Jake Johnson is parlaying his success on New Girl to big screen triumphs in films both big and small. His latest, well, they don’t come any bigger… the Tom Cruise starring Dark Universe kick-off reboot of The Mummy.
We caught up with the star for an exclusive interview where he talked about the intensity of Cruise, and how his expectations of working with the megastar and the reality matched up. Johnson also dished what he looks for in a project, and how it is different between indie and big studio films. For example the Jurassic World star signed on to The Mummy without keenly knowing the inner details of the script. It had Cruise. It was the re-start of the Universal monster world and it meant he could see the world. Indie movies on the other hand, it’s all about the ensemble, director, vision and so much more.
Johnson is lucky to be able to do both and with eight more episodes of New Girl left to film on the docket, the star (recently seen on the big screen in Let’s Be Cops) will have plenty of opportunities to dive down the cinematic rabbit hole in all sorts of films.
The Movie Mensch: They say if the actors on the screen are having fun, then the audience does too. Was it as much fun to make The Mummy as it appeared to be?
Jake Johnson: It really was, actually. But, it was a lot of work. Tom Cruise is a guy who gets his enjoyment out of working, I’ve kinda learned from him. So, when you’re on his movie, it’s best to try to follow suit. So it was really fun to just kind of accept the fact that we were gonna work hard, and keep shooting and keep trying to find the best way to do a scene, and to find enjoyment in it — because he really is a fun guy to work with. And Alex Kurtzman (director) is a really nice, fun, kind human. It just happened to be a really good group of people.
The Movie Mensch: Go back a little bit… when you found out that you got the gig, how did the expectations and the anticipation of working with Tom Cruise differ, or if they were at all the same?
Jake Johnson: The expectations were that he was going to be really intense and he really was. And when I read that he’d done his own stunts, I wanted to see how real all that was or if it was just somewhat of a good PR story. It turns out he really does do all his own stunts! And he trains hard. When you see him fly off a building and hit the ground, he’s really doing it. He’s not getting injured, but he’s getting hurt.
The Movie Mensch: There’s always talk about actors shooting on sound stages versus being on location and kind of what that does for you as far as informing your character and the tone and the scope. How is it for you, as an actor, to kind of work on location for The Mummy?
Jake Johnson: It was really beautiful. It was really great to actually see all these locations and be all these places and see Africa and experience shooting in England.
The Movie Mensch: Not to give too much away, but what were your first thoughts or impressions when you saw yourself in your makeup? Secondly, how long did it take for you to look that good?
Jake Johnson: It took about three hours. A lot of it, they did in practical and then they also did a lot more in CG afterwards. It was really fun to go through that process and to be able to [see] how others reacted to me. That was the most fun. I guess just creeping people out by walking in the room was a fun kind of twist to it all.
The Movie Mensch: I’m a fan of New Girl. I’ve been watching it for years. Something that struck me almost immediately in The Mummy is, for lack of a better word, was it weird for you to be calling out to Nick as Tom Cruise? I mean, that’s your name on New Girl!
Jake Johnson: It was at first. What was even weirder is being on set and, you know, members of the crew at times just refer to actors as their character names. So hearing, like, a sound guy calling Tom, “Nick,” and not being me on a set was really weird. Being on set and having somebody refer to you as Nick has been my role for the last six years, so that actually did trip me up quite a bit. It was also weird reading the script and when I would see “Nick” and not be my line, it actually messed me up with memorization.
The Movie Mensch: Oh. You clearly have a gift for comedy, but it’s been great to see you in Jurassic World and The Mummy, and it allows you to do so much more. Is it true that variety is really the spice of life of an actor?
Jake Johnson: I think variety is a big spice. For example, for this movie, getting to see how Tom Cruise works. It’s not like a graduate school. I’ll take that with me with everything I do after it.
The Movie Mensch: There’s a whole lot riding on this… the first chapter in a Dark Universe. For you personally, as a fan of the movies in this institution that’s 100-plus years old, what does it mean to you to be a part of something that is a part of something even bigger?
Jake Johnson: You know, I haven’t given that much thought, to be honest. It’s a really good question, but I think the way I’m doing it is just trying to stay present with it all. I feel really honored to do every movie I do, from the big ones like this to the small ones. As someone who’s wanted to be an actor for a lot of years, that’s the dream for me. So, whatever the project is, regardless of scope, it has that same feeling for me.