Whether it is on a stage, on a court, in a boardroom, or within a chosen field, success, and the recognition of that success, is something that everyone wishes for themselves at some point in their lives; even if not for a while, just long enough to have a moment in the sun.
Growing up and watching the movie, tv, and social media stars of today, it can be difficult to picture the road to becoming as successful as some of them. Yet, if a person can find within themselves the determination to stay focused on their goal and committed to the twists and turns that the entertainment industry will take them on, they may begin to find themselves on the path they have always dreamed about.
Camrus Johnson is someone who is currently on that path. After growing up in the south, being in a military school, and taking a big leap of faith to make it in Manhattan, he now is one of the stars of the hit Hulu TV show There’s…Johnny’.
In collaboration with, Melvin Taylor II, Host and Founder of TV Show, Making Manhattan, Melvin talks to Camrus about moving to the Big Apple, being a black man in Hollywood today, how he his sees himself as an artist, and, giving a special shoutout to Craig.
Tell me about ‘There’s…Johnny’
There’s Johnny is this 1972 period piece of this kid Andy that is gifted a job on the tonight show working backstage. He’s from Nebraska and he wants this job, he gets this job and they ask him what are you doing here. Now because he’s so soft and innocent and new and fresh they give him a chance. You know what, come be our lackie for the day. The like him, so they take him under their wing[s]. It’s really sweet and you get to see a nice mixup of now and then because we use actual archival footage from the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’. So you’ll watch a scene from the actual show and then see us backstage and you’ll see how it intertwines.
What about your character Rasheed?
Rasheed is the man…Rasheed is cool. He’s this loud, black power, stand up comedian and he’s just so about being funny and he wants his funny to be global. He wants it to be televised. He just doesn’t know how to get there. He meets Andy in this crazy, weird, strange way they wake up in bed together and he’s like who are you?
You were also in ‘Luke Cage’…
Luke Cage was surreal. Luke Cage was my first TV show and as soon as I heard it was coming out I told everyone look, I’m going to find a way on this show. I don’t what it is, but something is telling me I’m going to be on this TV show and I have to find my way in. I would tell my agent all the time get me in. Do something. I went in for this role, and the one I went in for…there was this scene for a basketball player, well, with a couple of basketball players. I went in for someone in that scene and I can’t really remember. They booked me for this other scene instead. They booked me to play someone younger and in the barber shop. I went on that set…I was only on set for six days even though I had that one line. I was on set for one week and Frankie Faison is my homie now, Mike Coulter is hilarious, Mahershala Ali is a genius, it was crazy and everyone’s black. These black people are around me and they’re all so good.
And also in ‘Star’….
Star lowkey was one of my favorite sets so far. I don’t what it is but it felt like everyone was family automatically. Can you envision being on a set and everyone is singing gospel music? There just singing gospel songs, everyone. Everyone in the makeup trailer is black. The whole cast and most of the main cast is black. I actually have this funny story.
Please go on.
I actually have this funny story. So I was shooting my episode, I was shooting with Ryan [Ryan Destiny], and the two other leads Brittany [Brittany O’Grady], Jude [Jude Demorest], and Paris Jackson. I didn’t know that Paris Jackson was Michael Jackson’s daughter. I had absolutely no idea. I was talking to Ryan….we’re chatting and vibing everything is cool and the director added me to this scene….he added me to this one little part with Paris and had me do this quick little line thing. Anyway, Paris Jackson was there and she rolled up, she was on a crutch at the time, and she just seemed like some other chill actress and I’m like ‘hey I’m Camrus and she’s like hey’. We like, kind of talked, and I was like cool. I’m going to go back to Ryan now because she’s dope and then later on my publicist saw the episode and was he was like ‘dude you had a scene with Paris Jackson?’ I’m like, with who? Oh, oh Paris yeah she was cool. He called me and was like so you mean to tell me you were in a scene with Michael Jackson’s daughter…and had no idea who it was?’ I just took the phone and threw it. Screamed a little bit.
When did you first realize you wanted to act? Why not be a doctor or lawyer, or athlete?
My mom said I should try acting. Her exact words were ‘you like to be loud and obnoxious, try acting.’ So I did and I fell in love with it within the first couple of weeks.
Yeah. There was the one assignment where we had to pantomime things and everyone did like little things, I think the assignment was to search for something. So people would pat their pockets and be like oh my phone! I found it! Simple stuff. I had this crazy idea where I came with these Timberlands and this big jacket and I was walking across stage and I was getting jumped. But, it was just me so I was fighting against people. So, I ran inside, I call my boy and again everything is silent. So I go into my room and I’m searching for something and I get a gun. I call my boy again and I’m like I’m coming! I slam the door. My teacher gave me a standing ovation. I was like yo…I want to do this. It was cool that like the more you imagination flowed the better your performance was. So I like that a lot.
Being a black man in Hollywood. What has it been like coming up in the industry and trying to navigate your way?
