Q&A Feature: Johnny Alonso

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I interviewed this guy with two other essential individuals last year for Coffin II. Now, I sit alone with Johnny Alonso in this interview where we talk about his upcoming film projects, his philosophy in life, and the tricks and trades that has kept his longevity and freshness in the film career, as well as, his life in general after twenty years of hanging tough as the individual he is! (smiles)

You started 2019 already with one impressive schedule. You just got done shooting your promotional video for your new mob film, The Driver, out east this week. Along with that production, you are also preparing to head to the Sundance Film Festival, not only to be apart of the Click on This! crew, but also the showing of your film What Death Leaves Behind. You must be excited for how the year is starting off. Yes?

Johnny Alonso: This year has already started off like a rocket to the moon, and I love it; however, I’ve been planning for 2019 for the past eight months. I’m more than ready for this inhuman schedule, Sundance, Click on This!, What Death Leaves Behind, The Driver, and The Riddle House. This is the short list of what’s happening in the next four months.

In this industry you need to keep moving forward and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself, period. Make a better you without relying on others. For the past six months, I’ve been pushing the motto, “2019 is about change and about being positive.”  I have a saying, “Never listen to anyone who has never done anything.” and that includes change.

This isn’t your first trip as a Click on This! host for the Sundance Film Festival, is it? Who has been some of your favorite artists to interview at the Sundance Film Festival previously, and who are some of the artists you are looking forward to interviewing this year?

JA: I love Click on This! I’ve been with Elena and the revolving cast and crew for ten years. TEN YEARS! I’ve been through two jeeps in ten years! I’ve interviewed so many great people on the show. It’s hard for me to say who’s my favorite interview. If I had to choose, I’d say it’s between Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, and Kevin Smith at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.

Another favorite memory of mine was when I ran into Rachel Leigh Cook randomly at Sundance, our interview was like two friends trying to catch up at the mall, while your friends are trying to pull you away from each other (laughs).

Add the guys from Steel Panther, because they were just hilarious and wore as much patchouli as I do.

To top off my favorites, my most recent Gotham interview with pretty much the entire cast. Robin Lord Taylor kept telling Gotham producer Danny Cannon “Johnny Alonso is Gotham alumni!!” It was so rad and an unforgettable moment for me.

Is What Death Leaves Behind your first film project to be featured at the Sundance Film Festival?

JA: Yes, What Death Leaves Behind is my first film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve always covered the festival with the Click on This! crew and nothing more until this year.

I’ve always loved the opportunity to work with Elena Moscatt and company, but this special screening at Utah Film Studios is going to be so rad. In fact, I did a couple interviews, I think back in 2015, at Utah Film Studios for Click on This!, so it’ll be cool to be back, but this time on the red carpet, and then getting interviewed on the panel.

Can you share a small synopsis of What Death Leaves Behind?

JA: I can say this, it’s a nonlinear film like Memento, Dunkirk, and Manchester By the Sea. The What Death Leaves Behind story-line is not spoon fed. It carefully jumps from one idea in the time line to the next systematically forcing you to pay attention.  It’s dark, intelligent, and it’s one of my favorite projects I have worked on to date. That is all I can really share, other than the link to the trailer. So below this answer is the trailer for the film, What Death Leaves Behind, for the viewers.

You are known as an extrovert in this field of work, but you must get exhausted from all the travel and demands that comes with it. How do you stay grounded with your type of schedule? What are some outlets you lean towards to re-energize yourself when you do get burned out?

JA: Honestly, I have never been an extroverted guy, especially with typical choices like sports. It’s my lot in life to be exhausted (laughs).  I do find great downtime with snowboarding and horseback riding. Unfortunately, I don’t get enough time to do those things as much as I would like, so it’s just that much better when I do find the time to disconnect, escape, and snowboard or horseback ride.

My brothers and I go bowling. That’s another way for me to decompress. We bowl several games, order bowling alley pizza, and drink gross bowling alley beer. That is the Alonso recipe for success (laughs).

Otherwise, I’m a musician by nature. So, another way for me to decompress is to play music. I love writing and playing music. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in making short films and recording in the studio. I have hundreds of short films that I’ve shot through the years, but these are just for myself. I’ve never shot these short films for anyone or written music for others. It helps me know where I am in a film on set, to be a force without being forced.

On the downside, you’ll have those who have to say, “…but, how is anyone going to appreciate what you’ve done?” Here is my answer, I appreciate what I’ve done, and I like looking at my work for myself. So, when there’s a time when I must perform or show my work, I know you’ll like what I’ve done, because I don’t put myself out there like everyone else. I don’t need that recognition. I do it for me.

Where does this drive and passion for your work root from? 

