Written By: Jayme Face
Noel Johansen has been acting in all sorts of projects for nearly twenty years! You can catch this veteran actor in his latest project ABC’s Somewhere Between on Tuesdays 10/9 c.
upfrontNY: Can you tell us about Somewhere Between and your character Danny Jackson?
Noel Johansen: Yeah, for sure! It’s kind of a thriller. It’s described as a one hour drama about destiny and fate. It’s a thriller about family and the incredible drama that can occur within a family. There is a lot of action in it too. I’m trying to describe it without revealing anything, but I would describe it as a thriller that involves some intense stuff between family. It’s very edgy and that makes it really exciting. There’s a lot of twists and turns and that makes it really exciting.
My role Danny. He’s a pretty special person. He is mentally disabled to some degree. He is an emotional hero and I’m hoping everyone will react to him in a good way, an impactful way. I hope it furthers people’s understanding of what people with disabilities are capable of and how amazing they are. To play him was such an honor and a privilege because a lot of actors don’t get to do that. I did a lot of work on him and I felt like he inhabited me emotionally.
upfrontNY: How did you prepare to play him without seeming cliché or disrespectful in any way?
Noel Johansen: I think what was interesting is that I did some research online and learned quite quickly that this syndrome, which is deletion syndrome, it’s not autism. It has a lot of varied forms, so there’s extreme versions of it and there are very light versions of it, in other words imperceptible versions of it. I did research and there was a lot of negotiations both with the writer and the network on how strong his condition was and we came up with a nice balance. I think what really helped me was when I first got the audition I wasn’t sure how to play this guy because I had never done anything like that. Something in me woke up a deep vulnerability and I felt like Danny took over. He took over in the audition, he took over my call back, and he took over on set, in a good way. He was a character that needed to come to life in me and I’ve never experienced that before. I felt very fortunate. In a way, he chose me. I know to some folks it might sound weird, but that’s how it felt as an actor, as an artist.
I can tell you that there is loss and tragedy, but there’s an incredible love in it. After a lot of struggle that’s what comes out. It’s love and respect that’s earned through incredible struggle. It’s not just a show about people who have it made and that’s it. It shows that life takes a lot of effort and has incredible challenges and I think that speaks to a lot of folks. We all struggle with stuff.
upfrontNY: You said it was a thriller with twists and turns, did you know from the beginning how it was supposed to end or did they keep you guessing too?
Noel Johansen: I had no idea. We got the script week by week. None of us knew what would happen. So, in that way we were on the edge of our seats too. On a read through I would get stuff and then I’d get there on the day of filming and they had rewritten the scene. That made it exciting from an acting point of view. They did that because they are trying to figure out how the turn would be the most dramatic because these are all new characters. They were trying to make sense of ‘would this character do this?, how would they do it?’, especially when it came to struggles within the family and how people were treating one another. There were discussions on how that would go down within the characters’ framework. It was one of the most exciting times on set because of that element of not knowing. The directors gave us a lot of liberty. To some degree we were constrained by the story, but the directors were great and gave us a lot of liberty in terms of working around what we needed to work around.
upfrontNY: I read that it was based on a Korean format, is that true? Have you seen that show?
Noel Johansen: Yes! I did not, my remiss, did not see the show. I had a hard time getting ahold of it. That format is happening more and more. We saw stuff based on Danish shows like The Killing. It’s super interesting that this is based on a Korean show, but I haven’t seen it, unfortunately. I should probably see it because I’ve been asked that question before.
upfrontNY: Can you also tell us about Loudermilk?
Noel Johansen: That’s a comedy and Ron Livingston is in that and my scene is with him. And that’s super funny. That’s kind of like an edgy comedy, not a classic sitcom. It’s a fast-paced comedy. Ron Livingston is great. I work with him and my role in that was playing the head of an AA meeting. The funny part for me is that I held a drink in my hand. Ron is playing a group leader of AA who happens to drop by at my meeting and as soon as he sees me at the meeting with a drink in my hand, very cavalierly, he challenges that. Then an argument or a debate ensues, a funny one. It’s a great comedy.
upfrontNY: You have done film, TV, theatre, voice over, hosting, where did you get started and what do you like best?
