Kenny Johnson’s had the fortune of being involved in two massively successful and important shows on the FX Network in The Shield and Sons of Anarchy. After his turn as Lemansky truly opened eyes to his skill and his character’s fate served as THE pivotal moment in that show’s run he’s been appearing in a variety of roles before landing on Shield alum Kurt Sutter’s biker show. As Kozik, it appears Johnson may be hunkering down for another important run as his character has quickly become a vital man of action for the SAMCRO biker gang. Additionally, his relationship and antagonism with CHUD favorite Kim Coates (whom I poorly doodled while on the phone for this interview) has led to a lot of fun moments over this season. With the finale looming this evening, I was able to have a quick chat with the actor who as it turns out was once ranked in the top ten in the world at his weight class as an arm wrestler.
Nick Nunziata: You’re in a cast with a variety of the most interesting and fun character actors that I’ve personally loved for the past 15, 20 years, just a bunch of great regular guys thrust together. You get to play a lot of scenes against one of the big boys in Kim Coates. I wanted to get an idea how you guys achieved that dynamic that you have. That feels really palpable, the tension between the two of you. What’s Kim like as a guy offset and how do you guys get that dynamic to work?
Kenny Johnson: Chemistry I think is something that I guess it’s just there. Again, Kim Coates, his character, is such kind of bold, out there guy. He’s a Canadian guy. I married a Canadian. He’s so brash as a character and so— There’s something about it personally that I thought was going to work for me because I thought, “I want to hate this guy.” I go, I know so much on this guy that no one else knows and I just want to reveal it all inside of my head and let him know that I knew. It’s kind of easy to do. I mean, he’s an amazing actor. He’s completely in his character when he’s doing Tig. Off the set, he’s like the nicest guy in the world and it’s hard to not like him.So after the second week, he was such a good guy that I was starting to really work hard to have that angst and that tension against him. But I’m telling you when he’s in character, he’s like unapologetic and brass and just in your face kind of guy and it triggers me off. So I just try to play the character as true and genuine as I can the way Kurt writes it. I think the tension just sort of happens.We definitely get into stuff. He has a certain style of acting that also helps feed me. I’m not going to say what it is, but it definitely feeds me and we get into it a little bit. I’ll pull aside some people and talk about it, so we can get on the same page, but it’s really good. The tension is just naturally there between us, so I kind of dig that.
Nick Nunziata: It seems like the intensity is a recurring theme for you in terms of the shows that you’re on, at least in these two. Is the set of Sons of Anarchy a family type atmosphere or is there that machismo that pushes it forward?
Kenny Johnson: It’s like both, I think. I have to say the SOA family is so tight and so fun and yet so crazy. Like you say, all these actors are pretty amazing character actors and they have crazy personalities, a lot of them. Charlie will just run full speed and tackle somebody like Boone and he’ll knock him on his ass in the middle of the road. Boone will get up and chase him and everybody kind of challenges each other, but it never gets to— It’s always in love, so it’s very crazy, yet safe in a fun family type of atmosphere in that respect, but not like—you know, family.There are a lot of different biker gangs that are there that are real biker gangs and has all the background and so I found the first week when I was there was really uncomfortable for me because I was in there with the real deal. I’m not only working with all these great actors that I didn’t know, which was really exciting and neat, but you have to feel your way in. At the same time, everybody in the background was from a real motorcycle gang or real porn stars or real whatever and they’re all there. It starts to feel like this is a whole other environment and world that I wasn’t used to. But then, probably two weeks into it, I felt like I knew these guys all my life and everybody was great.
Nick Nunziata: Being such a physical actor and having that background that you do, we’re in an era now where people are starting to get back towards the action kind of roles where it’s actually athletic people playing the part. The everyman thing is kind of going away. Is there any sort of a passion that you have? Is there a project or is there a style of movie or show that really fits your dream project motif because you’re young enough to actually do it, which is nice, a nice change of pace, and you sell the physicality of it effectively. Do you have any aspirations towards finding that role or that kind of genre thing that would be your big franchise?
Kenny Johnson: I’ve always dreamed of doing something like Thor, the movie Thor, which I think they would give to somebody like Brad Pitt or something, but like a model character would be amazing for me. That would be like the ultimate— I see like a show coming up called Lights Out that FX is doing about a retired fighter that has to go back to fight. I don’t really know the storyline, but I think he comes out of retirement to fight. I’ve been trying to get this movie going about Jerry Quarry that I got approached five years ago to play the part of Jerry Quarry. That got me into boxing like five years ago. I think I’ve been really intrigued with the Jerry Quarry movie, which we’re still trying to make happen.I think things to do with— I would love to do the movie about a boxer or a fighter like Lights Out. I think that interests me a lot. But if you gave me a part like—obviously if Michael Bay or somebody did Indiana Jones or Spielberg, a part like that would be pretty amazing, but I would say something in that respect.
As I said HERE, you need to watch the finale tonight on FX. 90 minutes of kickass biker action.