It’s been beautiful in the past year or so because, the Black Panthers and other stuff are [all] coming up…it’s cool because that’s what it is now. Couple of years ago it wasn’t like that. I think this was last year. In the beginning of last year, 2016, I went in for three different parts, of three different leads, for three different TV shows. Every single one of them was a rapper, that sells drugs, that got discovered by a white man, to be a rapper. I’m sorry, two of them sold drugs and one sold guns…of course I didn’t book any of them because of look at me. Listen to my voice….it’s like come on I can do it I can get into that character if you want me to but black people we are so much more than that. Why is it that in three weeks this is the only role I’m going for? All of these have very big budgets and all of these are TV shows, [but] where is the very calm black dude? Where’s the very funny black dude? Where’s the very smart black dude in the hood? Because if you’re born in the hood you’re born in the hood that’s fine there’s nothing against you for that. But, there are other black people. There are other experiences in the world. That’s what it was for years. Doing something crazy like that.
I was blessed to play the very funny black kid or the very funny black best friend, and that’s what I play a lot the very funny black best friend. What I like about Rasheed though, in a way he’s that but he’s not. People may say that Rasheed kind of seems like the funny black best friend because he’s funny, he’s black and he kind of becomes Andy’s best friend. In a way, Rasheed is this powerhouse and he’s so much more than Andy’s best friend he is own person and he’s your friend but he also wants this other thing. So you’re just a part of his journey now and he’s not a part of yours. I would say it like that. Rasheed has his own journey, his own stories, his own path, and….when you get to episode six, you’ll see that Rasheed is an onion.
Yes. There are so many layers to this dude and there are so many things that he doesn’t want to say and there are is many things that he says that he doesn’t mean. So like…Rasheed is doing something, he’s not just helping someone else. He’s actually sort of clashing with the main character, which is awesome. So I like Rasheed a lot and again it has been rough the past few years but recently I’m going inf or a lot of roles that I want to play. I’m going in for the very sweet man that has lots of layers but is just a person. It doesn’t matter what color this guy is. That’s one thing that kind of annoys me sometimes is like ‘oh, you’re going in for the black guy.’ Like white, white, white, white….
Oh, but we know why you’re here?
Yeah, but we got that one black guy. It’s not a role that anyone could have booked only a black guy could have booked it. Sometimes it’s cool but sometimes it’s like okay I’m the black guy so I can complain about how hard it is being black on your show or your movie. Sometimes that’s good because there are things we need to say about our culture and sometimes it’s not needed.
Are conscious of some of the social messages that go on when you’re deciding on a role?
I would have to say yeah. I think every actor or actress has that subconscious, what would this do for me and my career and the people that watch me or are watching me or will watch me sort of thing. There was one project my agent wanted me to go in for and was like you’d be playing sort of like a slave. Like yeah, no. Those are really telling stories and sure you can do that but for my own personal mindset there are so many slave movies, [that] I don’t need to be in one. There are a lot. What sucks is that they all are amazing! It’s like, dang it’s good! But, you know, it’s like give us some time. We are talking about our past so much.
There is also a beautiful future that we are not talking about enough and I would like to play more of the beautiful future. If you want to play more of the past that’s great and there is a story that we need to tell. But, there are two stories specifically and I’m this other one. So, in my mind when I’m looking for a character I tend to look for characters that help me push that envelope of I’m not dangerous. I’m not nasty I’m not awful. I do want to play an antagonist one day but I would like to play a Mahershala Ali Cottonmouth antagonist you know? Not playing like a hey, give me your money, give me the drugs, I’m going to kill you, you know? Cottonmouth was dangerous but he was a businessman and he wore a suit you know!
Just real quick, can we talk about the scene where he walks in front of the crown?
Yeah. He’s the king. Man, that was beautiful. That was beautiful camerawork and directing too I loved it. Genius.
What was that conversation like when you told your parents you were moving with your aunt to New York?
It was funny man. I really didn’t decide I was moving until the end of senior year. It was crazy. We’re from such a small town [that] me moving to New York City was a huge deal. It still is. People still message me like I can’t believe you moved to New York and you’re working. There’s that mentality that if you’re from a small town you stay in a small town and there are a lot of people that haven’t left. Some of them don’t want, some of them don’t know how to, and some of them don’t know if they can. So, New York was crazy for me because one I didn’t think actors moved to New York to be actors. I thought that was just a movie thing. Whenever she said move to New York to be an actor I was like okay…just go to the Big Apple…just got be famous. My dad was like, ‘do you want to do it? ‘ My parents are very supportive of the acting thing and I was like sure. I’ve never been to New York, didn’t know anything about it, I had one friend here and his name is Craig. He was….
Shoutout to Craig.
Shoutout to Craig, man much love. He was my first New York friend man he got me in my first film, my first play….
Umm…Shoutout to Craig bro!
You feel me? Craig is the man bro. He is a retired teacher from my hometown and he moved to New York maybe two years before I did and he’s like mid fifties, one of my best friends, and he’s my dawg. I love you man. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for Craig.