From appearences on major television networks to hitting the big screen in Little Boy, from being featured on NBC’s Spartan Race to EWTN’s G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, Kaiser Johnson is considered a rising star in Hollywood, and rightfully so. His interests range from running up mountains, to sketch comedy, to diving into classic literature. As Blessed John Henry Newman taught, an individual becomes “more human” when they hold an interest and education in many differing areas of life. Today, Jared Zimmerer chats with one such man who seems to be living Newman’s philosophy.
You are a serious renaissance man, from the Spartan Race, to acting, to cigars and literature. What prompted so many different interests?
Thanks! My parents taught us the importance of lifelong learning, and so I’ve always enjoyed exploring and growing in as many ways as I can. I also put a high premium on being a well-rounded individual, with a vibrant mental life, spiritual life, and physical life, so it’s been important to me to find interests that fulfill me in all of those arenas. These are all interests that have stuck… but I’m sure there will be plenty more I’ll develop!
What kind of training do you go through to get ready for a competition? Do you see fitness tying into your faith?
Most of the competing I do is in obstacle racing, so I tend to do a lot of training that emphasizes that skill set. Spartan race in particular really emphasizes hill-climbing and running, with a pretty strong upper-body component as well, whereas some other races are more about muscular endurance than straight stamina and speed, so I try to work on all those components: strength, speed, and stamina. That usually involves a sort of rotation of heavy lifting/power lifting, muscular endurance training, trail running, sprinting, and long-distance carries. I definitely need to focus more on running this year though!
I think all the lessons one learns in physical fitness tie into faith. I’ve learned self-discipline, the importance of a daily practice, the constant need to grow and adapt, the value of enduring suffering and deprivation of consolation… heck, in analyzing what is going well or needs to change in my training, I almost go through a type of examination of conscience!
When did you begin acting and what advice would you have for those interested in becoming actors?
I began acting in 6th grade, in school plays and the like, but it’s really only in recent years that I’ve gotten to do it professionally. My first piece of advice would be: don’t do it. My second piece of advice would be: don’t do it. My third piece of advice is: okay, if you are willing to have the very smallest part of your career as an actor actually be acting, are an absolute glutton for hard work with little discernable payoff, have an actual talent that others consistently mention, and are willing to do whatever you can to grow and foster that talent, then start considering it. I’m sure that sounds harsh, but the fact of it is, many people try to break into acting for the wrong reasons (or at least unsustainable ones), and they only realize it a ways down the road, when they could have been spending their time more profitably. If you want to act, do community theater. If you want to be an actor, it’s a career… and it’s actually a career in sales, for the most part. Your product (you) has to be really high-quality, you have to know how to sell it, and to what niche you’re selling, and you have to learn to measure success in different ways than getting the job… because that’s about a 2% success rate each time you enter a new career level. So, as Michael Caine says, “If you can possibly do anything else, do that.” But if you have great talent for acting, great talent for sales, and great drive and determination, start acting, and start selling.
How do you find that healthy balance between faith and engaging culture?
I think we find our biggest opportunities to engage culture and share our faith in the life we live… in who we are in our work and in our relationships far more than what we do for work or anything like that. So many people I meet (Catholic, Christian, or otherwise) have this idea that they have some great important work to do that will change the world. In the process of pursuing that though, many of them end up passing by the daily opportunities to affect the people around them, to demonstrate to colleagues and coworkers and friends a life of integrity, love, and self-sacrifice. Who we are and how we live our lives are far more important than the “what” of our lives.
You are a big fan of G.K. Chesterton, what sparked that interest and why?
I started reading him in college, and heard Dale Ahlquist’s (president of the American Chesterton Society) “Chesterton Minutes” on the radio. One day I met Dale at church, and talked to him about an apologetics/sketch comedy project I wanted to produce, and he became interested in helping with it. After we worked on that together, he asked me to appear on his show on EWTN, and in doing so, I got much more immersed in the world of Chesterton fandom, attended several of the national conferences, and started a local Chesterton Society in LA – the Hollywood Chesterton Society. We’ve been meeting now for four years, and I still try to always be reading a book of his! He has a beautiful way of reminding me all the things I’ve forgotten I’ve always believed, and sharing them in a beautiful way that makes me grateful for all the small things in life. He has a great quote (actually thousands of great quotes, but I digress) where he says, “Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde” and “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
Living of life of thanks, that’s the life I want to live… and GK Chesterton reminds me of that every time I read him. Or as his friend Hillaire Belloc said, “Get me back to Chesterton… the only man I regularly read!”
What are your favorite all-time moments of acting in cinema?
Oh geez, what an enormous question! May I speak categorically?… and just say that any time when I forget that I’m watching an actor, and I forget that I’m hearing lines that were written for them, but simply see a real person responding unfiltered to what’s unfolding in their life… those are my favorite moments. Acting is reacting, and when someone is able to forget the lights and the set and the camera and just react honestly to circumstances that are not their own and a life that is not their own, that thrills me.
Any big future appearances you can share with us?
I recently did episodes of Vampire Diaries on the CW and Sleepy Hollow on FOX, I co-host an upcoming show for Family Theater Productions premiering in September called Catholic Central, and I star in a sketch show debuting soon called Butch Duotang.