JA: A lot of my drive and cloaked ways comes from my upbringing. My parents are super driven in their lines of work. They’ve built their empire on relying on no one else, but themselves. I get a lot of my lone wolf qualities from my old man. He’s never really ran with the crowd. When all his friends were finishing their residency in Boston, as surgeons, my dad said he was going to go on to be a plastic surgeon. They all laughed at him and said, “Cool, we’ll see you when decide to drop out and hang back with us at the hospital.” He didn’t listen to them and signed up for another several years of school, residency programs, and being bossed around by doctors you know you could dance rings around. All that hard work and perseverance has helped him where he’s at today. With that, he continues to be the best at what he does.

As for my mom (laughs), if there was one person in this world my brothers and I get our artistic, non-conformist qualities from her. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She too built her career as a well-respected pediatrician, where she has cared for baby patients that grew up to become mothers and fathers who wanted their kids under the care of my mom. That’s a very valuable skill in life, and that commands respect.

My mother, when we were kids, would play classical piano at the old house and persuade us to play instruments. She has a voice, so she also encouraged us to sing. Her entire family is very artistic with the lively arts. To this day she’s still a little off center when it comes to being in the “norm”. We never really subscribed to being in the norm, but that’s a good thing. That’s where I get my “art weird” from. I could go on about this for days… (laughs)

(Laughs)… Alright continuing on. You’ve been working in this line of work for over twenty years. Inquisitive minds must know, what motivates you to keep up in such a fast-paced life? How do you keep the longevity in your career?

JA: Holy God has it been that long? I’m just getting my stride! (Laughs). I was an individual who was coined an outcast back in my early adolescent days, but I took it was a compliment and just ran with it. It was all that i knew. I didn’t care about the crowd. Fuck everyone. I really enjoyed being an individual, and not follow other’s flaccid ways.

Even within the outcast crowd I still would find myself an outcast within this group. I really believe this has helped me to come up with my acting choices. You know, being a little off center. I never go with the usual choices. I can’t. It’s not me.

As for the longevity and remaining youthful, my brother, James, says that I live in Peter Pan hour and can’t find my way out. In all seriousness, a lot of it’s genetic. I have this surfer build that I’ve always sported. I also work out and try to stay healthy, so I can stay toned with my body.

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Screenshot of Johnny as “Peter Gunn”

Rumor has it, there is still no sign for you slowing down this year. In fact, you have another production lined up for your return to Los Angeles after the Sundance Film Festival in February? Can you share some details about it and what your role(s) are for this project?

JA: I’ve never felt like I’m going too fast. I’ve set a standard and this is the speed I’m cruising at. Like i mentioned earlier, in this industry, you have to line up your work and not just any work, but legitimate work that’s going to help you advance your career.

The production I have lined up is called, The Riddle House. It is a new horror independent film that is going to knock your socks off. With one of the most solid casts I can’t wait to work with. This new haunted house horror is going to be the one to break us through to keep producing films and television projects.

I will be playing one of the main characters, Peter Gunn. I also am a producer for the film. We recently produced one of the coolest concept trailers ever. The way we shot this thing it looks like the film has already been shot. It’s sick. I’ll want you and your readers to chime in and give us feedback.

Are there any other projects in the works for you in the producer field?

JA: I’m currently producing another project, aside from The Riddle House, in Los Angeles. The other project is a television series a writer and I have been throwing around for a while. We’re not waiting for one project to happen. We’re trying to make things happen, so all these projects will happen. One will springboard the other, so to speak. My good friend, Irv Becker, has always said that I’d make a good producer.

You have some returning cast and crew members from previous film projects joining you for The Riddle House like Robert Mukes, Richard Siegelman, etc. There must be some comfort already knowing how the work flow will progress throughout the production with these individuals.

JA: Yes, of course! If I could produce and cast every awesome actor I’ve ever worked with, my film would look like the carnival end scene in Grease. (Laughs) There’s a comfort working with actors you admire and trust. A lot of the actors I admire are power actors. What that means is the actors really go against conventional thinking to get to the level of acting they show on screen and on stage. I like real risk takers; actors that have put in the time have lived through the battle. Those are people I respect and will work with again and again. So yes, working with repeats means we have an admiration for each other’s work.

Is there anyone who haven’t worked with that you are looking forward to working with?

JA: Vincent Young was on that list. I always admired his career and how he handles his craft. He also comes from the dark method acting some actors, including myself, need to use to get to our characters. After we worked on What Death Leaves Behind, Vincent calls me and said he’s preparing for his new film Escape Plan II with John Travolta. He continues to tell me how he’s getting mentally prepared, but this also requires him getting physically prepared. We talked for hours about his routine. We compared notes and laughed at how we both do similar things to change and become serious character actors.

