Wayne W. Johnson: Actor, Musician, Songwriter, Nice Guy
After facing Battledogs, becoming Lord of Vampires, and trekking aboard the Enterprise, Wayne W. Johnson sits down with The Ghoul...
by Azriel Mordecai
When I first met Syracuse, NY-based actor/musician Wayne W. Johnson, he was dressed like Paul Stanley as the Starchild of KISS, having just performed a set as “CAROLINE KISS”, a special alter-ego of his long-running rock band CAROLINE BLUE. A tall and approachable person, he's hard to miss in any room, yet dressed like a 70s glam rock icon, he's impossible to not remember. Fast forward a few years and he has become a friend and I have been fortunate enough to spend time working with him in CAROLINE BLUE, lending my bass playing to some performances over the years. But beyond music, there is another side to Wayne W. Johnson as an actor that has become increasingly prominent in his life, and for which he has developed a well-earned reputation. In just two short years, the actor has appeared in Retro Films' Star Trek: Phase 2 in a recurring role, Wolfbain Productions' Tales of Dracula, WLPFilms/Duke Studios' Night of Something Strange, Infectious Films' SyFy TV Movie Battledogs, Hewitt Films' Transformation, Mad Angel Films' Slade Collins & The Tree of Life, and Monstrous Entertainment/Stealing Shade Productions' The Dollmaker, among others.
With numerous projects in the works at any given time, he's a busy fellow, but perhaps due to our friendship, or (most likely) due to his incredible temperament as a human who's always willing to have a chat, he agreed to be interviewed for Sci-Fan Horror. Despite setbacks (on my part mostly), the affable Mr. Johnson happily went with the flow and provided a wealth of insight into different types of art. For those who have been familiar with Johnson primarily through music, his recent "transition" into acting may seem sudden, yet he reveals that it has been the result more of an evolution.
“I started out performing in school plays during 5th-7th grade. For my 11th grade Spanish class, I filmed a few commercials & a music video. During my college years, I shifted towards music and gained both a Bachelor's Degree in Music (graduating Magda Cum Laude) and an Associates Degree in Humanities. After years of focusing primarily on music, I shifted my focus towards the path of acting. Music has always been around me in one form or another. Growing up I'd tinker with different instruments... but never really got serious about it until the end of my high school days. The reasons for me doing so are, in hindsight, kinda lame in my opinion. Part of it was peer pressure (a lot of the kids I was hanging out with back then were either musicians and/or fans of heavy metal music) and also because, back then, I couldn't get laid to save my life.
“When I went to college, I started to get serious about music for music's sake.-I even got a Bachelor's Degree in Music. Acting was also in the cards growing up. I'd done a number of school plays and, towards the end of high school, I took a theater class. I wasn't really serious about it, but I was getting really good reactions to what I was doing and it was a lot of fun. So basically, I was kind of at a cross roads on which way to go towards the end of high school -music or acting. I chose music, mainly due to the reasons stated earlier. Fast forward to the 2000's. Music was becoming very frustrating for me due to several reasons -which will all be in the upcoming book "WAYNE -THE BOOK".....available where better products are sold! [Laughs]”
AM: What sparked this frustration?
WWJ: I vividly remember during one of CAROLINE BLUE's video shoots that almost everyone seemed miserable but me [Note: the author was not working with the band at this point and has never actually known Wayne to be “miserable”]. I was doing what I do in front of the camera and having a great time. In fact, more fun than I'd had in awhile. In effect, the acting side of me was starting to re-awaken. One of the producers who filmed our music videos, Ron Bonk, also did indie movies and I got to be an extra in one of them (Ms. Cannibal Holocaust). Then I got a different role in another film, then another, etc. Each time I was getting more positive and encouraging responses with what I was doing. Around the same time, the lineup that was in CAROLINE BLUE collapsed (again) and, not too long afterwards, I got laid off from my job. I sat down and, after reviewing my options, decided to see what I could do with acting. I made a conscious decision that I would approach this a little differently than music. So far, things are progressing slowly but surely.”
