Todd got bit by the acting and show biz bug at a very early age, pre-pubescent, actually. His most memorable performance was his first. “I was in 2nd grade, and I was a Noun. In fact, I was going to be an Adjective, but the kid who was the Noun originally couldn’t say the word “plural”… so since I already knew his lines, I took it and was the star of the show!” That got him hooked and he has been an actor ever since.
The most fun Todd had in a performance was a sketch comedy show that he acted in, directed and produced in a small theater called “The Black Box” on the Westside of Los Angeles. “On opening night, we had 17 people in the audience. The second night, we were half-full and by the time the show closed, we were turning people away because we were going to violate the fire laws!” Todd stopped acting from age 23 through 34 to raise his kids. He also used to own a high-tech business. Currently, he balances being an Engineering Fellow at an aerospace giant where he builds weather satellites with taking on important acting roles while spending time and money to make movies which make a difference.
Johnson was a graduate from Colorado State University with a dual major. He received a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. He went on to receive his Masters of Science in Optics from the University of Rochester. He has trained with some of the most world renowned acting coaches and schools today including Stephen Book, Ivana Chubbuck, Margie Haber and The Groundlings.
For more information about Todd and his work please visit
What is the current project you are working on?
I am producing, directing and have co-written a horror feature film called “The Rental” (
) The story is about four girls who move into their first off- campus house only to find that the owner of the house is a soul eater. It stars Katherine Browning, Mike Campbell, Leah Verrill, Ashley Love, Tiffany Walker and Bianca Lopez. Our Director of Photography is Rick Greenwood who I have worked with recently on “Hinnon Valley”-another horror film. Amazingly, I’m not acting in this project because the energy I have had to devote to the behind-the-camera work. It has been fairly intense!
How do you define success?
I truly believe that success is what you make it. You can be successful at anything as long as it satisfies what you feel you have contributed to society. When I first got my driver’s license, I pulled it out of the mailbox and opened right in front of the mailman. I hooted, hollered and screamed because I had gotten my driver’s license at the ripe age of 16! But the success was the mailman’s. He looked at me with a really big smile and said “That’s what I like about my job.” Then he drove off and high-fived the air. THAT was success for him. For me, if I can contribute knowledge, or enjoyment or any small thing to make the world better, I have been successful. And I have.
How do you handle rejection?
Just let it go. That’s easy to say and not always easy to do. If you get rejected by your girlfriend of several years, that’s different than getting rejected by a casting director or a producer. I let it go externally, but those rejections usually put me in that state of mind to ask: “What could I have done better?” The beauty of that question is that 99% of the time, you couldn’t have done anything better. That helps me really let it go. But that 1% usually makes me change my tactics. If that producer, director, etc. doesn’t want me for his next feature, then maybe my best route is to go into competition with him. THAT changes your life.
Did you always want to be an actor?
My first acting experience was when I was a Noun when I was in second grade in my first play. I was originally cast as an Adverb, but the kid they cast as the Noun couldn’t say the word “plural”. So I took over. Since then, I was hooked. It was not without its starts and stops though. I got married in my mid- 20s and had two kids, then got divorced and, well, let’s just say that “Todd was on a nine year acting hiatus.” Unfortunately those were some of my prime years for roles, so it has been an uphill battle to get where I am now. And the hard work has paid off. I have two great kids!
What inspired you to become an actor?
What is funny to me is that I never really needed the inspiration that everyone talks about. Acting is all about collaborating, creating, changing and making little pieces of magic happen. Just entertaining is entertaining to me! If I make someone laugh, cry, scream-that’s my inspiration.
What is the best thing about being an actor?
When people tell me that a piece that I have worked on has moved them in some way, in public, you have to keep your cool and politely say “thank you”. But sometimes I go home and cry because I’m so happy that they were so moved. I did a stage play in West Los Angeles about five years ago and when it was over, a woman came up to me in tears to tell me how much she loved my performance. She said it reminded her of her husband (who had passed away not more than a year prior). I stood with her for almost 20 minutes pretty much ignoring everything else going on around us. That’s the kind of thing I live for: To affect people (hopefully) in a positive way.
