“I can’t believe I get paid to do this. What a gift,” remarked Kevin L. Johnson as he reflected upon his time shooting “Ozark,” a Netflix original series that premiered July 21. Filmed in our backyard, on the shores of Lake Allatoona, the series stars Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Michael Mosley and Johnson.
Kevin began his acting journey unexpectedly at Clemson University. He was an English major with no plans of pursuing an entertainment career, yet one day he decided to try something new. “I was a little late to the game,” he said, “but I wanted to get out of my shell. I can be a bit on the shyer side.”
Choking back nerves, Kevin stepped onto the stage to audition for the season’s first musical and felt immediately at home, which is particularly impressive considering he does not consider himself much of a singer. “I fell in love,” he said. He landed a role, albeit a nonmusical part, and soon Kevin’s curriculum expanded to include acting classes.
After graduation, Kevin considered following in the footsteps of his theater classmates and moving to Chicago, but decided to return home to Charlotte, N.C., where whispers of a burgeoning film scene had piqued his curiosity. In another leap of faith, Kevin returned to his hometown, invested in a set of headshots, and set his sights on acquiring theatrical representation. Enter Rusty Wiggs of the Artists Resource Agency, and Laureen Muller from RCM Talent and Management.
Muller recalls receiving Kevin’s talent submission in 2011, after a referral from another client. “Kevin has always been unique, but what struck me most was that he was so open to learning and growing. He understood this industry isn’t an overnight success … it’s a marathon.”
Set in the mysterious and tree-veiled Ozark mountains of Missouri, “Ozark” chronicles the life of Marty Byrd, a financial adviser played by Bateman, who moves his family from Chicago to a remote resort on Lake Ozark, in hopes of escaping conflict with a drug cartel. It’s not long before trouble comes knocking.
Kevin plays Sam Dermody, the local real estate agent. Although not able to divulge much else about his character, Kevin was able to share that many of his scenes take place with Linney, the actor playing Bateman’s wife. “She’s incredible,” Kevin beamed, “one of those really giving actors.” The two developed a great working relationship, chatting between takes and getting to know each other. In fact, Kevin recently went to see Linney on Broadway in “Little Foxes” and had the opportunity to catch up with her after the performance.
When asked about his experience working with Bateman, who directed several episodes of the show, Kevin said, “He really let me let loose on set. He’s an actor’s director — he knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera.” With a background in improvisation, Bateman encouraged Kevin on several occasions to explore the scenes using improv, allowing Kevin to bring his own unique perspective to each scene. “I learned a lot about character arc, but also staying consistent to who the character is.”
His first major TV series now underway, Kevin also is looking forward to the Sept. 29 premiere of “American Made,” the latest Tom Cruise crime thriller. In the film, Kevin’s character, Agent Wainwright, shares the screen with pilot Barry Seal, played by Cruise, as Barry navigates working with the CIA and operating as a drug runner during the 1980s war on drugs.
With major projects like these, Kevin’s future looks bright. But, he remains grounded and focused. “It’s a hard road,” Kevin admitted, “but, like Mark Ruffalo said, you might have to audition 600 times before booking the right role. If you’re passionate about it, and you want it … go after it.”
By Madison Erceg, contributing writer