Nicola Fiore (l.) and Wayne W. Johnson (r.) behind the scenes on the set of SRS Cinema's Ms. Cannibal Holocaust (2009).
There's an unmistakable quality to the music of CAROLINE BLUE, for those who have not heard them. Speaking both as an outsider and as an insider, I think of it as fun music that hearkens back, quite self-admittedly, to bands like KISS, which had served as an influence for Johnson, though he says he has “only a handful of bands and musicians that I would say are my 'favorites'. With some exceptions, I'm more a fan of individual songs than bands.”
While musicians are easier to pinpoint, in terms of influences and background, actors are often much less easily analyzed and taken apart. Not surprising, Johnson says he looks upon actors with the same mindset as musicians. “Two of my heroes while growing up were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Lee, but not due to their acting per say (although I did enjoy what they did in their projects). My admiration was more for their drive and focus. I didn't really start looking into acting styles and methods until I'd already done my typical 'throw myself into the deep end and start swimming' approach... some of my favorite scenes (that immediately come to mind) involve Ricardo Montalbán in Star Trek 2: The Wraith of Khan, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, and Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.”
AM: Having had the good fortune to share the stage with you, I've noticed that you never really seem nervous or uncomfortable performing. It seems to come easily for you. Is this practice or are you really good at hiding your nerves?
WWJ: First of all -thanks, Az! [Laughs]. On the one hand, a lot of it boils down to repetition. You do something enough times and you start to become more relaxed while doing it. I will say though, that if there's a pause in that -especially a long one- I will admit to getting a little nervous. Things stay that way till the “auto-pilot” part kicks in. On the other hand, I just deal with it differently. Anyone who knows me knows I tend to crack a lot of jokes-usually bad and/or cheesy ones [Laughs] It's not all just me being a wise ass. Doing that, at least initially, was a way of diverting the nervous energy I had into another outlet. Now, that doesn't mean that, when one hears me cracking jokes, I'm nervous. I've been doing it for so long that it's a like a habit now so I can still be quite calm before hitting a stage or being filmed while still throwing a number of cornball jokes out there. I just know when the time comes, I'm going to do the best that I can at that point.
Johnson performs with his band CAROLINE BLUE, including a certain interviewer on bass guitar...
AM: Does your experience performing as a musician help you as an actor?
WWJ: What I currently lack in actual acting training and technique, I can -in part- make up for what I've done in music... specifically being a performer. And when I say that, I don't mean any musician who has performed live. Yes, by definition, if you have done that, you are a performer. But when I use the term (as well as others who have used it in this way), it's one who doesn't just stand like a statue on stage totally focused on making sure they make no mistakes. My Paul Stanley (KISS) influence comes into play here. Not to brag, but while performing onstage in bands I've jumped off stages, run into crowds, jumped up on bars, done all sorts of moves... not to mention falling on my ass more times than I can count [Laughs]. In addition, for most of my life I've been in front of a camera-whether it be a still or video- so that has helped as well. Another thing that has helped me by doing music is learning to not care so much about what other people think of what you do. I mean, constructive criticism is fine, but there's no room in your life for destructive criticism. I just go out and do what I do. If people like it, great. If they don't, fine.
Wayne W. Johnson as Mr. White in Mad Angel Films' Night Run (2011).
When I was working with CAROLINE BLUE, one of the things I remember the most was the conversations after rehearsals, which often went off into tangents on music and musicians or -just as often- pop culture jokes and references to Star Wars and Star Trek, etc. and one of the things I couldn't wait to ask was how he had ended up in a respectable Star Trek fan production like Phase II.
Johnson as Ensign Dawson Walking Bear behind the scenes on Star Trek: Phase II (2013).