What’s the worst thing about being an actor?
It is funny how acting mimics real life and vice versa. The stories that you hear about studios, power grabs, etc. are all unfortunately true. If the waiter job in that upscale restaurant is between you and the owner’s son, who do you think is going to get the job? If the two line role in that next big screen film production is between you and the Producer’s daughter’s husband, who do you think is going to get the job? Most folks do try to be fair and there are some phenomenal casting directors out there who insist on new talent all the time (look at Criminal Minds!). The politics can be daunting. It’s just something you have to deal with.
What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?
Somewhere in my files I actually have a list of every role that I have ever done including radio, commercials, voice overs, not to mention stage, film and television. I know it is over 200 roles-probably over 300, but I haven’t checked in a couple of years.
Who is your favorite actor?
I had hired a PR guy once who asked me this question and I said, without hesitation, Kevin Spacey. Here’s the thing: Have you seen Kevin Spacey in a flashy role or in some Tabloid recently? No, but he is definitely still working. He is the actor’s actor. I don’t usually get star struck, but he would be one person who I might get star struck with if I had to play across from him. He doesn’t have to say anything to get his point across. He doesn’t have to rub his success in your face. He just does it.
How has life changed since you became an actor?
Oh, you mean aside from the marriage, divorce, two kids, etc.? Hahahaha! SOOOO many things have changed. When I was a little kid, there was nothing called a PC, much less a cell phone, or and iPAD. Over the years, I have definitely mellowed. If you had met me 20 years ago, I was a bouncing superball of energy. Most of my newer friends still think that I am, but people who have known me for a long time say that I’ve become more relaxed and at-ease with everything. I tend to let things bounce off of me.
What piece of advice can you give someone who also wants to make it in the acting business?
Give up now! So if you get past that line, be ready to work and network. You may not be pretty (and goodness knows I’m not), but if you walk into a casting director’s office with 7 pages of dialog that you got last night and you blow them away with a full performance that is fully off book, do you think you have a shot at booking that role? You have a much better shot than if you don’t have any training, and you haven’t even read the lines before you walk in. Who have you contacted in the industry recently? When is the last time you sent out a post card to every casting director and agent in town? When is the last time you did a follow up call with your agent or a new agent? What kind of industry parties do you go to? Is there anyone at those parties that you go to that can REALLY help you make your career happen or do they just want your clothes off? If it’s the clothes, you are going to the wrong parties.
What do you like besides filmmaking?
Ha ha! Okay that is funny to me because I have a dual degree in Physics and Theater. I build weather satellites for a day job. If there’s a hurricane on its way to you, and you have been told to evacuate, I can tell you that my weather satellite is probably why they are telling you to evacuate. Of course, I actually LIKE skiing and playing in the snow whenever I can. Scuba diving is fun too. I have found that doing nothing can be inspiring too, but not for too long.
Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become an actor?
I have had so many jobs in my life, but I have to tell you that acting is the one I have stayed with. If I were to get hit by a Mack Truck tomorrow (don’t get any ideas, folks) I would be okay because I have made a difference. I am very content with what I have done so far. That said, there is no way I’m stopping any time soon. The laundry list goes something like this: Full time Mom-Dad, engineer, owner of my own high tech company, salesman, dishwasher, cook, carpenter, ditch digger, chief technologist, film maker, script writer, and film editor. I’m sure I left something out, but that’s a good start.
How would you describe your film education?
I double majored as an undergrad in theater and physics. The beauty (and curse) of that theater degree is that it was the first year they offered it when I was in college. So I got a lot of lead roles in their plays. I have continued training to this day having trained with some of today’s greatest acting coached like Ivana Chubbuck, Stephen Book and Margie Haber. On the film production side, I have learned from the school of hard knocks. I edit films because ten years ago I decided that I would rather pay $1,000 for a fancy film editing program to do my own demo reels than pay someone else $500 to do it for me. I have produced about 25 different films because I’m just good at it. I know how to fill out paperwork (it’s that science background). I direct films because if I wanted to hire a director, I would have to pay them. I write scripts because I want people to buy them (and I’m one dissertation away from an MFA in writing), but I have come to realize that NO ONE buys feature scripts off the street. They DO buy spec scripts for TV shows, so I’m working on that next.
