and white people wouldn’t accept him, and that was my upbringing.

I grew up in Georgia, and I didn’t really know what crowd to fit of all the black people. I didn’t feel black enough for them and they didn’t see me as black and they say: “Oh, you talk so white” because I talk clearly and I didn’t have much of an accent. Then the white people say: “Oh, well you know you’re not really black.” You are the whitest black person I know, you’re an Oreo. So they make me more white.

I’m sort of in between and that’s what me and Rasheed are similar because Rasheed comes from that same exact past. He grew up saying I don’t know where I belong because he was a black kid with doctor parents. It is a big secret that his parents are very successful. So what does he do?

He’s not more successful than the other black people, he is just as successful as the white people, in this neighborhood who does he run to?  And that’s that same sort of racism I can only imagine him being in the 70s and me being 12-17 isn’t  much different especially me being down south in Georgia.

There’s a scene where he (Rasheed) gets stopped by the police only because he is black. One reason I hate to drive because there’s a higher chance of me being pulled over. There’s a higher chance of me getting hurt. Similar in that regard.

Hidden Remote: When you when you’re playing Rasheed is there any real-life inspiration that comes out into him?

Johnson: I definitely put my own spin on it. I know in my in my original auditions, one of the things the casting director told me that she liked some of the ad-libs that I would do. Because in the script he was always very funny and was already very complex.

I want a piece of me to be in that person because I this is my take on it. I see Rasheed, but I see him in my own light. I want to make sure other people see him the way that I see him.

I want to make sure that his jokes sort of makes sense to the kind of person that he was. Because he was he’s a very angry dude that’s what he put on. He puts on his false anger, and this false machoism, and false strength, in a way to sort of push people away. Show them that he is really going to make it and he is fine. Not so much pushing people away, but more so at keeping them at arm’s length. I wanted people to be close to him, but just not too close too soon.

Hidden Remote: I saw a still picture of your character, it looks like your own apartment, and there’s a Jamaican flag hanging up. Is that any relevance to your character or is that just dressing?

Johnson: Yeah, I mean he is not Jamaican, he does not come from that heritage, but he is very black power. Very team black, very strong with his color. That’s the style he puts on. Anything that can say: “hey I’m Rasheed and I’m black.”

Hidden Remote: How does Rasheed fit in with Johnny Carson?

Johnson: Rasheed wants to be on his show more than anything. He’s a comedian. He is not getting huge opportunities. Especially as a black man, it’s hard for him to get his voice, and his jokes, and his personality, out there for people to know him, and see him or listen to him.

Johnny Carson is this huge legend, everyone loves and everyone knows, and his platform is perfect for Rasheed. If he can find a way to be on the show and perform. That’s it. That’s exactly what it takes him to the dreams that he’s chasing after.

Hidden Remote: Since Rasheed is a black comedian, did you do any research on someone like Richard Pryor?

Johnson: In the script, he is compared to Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson. I met his daughter I watch clip after clip after clip with Richard Pryor doing his thing, or watch an interview to see how funny he was just in conversation. I also watched Flip Wilson stand-up. I watched millions of clips of Johnny Carson interviews and a lot of his monologues as well.

I did three different stand-up shows. It wasn’t to anyone who is important is just for myself and my psyche and my mind. But all of my stand-up routines were improv because I wanted Rasheed to be more on his feet because he was on his feet in the script. I wanted him to know what it felt like to be on stage just like rush and just go forth and make fun of the false audience.

I’m acting like I’m being that sort of thing. I wanted to make sure I did some of his angry comedy to his soft comedy. He did a show that bombed, he did a show that killed, he did a show was in the middle. That was how I got into his mind and that’s how I got his jokes because I practice how he would do comedy because I have done stand-up before, and I loved it, but it felt like it wasn’t my world, at least not yet. My stand-up was a lot more innocent a lot more “hey I’m Camrus this is the joke now, I hope you laugh.” Rasheed is more like “I’m powerful. Laugh at my joke now.”