For those Trek fans on SFH who are unfamiliar, Star Trek: Phase II (formerly Star Trek: New Voyages) [www.startreknewvoyages.com \ www.facebook.com/startrekphase… ], launched on the internet in 2003, the brainchild of James Cawley and Jack Marshall. Faithfully set in the Original series universe, it serves as a direct second chapter of the Original Star Trek series, continuing the stories of Kirk, Spock and company aboard the USS Enterprise. It features noticeably faithful sets and props, and has even featured original cast veterans George Takei and Walter Koenig, both of whom reprise their iconic characters Sulu and Chekov. I had not known Wayne to be a Trekkie (or Trekker, if you prefer), so was surprised -and admittedly a tad jealous- that he had become a part of the cast. I was curious how it had come about and what it was like working behind the scenes on the popular web series.
“Back in 2011 a friend of mine, Jeff Forsyth, posted on Facebook that Phase 2 was looking for extras for a corridor scene in an episode they were currently filming called Mind Sifter. I was a fan of the original series and some of the movies -my favorite being Star Trek 2: The Wraith of Khan- so that helped. In addition, I thought it would be cool to be seen wearing a Starfleet uniform for a filming project, even if it was just a few moments so...
“I contacted Patty Wright and sent my resume and head shot. Not long afterwards she contacted me and made me an offer. At that time, Phase 2 didn't have a “Sulu”. Now, I couldn't play “Sulu” for several reasons (although I can do a fairly decent “Oh My!”) [Laughs] but I could play a character from the animated series named Ensign Dawson Walking Bear. It would be only for this episode and I'd have lines. Of course I said 'yes'.
“So I get there and we get all set up for the first scene I'm in. We did a first pass and we all did our lines. Before the next pass, executive producer and head of Phase 2, James Cawley, asked me to come over to another area to have a word with him. I'm thinking to myself 'Did I blow the lines that bad?' It turned out that, not only were the lines fine, but James asked if I wanted to become a permanent cast member for Phase 2, to which I replied 'yes'. We went back and he made the announcement right then & there. Then it was back to work!” [Laughs]
Since one of the most well known aspects of the Star Trek culture is the convention circuit that fans ravenously populate, I couldn't help but ask him if he had ever thought about attending one of the Star Trek conventions dressed as his character, just for fun.
“It's possible -especially if I was going as part of a group with Phase 2. That would be up to them though. Conventions might also be part of the picture if one of the projects I'm in takes off -especially in the horror genre. In fact, I just did one recently at the RoberCON Roberson Museum [ www.roberson.org/exhibits-even… ] and Science Center Convention with members from a film I did called "Tales of Dracula." [ www.facebook.com/TalesOfDracul… ] I played the role of "Dracula" in this.” (You can view the trailer here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=13HWkC…).
Johnson as Dracula in Wolfbain Productions' Tales of Dracula (2013).
Q: What was it like filming the SyFy TV movie Battledogs and how did that come about?
WWJ: A few of the guys who are involved with Star Trek: Phase 2 were also in contact and involved with the production company for Battledogs called Infectious Films LLC. So I got a heads up about it while it was all coming together. In fact, I was told that if I was SAG (I'm currently SAG Eligible), the chances would have been good that I could've landed a small speaking role. But I'm not union, so all I could do was extra work, which was fine. One day...” He trails of with a smile.
In an effort to cover all of the bases of SFH's members, I couldn't help but pose a recent poll question to him: which was his favorite genre: horror, fantasy, or science fiction. The actor, who has done two of the three genres, doesn't miss a beat. “I'd probably say fantasy, although science fiction isn't too far behind. I'm a former hardcore Advanced Dungeons & Dragons / Magic: The Gathering / Warhammer freak, so... It's kind of ironic that initially, I wasn't really into horror that much (although I did play some games of Call of Cthulhu back in the day) yet I've done a number of horror projects. I'm definitely learning to appreciate the horror genre more as time goes on.”
AM: What books or films in these genres would you recommend?
WWJ: The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett and the Thomas Covenant books by Stephen R. Donaldson are novels that immediately come to mind. In regards to films it's The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek 2: The Wraith of Khan, the Conan movies with Arnold in them (I haven't seen the remake as of yet) and many of the superhero movies -especially The Dark Knight & The Avengers.
AM: So, Wayne W. Johnson is an actor and a musician. Can you tell us something about yourself that might surprise people?
