Aaron Johnson has come a long way in the past three years. From French-kissing in 2008’s Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging to kicking-ass in Matthew Vaughn’s triumphant comic book adaptation, Johnson’s career has shot him to the fore of celebrity. But, still just 19 and on the brink of becoming a father with filmmaker partner Sam Taylor Wood, LWLies finds out he’s not about to let his fame get the better of him.
LWLies: Control seems to be a key issue for you at this point in your career, but the tabloids over the last year have been about taking that control away from you…
Johnson: Yeah, I mean… I don’t really follow what goes on in the Daily Mail or any other paper or even film industry reviews. I don’t follow any of it because whether it’s a good one or not they’ll be that one sentence or that one something that will stick in your mind. I’ve got a lot of friends who I’ve seen it affect them in ways that I kind of want to keep away. It gets you or it really affects your creative thinking, you know? If you start thinking about what people expect you to be like or whatever or anything in life you just want to do life the way you want to do it not by how anyone else thinks about you or has an opinion about you. So I just don’t even bother looking into it or listening to it. Which is why when you go to Sundance you don’t get caught up in people blowing smoke up your arse. When I was at Sundance I was there proudly promoting Nowhere Boy because I thought it was a great film and I was part of something really special yet there was a lot of people there talking about Kick-Ass and there’s a big hype about it and a good response there and they want to talk about that thing and they all want to say this and that and the other, and all sorts of people who want to blow smoke up your arse, so really at the end of the day you just want to go home and put your feet on the ground – be grounded and pulled back and be humble.
Do you see fatherhood having a material effect on your career? Maybe the roles you’re interested in or your perspective?
Probably. I mean, all sorts of roles that you take you’re always trying to find something that’s challenging. Well, I do. And you always want to find something that’s going to push you and make you grow as a person. So you’re always looking for that something that’s kind of close to you or something that you’ve already experienced in life because that’s what it’s all about – drawing on past experiences and using it in an art form. So, yeah, I guess so. But I don’t get worried about it career-wise because I’ve got a beautiful family and I care more about that than the career. And for me as well, I don’t really, as a, sort of, actor, you don’t really hit your prime till you’re about 30 or 40 anyway so I’m kind of 10 years away from all that sort of stuff. So it doesn’t factor in.
When we spoke to you a while back, you said that there was no Plan B – acting was everything. It sounds already like you might be having a change of heart.
Before then, yeah I guess then I was a bit more independently career motivated or just not even necessarily career just naturally moving forward in any sort of aspect in life, and that’s what I have done. And I tend to keep going forward. With acting and going from job to job you’re almost going to a different family and now that I’ve got my family, we either move together and go around together, or work is just work. But it’s different actually – you’ve got to find something that you’re really, really passionate about and want to put six months of your life into really.
We speak to quite a few people who are just getting started and there’s always that sense that they are fighting so hard for something. Now that you’re on the verge of winning the fight, how does it feel? Are you full of confidence or does it make you even more nervous, like you’ve got more to lose?
Let me just put that all together. Yeah, okay. It’s a process right, so… I can understand. If Kick-Ass puts me in a position where more work’s available, it makes your options a bit wider because, you know, people have seen you, people might want you, they’re more interested in you. Yeah, that’s a nice position to be in, a very comfortable position, and also you want to be careful about what you choose then to keep your career path going and not burn out real quick – that’s very important because you see some actors, the new hot shit thing, and they just keep doing utter crap and no one gives a fuck. That, to me, is… I’m not really scared of that; I’m pretty fearless, which is why I like doing different roles and different things. You know, if I’m Kick-Ass and I’m over here in this section, then I want to go completely the other scale. That’s why Nowhere Boy came along and was perfect because they’re two complete opposites really and that shows versatility, and that’s what I like doing. It kind of keeps you going. But to me, like, the fight doesn’t just die down. You always keep fighting. The best jobs are the ones that are worth fighting for. Kick-Ass might open a load of doors, but what’s behind those doors might be utter shit. I can’t just grab it because I’ve got an opportunity. You’ve got to be pretty patient to wait for something that you feel in your gut and your instincts that you want to do and feel passionate about and is something that you really want to do. You follow that and you just keep going. But most of the ones that you want are the ones that are worth fighting for, they probably don’t want you. You’ve got to prove yourself constantly.
You look at a guy like Michael Cera and he is cultivating a very particular persona, which is what movie stars have to do – have a recognisable personality. But you go the other way – it’s impossible to see the real you in Kick-Ass or Nowhere Boy or Angus. Is that a deliberate choice – is it too much of a sacrifice to you to be any other way. Is that not the game you’re playing?