I wanted to flip the switch. Give him his own voice, and learn how he would embody comedy himself because every comedian is funny for different reasons and it was fun to figure out why Rasheed is funny.

Hidden Remote: I’m so ready to see this show. Since the show takes place in the 70’s, why do you think millennials will gravitate toward it?

Johnson: One thing that the millennial age will love about the show, is that you are watching the show in real-time. It is shot in current day, but it looks like it was shot back in the day. The archival footage you’ll see scenes and clips from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

You will never actually ever see Johnny Carson on camera because you can’t play Johnny Carson and you can’t fake him. So you see his hand, you see the back of his head. you hear his voice, but you won’t get to meet Johnny Carson unless you’re meeting the actual Johnny Carson in clips of his actual show.

It’s cool to be able to weave the present and the past. It can be seen the clips that he’s in and look at our cast backstage and we’ll do something that will directly affect the clips. So it seems seamless that we were actually there. Then it gets you to think what actually happened to make that happen in real-time back in the day.

The use of then and now is very interesting and also our leads Ian (Nelson) and Jane (Levy) play Andy (Klavin) and Joy (Greenfield) and they’re pretty young themselves mid 20s and early 20s and especially Andy’s character she embodies youth, and embodied’s innocence, and embodied’s vulnerability so well. I think people age enjoy that a lot.

It’s a fun experience to see them go from complete 19-year old boyhood to slowly at least one day becoming a man, because you start to see all of the darkness in the world that he has not experienced in Nebraska living with his parents, now that he is in L.A. and in the entertainment industry. All of these things that he was sort of aware of but not really aware of, and it’s kind of cool to see a young man going through learning and taking on responsibilities that he never had before.

Hidden Remote: I got a couple of fun fact questions. If you could pick any role to play in any movie what would it be?

Johnson: That’s a great question. I’m going to go with “Get Out” I’m not a huge fan of horror movies, but I didn’t know a horror movie could be like that. He embodies like black people talking about black people, but also a thriller, but also horror, but also comedy.

It was a very beautifully written script and the main character is so often funny and smart and worried and scared and threatened and strong. He’s so complex that he goes through so much throughout the film. That would have been a compelling role to play because I can’t imagine going to set every day and like basically every scene the character was feeling something completely different. I would love to have experience that myself. Uhhh, that would have been great!

Hidden Remote: Let’s say you’re going in for an audition. The role you will play is super energetic almost to the point of being ADHD. Just all over the map. What song do you choose and why?

Johnson: I might have to go with Caroline by Nene. That’s my song. Every time I come down I can’t bring my friends with you. If I’m driving in the car and they let me put that song on. I am a mess. That is my go-to pump song, it is the song that wakes me up in the morning. The song gets me so hype.  Every time it comes on.

Hidden Remote: Tell us where we can find you on social media and what may be in store for us in the future.

Johnson: All right well you can find it on Facebook Instagram and Twitter pages, and as far as what’s coming up next, I recently booked the role of Randy in the E-network pilot Fashion Victim starring Ella Fitzgerald.

Hidden Remote: Oh, right on!

Johnson: I’m very stoked about it. I am very super stoked about it. I am a series regular in that. We are shooting the pilot right now in hope to get a whole season next year and be shooting that sometime next year. So people look out for that. If the pilot airs, please check it out!

Besides that I’m recording a couple of songs that I will release next year and writing some pilots. I’m trying to pitch and writing some indie films.

Hidden Remote: Oh man, I didn’t know you were writing too, that’s rad!

Johnson: Ya man, it’s sorta of my low-key hustle. I have two different comedy pilots, one I’m waiting for coverage on and the other one is with Evan Shapiro who was behind There’s… Johnny! I also have a comic book that I’m going to try to release next year and eventually adapting to a feature. I have a heist film to rewrite. I have a drama proof of concept that needs to shoot next year and adapt to a feature.

Be sure to check out Camrus Johnson in There’s Johnny, as well as his future projects!