WWJ: Hopefully that I'm not a blow up doll in some other country [Laughs]. I sometimes have this strange detachment from what I do. For example, when I'm watching a film I'm in, I know it's me but it's almost like I'm not watching me, I'm watching someone else. It's kind of surreal, in my opinion. I also have writing aspirations, so if someone comes up with a safe way to clone humans that's cheap, call me! [Laughs]
AM: Aside from acting and music, what else do you enjoy? Any hobbies or fun stuff you do in your down time?
WWJ: [Smiling] Down time? What's that? Sleeping is one of my favorite hobbies! I like to read, although I don't always make the time for that as I should. As I am learning more about acting, I'm starting to slowly catch up on TV shows & movies. I would love to get back into gaming, but I can't currently justify the time for it. I do my best to keep in shape although, admittedly, I think I could do more. Father Time is slowly catching up!
Johnson as Ben in the Rome Capital Theater stage production of Night of the Living Dead (2013).
While most people think of DeviantArt as a place for physical art, all art has fallen under its umbrella, so I was curious what an actor-slash-musician might bring to the table by way of insight or advice for other artists, regardless of the mediums in which they work. For actors, he muses: “I would definitely recommend people watch "Inside The Actors Studio" if you can. There's some great stuff to absorb from almost every episode (that I've seen so far).” Pressed a little further, Wayne's calm demeanor becomes reflective and philosophical. He chooses his words carefully and thoughtfully:
“Well, first, believe in yourself. I know that sounds simplistic & basic, but notice I said 'first'. People, in general, are always looking for that 'one thing' to make it all happen. In my opinion, there is no just 'one thing'. There are many things involved... believing in yourself is part of your foundation. If you don't believe that you can do the thing (or things) you want to do and/or be, who will?
“Second, develop what I like to call your 'armor.' In my opinion, everyone is entitled to their opinion and if you put your stuff out for public consumption, you will hear it -whether you want to or not... [Smiles] You should always welcome constructive criticism and always disregard destructive criticism. Also take note of who is giving the criticism. Anyone can be a backseat driver, but are they talking from experience or snarkiness? Always remember that regardless of who is dishing it out and what is being said, you have the final decision to heed it or not. Someone may have a valid criticism but you may have very strong convictions that tell you not to heed it. Then again, perhaps down the road, you'll hear that again but this time it resonates with you. In the end, it is your path and your decisions that help you move towards, or away, from your destination.
“Third, get your work out there -you never know who might see it. Having said that, don't put all your hopes on being 'discovered' by some famous label, studio, manager, etc. Focus mainly (but not only) on doing quality work -both in terms of the products you are in and in your performances in them. Many people seem to think in extremes. Either you are a actor on the status of Brad Pitt, or you're nobody. I don't subscribe to that theory. There are many levels in between, much like there are steps on a ladder. Also, many people seem to think that if your stuff is good enough, you don't need to promote it cause if it is good enough, it will spread via word of mouth. I, for the most part, don't subscribe to that theory either. While word of mouth promo is good, its not a 'be all, end all. ' In my opinion, you have to put it out there. I sometimes get criticized for doing so much promo on my activities. Now, if it was just the exact same five things I was promoting over and over 20-plus times a day, they'd have a point. All I do is the same thing that publicity houses do for their clients, only to a much lesser degree cause I can't afford to pay for that -so I have to do it on my own.
“Fourth, network as much as you can. Find out who is doing stuff at the levels you want to be at and work on getting into those networks and /or ones that are similar. Not all, but a large number of networks will search from within their circles for people they need and if that doesn't work, THEN they go to the outside. Ever notice when you see casting calls for major movies, for many of them, it's just for minor support (if that), day player and/or extras roles? Now you know part of the reason why.
“Fifth, always work as much as you can to improve what you do. Always set the bar higher -even if it's just a tiny bit at a time. While it's important to network, it's not going to do you any good if you don't have the talent and/or skills to back it up when the opportunities arise. Get as much experience and training as you can.