Noel Johansen: That’s a great question. Having done more exciting roles in film and television recently I’m really falling in love with film and the subtlety of performance and the variety of performance and the ability to do the same scene over and over again makes it exciting. I don’t know if it makes it better, but I find you get to discover stuff. I had a long theatre background. Theatre was fantastic because of the energy of the audience, but you have one shot at it if you make a mistake on stage; there’s no take 2. It’s definitely an excitement and danger to that, but also an ephemeral sense because once it’s done it’s done. Yeah, you get to perform it the next night, but it’s a totally different experience. My mom was in theatre and she went on to school in England and quickly went on to be a director after that. She directed films with Patrick Stewart in his early day. I grew up with all of her theatre friends and she was a director and a teacher so I was surrounded by theatre my whole life. I probably saw more plays than I did film. That’s what initially got me started. I took a different path, I thought I was going to be a lawyer at one point in college. I tried to work in a law firm for a year and I just couldn’t hack it. I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t think around it, it just wasn’t my thing. I definitely needed to express myself, so it was off to drama school I went and I never looked back. I’ve been acting professionally about twenty years and in a variety of stuff, but initially in theatre.
upfrontNY: You have citizenship in three different countries and bounced back and forth growing up, what was it like growing up traveling so much?
Noel Johansen: Kind of crazy! My mom is American and my Dad is English and when my Mom was doing a program in Boston my father got an opportunity to go to University in Canada so she quickly moved up before I was born and I was born in Montreal. I ended up growing up there and then coming back to the states for college and then staying. It was great to grow up in Canada, it was a very safe and welcoming environment. It’s great because it’s trying to still figure out its own cultural sense of itself. Two parents coming from such strong cultures like America and England, what you might call strong empire cultures, and then growing up in a country that’s still trying to discover itself was interesting. I got two dramatically different views. One that is more perceptive and listening and one that is very powerful. So what I think that did to me was made me kind of a chameleon in many cultures. I also lived in Europe after high school. I lived in France for a year. Then, I went back to France in my studies in college. So, I learned to really be more of a listener in different cultures. It gave me an appreciation for difference.
upfrontNY: You have done voice over for some kids shows like Hot Wheels, I read you have a son, has he seen some of your work and does he know it’s you? What does he think?
Noel Johansen: Oh, yeah, he loves it. He’s seven. He discovered Hot Wheels probably when he was four or five because I had the discs from the show. He didn’t believe it was me, it was really cute. And now he’s evolved to the point where he’s not just recognizing me doing the stuff, but he wants to do it too. So, he’s doing funny voices and we play a lot and we’re kind of actually working on something right now. My wife does some animation and she paints and she draws, she’s actually drawing characters that we’re trying to work out. I don’t know if it will come to anything. He actually started doing voice overs, he’s in commercials. I think he may be following in my footsteps, but I’m certainly not pushing him. We have a lot of fun.
upfrontNY: What do you like to do for fun?
Noel Johansen: I sail. My dad was a sailor so I grew up sailing and my brother has a boat. We sail together a lot and that’s a lot of fun. That’s one of my big part time hobbies. I also do martial arts on the side. I have done it for a very, very long time. I do Taekwondo, it’s something I like to do on the side. I’m enjoying being a family guy. I like all of that and I love playing with my son.
upfrontNY: Have you ever you been able to utilize your hobbies in any roles you’ve done?
Noel Johansen: I have, absolutely. Unfortunately, in two kinds of debacles. One was in New York when I first started acting. The producer/ director got into an argument with one of the lead actors and it got physical and then the shooting stopped. I don’t think that movie was ever made.
Then I made a film that we shot it in Italy. We were super excited. We had shot two weeks on it. Unfortunately, the producer partnered up with a Danish Financier gal who said “Don’t worry I’ll take care of the production finances”. So, he gave her all the money she put it in a Swiss bank account two weeks later no body was paid and she skipped out. We had to shut down production. They called Interpol, which is the European police, and they tried to catch her because she skipped off to Denmark. I don’t think she ever got caught. So, I am a little wary, but if you ever approached me about a martial arts film I would want to make sure production is sound. It was so crazy we should have made a movie about making the movie. It was hilarious. The hotel owner handed us our bill and we hadn’t been paid so we didn’t know what to do.
I’ve used little moves in roles I’ve done. Nothing exciting yet, but I hope one day I do.