Well, again, ‘playing the game’ is acting. Acting is constantly moulding and creating something different and, you know, being artistic. I admire those sorts of actors though. Before Michael Cera you’re looking at Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, they’re the ones at the top, then Seth Rogen pushed it over and now he’s the one that’s the lead. But I don’t go and see those movie really because they just don’t have any sort of feeling or soul to them. I mean, if I was looking at actors I’d look at, you know, one person who’s made it up to the top and can keep doing that is Johnny Depp – if you want to think slightly commercial but isn’t, Depp can be, when he does Tim Burton’s stuff, really creative, completely different and mad character. To me, I’d always say that Gary Oldman is one of my favourite versatile actors because I never fucking spot him in a movie. Like, I won’t have a fucking clue and he’s in a ton of great, favourite movies.
Then he can get away with Air Force One.
You just don’t recognise him. For me also, I’d like to be able to do that as much as possible. In Kick-Ass I wanted to be blond because the original comic-books, the young lad has big, curly blond hair. But Matthew didn’t even want me to have glasses on, and the character has big-arse glasses. Not just to put a nerdy effect on it but I saw that character and I wanted to mould myself into that person. And another thing was, at the beginning, Kick-Ass was slightly out of my comfort zone because it was typical, high-school American humour, which was of the Jonah Hill/Michael Cera slant. And that was so fresh and new and something that I wasn’t quite used to. And the whole improvising there and then, talking utter shit like, ‘Fuck you, pussyholes. Go wank in a…’ Do you know what I mean?
How much of that is improvised? It’s a bit fresher and realer than the usual high school stuff.
Yeah, it kind of comes off that because you’re only there for a bit. Yeah, most of it was scripted and that’s just Jane’s writing, it was all pretty much there. It was different. When I read other American scripts and then that came along, it didn’t seem necessarily American and then that made sense because it wasn’t an American writer.
The English have a better ear for swearing...
Yeah. It was a different world for me to climb straight into and I didn’t realise that it would get to this point where it’s got a lot of hype and a lot of people are raving about it because it was an independent movie. Matthew kept saying that this was going to be a really big budget fucking home video because we ain’t got a distributor so it might not even make it to theatres. But I just wanted to feel so far away from me and so far away from Angus and all sorts of things. I wanted blond hair but he wouldn’t fucking let me have blond hair. His argument was, ‘Did you ever see Alexander?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Yeah. No. I’m not going to have the same fucking mistake as Colin Farrell. That cunt with his blond hair.’ But you know it’s not about, you know, what’s on the outside, it’s all about his spirit and his soul and the way you carry yourself and all that. For me it was like, for my first American quirky role I wanted to be so far different to who I am. I want to find something very different each time, something that I can create that’s different so you don’t get noticed or recognised.
How difficult is that proving – to find something different each time?
It’s always the case that one script for every 100 is good.
Was there a lightbulb moment for you when it clicked in your head that cinema was the thing for you?
I think the moment – this is gonna sound really fucked up – I think the moment was when I was eight and I was on stage, it was production of Macbeth with Rufus Sewell and Sally Dexter, on at the West End. I was playing Simon Macduff, and in the scene I went through the scene but it came to the end… I can’t explain it right. I wasn’t quite thinking properly, and I went straight back to the top of the scene and went through it again. But the mother rolled it through and carried it on. That was the first time I’d ever noticed that I’d fucked up, and it was on stage. Probably no one noticed but that was a huge deal to me and I was only eight, you know what I mean? After the scene I came off and I was in tears, then I went back to the cast and apologised and said sorry for messing up. I guess from then on I realised that I was kinda slightly striving for perfection. I was wanting to perfect my performance and make sure I did it right and correctly and not fuck up or mess up. A sense of that made me… And it was funny because I was eight and doing Shakespeare on a stage. That was a moment in which I felt something. Up until now I probably wouldn’t have said that I’m an actor. If someone said to me, ‘What do you do?’ I wouldn’t ever fucking mention it because, I don’t know, I think just because when I grew up at school and stuff nobody used to talk about it. It just wouldn’t go down well, would it? So I would never have really ever admitted that I was an actor.
Is that more about your self-confidence?
Even now if someone says to me, I’m hesitant to say it because, you know, you always have that… People have that idea of what actors are like as well, and I know that the typical, whatever, ‘luvvies’ and all sorts of actors that I don’t want to be associated with, so therefore when you say that you’re almost putting yourself in a club. Like, ‘Hey, I’m a dickhead’. Basically. ‘What do you do?’ Well, I’m a cunt.’