Another individual I am looking forward to working with is actress, Tracey Fairaway. We’ve known each other for over seven years. We really know each other way too well. This is one of the main reasons I’m dying to work with her.  I cannot wait to see how she’s going to test me and make choices I’m not going to be able to catch. Of course, I must do the same to her.

I told Tracey, “When I’m on set and when it comes to my dialogue, I punch and I punch hard. I hope you punch back, Fairaway.” Her reply was “Go for it. Let’s see what you’ve got, because I’ll break you, Alonso!”

It’s like a game of chess. You’re always thinking several moves ahead. Tracey is always ahead of the curve which gives her those Jedi qualities. So, when we become our characters in The Riddle House, you will see a tug of war like no other. And that’s what gets me motivated to act.

So, I’ve mentioned two actors off my (not-so) secret list. The other nine will remain secret. You’re just going to have to wait and see. (smiles)

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Vincent & Johnny

Speaking of Vincent Young, you got to work with him on What Death Leaves Behind. What was it like to work with another prestige seasoned actor?

JA: Vincent Young and I became good friends since working on the project, What Death Leaves Behind. I remember meeting him at a pre-production meeting a few weeks before filming in Philadelphia. We were getting wardrobe measurements, hair and makeup tests, producer questions answered, etc. I remember saying to myself, “Christ, this guy is as hyper as I am. We’re going to get along really well!”

I was familiar with his work so I was a fan from jump, then we got a few drinks, smoked cigars, and the next thing you know, we’re talking about four film projects we can each find our way into. (laughs).

There are some actors you meet that you gel on and off screen with. I really dig his character in What Death Leaves Behind. I’ve always described his character Andrew as the small town, blue collared guy that everyone has known or met in their past.

Andrew is the type of guy that you remember from when you were growing up. He’s the type of guy who would mow your parents’ yard, deliver appliances to the house, check your oil when filling up. It’s not easy harnessing that into a character. It goes beyond and it should always go beyond with what we just see visually on screen. That’s what I love about all the characters in What Death Leaves Behind. Everybody came prepared. Our performances force you to watch the film and take us seriously. I am very proud of this project.

So, you mentioned the dark method acting technique. Can you describe to those not familiar with acting techniques, how one would get into a character by using the method that only a few are drawn to use?

JA: For sure! For example, if you watch me in Coffin, Coffin 2, or What Death Leaves Behind, I walk, slouch, and twitch. I also don’t use my left dominant eye, or left dominant hand. I also lower my voice register, and slow my reflexes. The trick of all of this is done consciously and unconsciously. That’s just for starters. It’s a mindset we have to create to successfully deliver to the viewers. Physically, we’ll lose weight or even gain weight to make an internal statement. I know for the next project, Vincent and I work on we’re going to go in full force with the dark method technique, and I can assure you, it’ll be a mental and physical ride.

With the Johnny Alonso brand that’s developed over the years, you seem to be drawn to the horror, thriller, and suspense genres more. Were those genres always preferences from the get-go, or did it create itself naturally?

JA: It was more created naturally. The Johnny Alonso brand was created out of necessity. I, as a person, am not interesting enough to just walk on stage and play these dark, macabre characters without little theatrics behind me. So, through the years, I’ve learned to create a version of me that is acceptable for camera that would be interesting enough for people to understand and to enjoy on screen. Like any organic acting, it just takes shape, whether you want it to or not. I don’t like to dilute myself or my acting like other actors. I do this for me.

Are there any roles or genres you haven’t done yet, that you’d like to challenge yourself with?

JA:  I’d love to be in a chick flick/light-hearted romance like the film, Serendipity. Come on! Who doesn’t love Serendipity? (laughs) I don’t see myself in a film like that, but I am totally game to challenge myself, and love to try my hand at more of a light-hearted film and acting. I believe I could do it.

Are there any other announcements you can share as we head our way into February?  Do you foresee it to be a good year for the Johnny Alonso brand?

JA: I’d love to share one project that’s happening in the next couple months, but I’m under contract not to mention it publicly yet. When I’m allowed to say, the whole world will know in fifteen minutes. That’s how exciting the news is!

In this business we never stop working. It’s a continuous cycle. I sincerely enjoy what I do. Seriously, the best is yet to come. (Smiles)

Thank you, Johnny, for taking time out of your chaotic schedule to sit down for an interview with me, yet again! If any of my readers are at the Sundance Film Festival, make sure you make some time in your schedule to head to the Utah Film Studios on Saturday night, January 26th, to watch the Sundance premiere of What Death Leaves Behind, and capture the cast and crew, including Johnny Alonso, at the panel! 

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