“Sixth, get wise on business. Does that mean you have to learn as much as an entertainment lawyer does? No. But learn the basics. Learn enough so that you know what's going on and at least might be aware of when someone is trying to do something shady. As you climb the ladder, it's not a matter of IF someone is going to screw you over, it's WHEN (and how many times) -many times from people and places you'd never expect. This can be quite a challenge because many creative people have an aversion to business matters for many reasons. It depends on your goals. If you want to create and just enjoy it at home, that's fine. However, if you want to make a living at what you do (even if it's just enough to pay the bills week to week) and/or do stuff for public consumption, you owe it to yourself to spend some time on the business side of things.
AM: So, what's on the horizon for Wayne W. Johnson and where should we be on the lookout to see or hear you next?
WWJ: With acting -and there's more but currently they are just in the talking stages- The release of Tales of Dracula in Spring 2014... Look out for the release in the coming months of a film I did in Virginia named Night of Something Strange [www.nossmovie.com]. I play the lead zombie "Cornelius." If you like "Evil Dead" style horror, I believe you will like this.
Johnson as Cornelius in WLPFilms/Duke Studios's Night of Something Strange (2011).
“I just recently finished filming with Transformation [ www.facebook.com/pages/HEWITT-… ] (for Hewitt Films). In this I play a demon named "Malachi" -one of my favorite roles to date. Let's just say I've been told that my performance in this so far is 'creepy.' [Laughs] I've already been cast for a role in a film called Slade Collins 2: In & Out of Time by Mad Angel Films (I was in the 1st one and still have one scene left to finish) and filming for that is scheduled to start in February 2014. I also have a final few scenes to film in a film by MAF called The Crimson Moon where I play a vampire named "Victor". [ www.facebook.com/madangelfilms ]
Johnson as the vampire Varg in TorchMan Films' The Vampire (2013).
“...In addition, the following projects that I've done will hopefully be released within the next year or two including.... Fallen Angels, Sins of a Father, Slow Food, To Have & To Hold, The Challenger, the F.I.T. To Survive Web Series, Spud, The Dollmaker, (the) Star Trek: Phase 2 episodes Mind Sifter, Bread & Savagery, and The Holiest Thing, Iris... Losing Grace, She Kills [Note: the interviewer also appears in this film in a brief role as a gang member], Briarwood, Memory...
“...With acting taking up so much time, it's hard to do music (hence why I currently have my band CAROLINE BLUE set up the way it is), but here's some stuff I'm aiming at... Plans are being made for filming 1 or 2 new CAROLINE BLUE concept videos in the coming months, possible new shows with CAROLINE BLUE (the last being in Syracuse, NY on May 4, 2013)... working on a new CAROLINE BLUE CD/EP, a possible 1 or 2 shows involving the same guys who I did a one off KISS tribute benefit show back in 2005...
“With OTHER THINGS... Possibly something from the writing realm. I have already started on something (and no, it's not 'WAYNE -THE BOOK!' [Laughs] I shouldn't be the one writing that, cause it would be SUCH an ego fest) [Laughter]. I've also done some script writing and there's a couple I need to finish up on with some co-writers. Thanks for the questions Az and I want to give a big thank you to all those who have supported me throughout the years. It is deeply appreciated more than you'll ever know!“
You can keep up with whatever Wayne W. Johnson or CAROLINE BLUE is doing at the following sites:
WWJ WEBSITE www.waynewjohnson.com/
WWJ ON FACEBOOK www.facebook.com/wwjofficial
WWJ ON TWITTER twitter.com/WWJ13
WWJ ON IMDB www.imdb.me/waynewjohnson
WWJ ON YOU TUBE www.youtube.com/user/WWJOffici…
CAROLINE BLUE WEBSITE carolineblue.com
CAROLINE BLUE ON FACEBOOK www.facebook.com/carolineblueo…
CAROLINE BLUE ON TWITTER twitter.com/caroline_blue
CAROLINE BLUE ON YOU TUBE www.youtube.com/user/CarolineB…
CAROLINE BLUE ON REVERBNATION www.reverbnation.com/carolineb…
Azriel "The Ghoul" Mordecai
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