What are some of your favorite American Films? Foreign Films? Television shows?
American Beauty; Lord of the Rings Trilogy (I actually liked them all); Drive; Star Trek (the latest one). No foreign films that are commercially famous come to mind, but I have to say that I’ve seen a couple in film festivals that have really rocked my world. TV shows: Crime dramas like CSI:, NCIS, and well written/well made Sci-Fi shows like Firefly, Star Trek, etc. Sci-fi in plain English folks-if it’s too wrapped up, I don’t get it.
How would you describe the film “scene” where you live?
I live in Los Angeles, and the scene is scary. Doors are closing fast. Film and TV production is moving out of town to places like Wilmington, NC, Atlanta, GA, and Toronto. Why do this stuff in LA where they make it so hard to make a film or a TV show? And for the stuff that stays here: Let’s just say that I was not invited to dinner recently by Mr. Spielberg.
How has social media changed the film industry?
Oh, huge changes. In fact, our initial marketing plan for “The Rental” is all based on social media. Did you know that Blair Witch was also based totally on social media? And that social media can make a film happen? Let’s put it this way, if I have a quarter million people liking my www.facebook.com/therentalmovie page, I can get theatrical release. If I have a half a million followers on my @TheRentalMovie Twitter page, I can get theatrical release. That’s only 250,000-500,000 people who have to hit one button and it’s a complete theatrical success! Talk about a difference! Distributors beg for it. Big films use it everywhere. Does it actually get you more ticket sales or DVD rentals? I don’t know. But us indie film guys want people to “Like” our pages and follow us on Twitter because, believe me, it helps!
What’s your opinion on crowdfunding?
If you can get money to fund your project on Kickstarter or some other internet based funding method, you are smarter than I am! I did try to do this for “The Rental” and got nowhere fast. Then I started doing things the old fashioned way: I called people I knew. I had much better results there than I did on the web. I probably just don’t have the right intro line. Or people just don’t like to fund horror flicks when there is no return.
How does independent film differ from the mainstream?
Money, time, star power, time, money, money, money. I love indie films because everyone knows it has to be done cheap and fast. And if they don’t know that then why are they there? Still, it is always good to have time, stars (who don’t act like them off camera) and, of course, money…
If you could go back in time and see a film being made, which film would it be and why?
I don’t want to go back in time. I want to go forward in time! I want to see what the future holds. I want to know the lottery numbers so I can go back to normal time so I can fund that big budget picture that I want to star in.
Do you believe in life on other planets?
Yes, there is at least slime mold on other planets. Intelligent life? I’m waiting on phone call from NASA before I make that decision, but it certainly can’t be ruled out because the odds are in favor of it!
What’s your favorite movie quote and why?
“WASSSSUUUUUUP!” One word. Stupid. Silly. Perfectly played.
Would you ever consider owning a pet monkey?
I have a cat and that’s too much for me to take care of these days. Now a robot sounds pretty good to me.
What is your opinion on remakes and sequels?
With very few exceptions, I think sequels are great for the guys making money and horrible for the folks spending money. I make it a rule to never ever go see a sequel. I made that rule after Transformers II came out and I’m much better for it. If the feature film I am making is a success, do you think I’m going to make a sequel? You bet! For once the little guy wins!
What is your opinion on book to movie adaptations?
Again, with a few notable exceptions, this is not my favorite way to make a film. Here’s the thing: You have a book that’s popular and that means that the film will be popular even if the film is not that good. A lot of money changes hands to do that adaptation because everyone knows it is a born success. More power to the little folks making money. Wait, they aren’t little folks anymore because they already have a successful book. But, if the film is actually good and we can all understand what is going if we don’t want to read the book, I give complete kudos to the Screenwriter and the Director!
Is there anything else you want to add?
What? 6 pages isn’t enough? Thanks folks!
Thanks Todd for doing the interview. I’m a fan of all the cast and crew who worked on “Hinnon Valley” I think it’s a great flick. I’ll will be checking our “The Rental” Facebook page.