Getting a chance to learn more about the person behind the character is always a delight and even more so when it is someone like Noel Johansen, who shares more than just a glimpse into the man behind than man seen on screen – he gives a peek into his soul. In fact, Noel is an actor who loves inhabiting his characters so much that you can just sense his glee at trying each character on and seeing what it is like to live in their world. Thus, what you end up seeing on screen is a real person, not just an actor portraying a character. It was a pleasure to interview Noel and find out more about the actor who brings such varied characters to life.
What initially appealed to you about the role of Danny and working on ABC’s SOMEWHERE BETWEEN?
NOEL: Because I hadn’t done anything like it before, I was drawn to the initial challenge of it. I always like trying things that I don’t think I could do, because it brings out the best of me, I think. But with Danny, I wasn’t prepared for what happened very early on in the process. The challenge of it was quickly replaced by a deeper connection to who he was and how important my relationship to him was. I felt I had to protect him and his vulnerability. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much he would end up protecting and taking care of me. His “disability” became an emotional strength for me and I was so honored to be able to express him and to bring him to life. I think I was initially drawn to working on SOMEWHERE BETWEEN because of its “edgy thriller” nature – I was excited to work on a gripping drama.
How would you describe who Danny is and his arc in this season of the show?
NOEL: Danny is a very caring father with 1p36 Deletion Syndrome, who deeply loves his family and would do anything for them and does. He is caught in a dramatic situation with his family and put in prison for 10 years for murder. The arc of his journey is told retrospectively, starting with him in prison and slowly reveals how he got to be put in prison. There are lots of turns and twists, so it’s very exciting.
What do you most admire and/or like about him?
NOEL: His strength, his awareness and intelligence, his love and bravery faced with incredible odds.
What is it like working alongside Paula Patton and Devon Sawa?
NOEL: It was amazing working with both these 2 very fine actors. I did most of my work with Devon, as he played my brother and Devon is fiercely uncompromising. We really connected as actors and as “brothers” and I felt extremely fortunate to work with him.
What is your favorite part about working on the show?
NOEL: My favorite part was being surrounded by a cast and crew that cared as much as I did about the series. There was no complacency and to be surrounded by such amazing effort and desire to make things count, fueled my own creativity and made me feel at home.
What has been the one thing you as an actor haven taken away from working on SOMEWHERE BETWEEN?
NOEL: That once you commit yourself to a place of never giving up, giving up is never an option.
What do you hope viewers to take away from watching SOMEWHERE BETWEEN?
NOEL: I hope that viewers realize that there’s value in every potential connection you can make. That what we often are quick to dismiss may have meaning and is worth a second look. And from my character’s perspective, that people understand that folks with disabilities are capable of incredible bravery and sacrifice.
What is the biggest challenge working on SOMEWHERE BETWEEN so far?
NOEL: I think it was to inhabit the emotional vulnerability and solitude of my character’s circumstances for such long periods of time. But I felt I had to protect Danny’s vulnerability by staying in character and that made for tiring, though extremely rewarding days on set.
What is the biggest surprise working on SOMEWHERE BETWEEN?
NOEL: For a start, I think the whole experience seemed to go by so fast. It can happen that folks can be skeptical in the face of creating a new type of show, but I think what surprised me the most was the enthusiasm and commitment everyone had right from the start to do whatever it took to make the scenes great, all the way from my fellow actors to the crew, the directors and producers.
What have you learned from this experience?
NOEL: By playing a character with apparent disabilities like Danny, I learned that there’s a hero’s struggle in us all and that none of us should underestimate what we’re capable of. I learned that I was capable of inhabiting characters with disabilities, like Danny, that I didn’t know I was capable of before. And also, that I can go further in moments as an actor by trusting where the character is taking me rather than the other way around.
You are also working on the new Audience series LOUDERMILK. What initially appealed to you about the role of Russell and working on ABC’s LOUDERMILK?
NOEL: I loved the irony of the scene in which my character, an AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] group leader, is leading the meeting with a martini in hand, as if it’s completely acceptable.
How does Russell fit into the story of the show?
NOEL: He acts as a foil to Ron Livingston’s character, Loudermilk, to challenge what is acceptable about being an alcoholic.
What do you like about him?
NOEL: I love the fact that his normal is everyone else’s abnormal.
What is it like working alongside Ron Livingston and Laura Mennell?
NOEL: It was super fun. Ron was very personable and casual offset and then inspiringly uncompromising about making the scene and dialogue absolutely seamless so it didn’t feel like my line, his line etc. – it felt like a real-life situation in which comedy was a byproduct. Laura was subtle and really great to work with as well.
What is your favorite part about working on LOUDERMILK?
NOEL: Working with the director Peter Farrelly, and especially Ron was my favorite part because I loved taking the time with both of them to focus on making sense of the scene’s story rather than trying to just “get the shots done.”
Then you are also appearing in the Hallmark movie “Love Finds Its Way.” What initially appealed to you about working on “Love Finds A Way”?
NOEL: Initially, I was just thrilled to work with director, Gary Harvey, EPs, Jennifer Aspen, Kim Arnott and David O’Donell, writer, David Golden, and associate producer, Meghan Black. They were such an inspiration and made the whole experience feel like a being at dinner party with great friends. As an actor, on the other spectrum of playing challenging characters like Danny, I also enjoy playing the slightly comedic well-dressed city types – either lawyers, accountants etc. who have a subtle spin on things and make people chuckle, if not laugh out loud.
How does your character fit into the story?
NOEL: Alex Rogers is Ellen’s husband and Jane’s college friend. He’s a Wall Street type who solidifies Ellen’s reconnection to Jane and the town by encouraging the purchase of the house Jane is shows them.
What do you like about him?
NOEL: I like his confidence and kindness, but most of all his tendency to be coy and look for the subtle humor in situations.
What is it like working alongside Victor Webster and Catherine Bell?
NOEL: It was really great. My scenes were mostly with Catherine and she was charming and a treat to work with. I got to know Victor while we were waiting to film the big Christmas dinner and amazingly it turns out that he and I both won State Championships in Tae Kwon Do the same year (him in California and me in Pennsylvania) qualifying to train with the US Olympic Team!! And both of us decided not to because I was in college and he had a great work opportunity!
What is your favorite part about working on “Love Finds Its Way”?
NOEL: Apart from the producers and director, I really enjoyed working with Aliyah O’Brien, who played my wife – she is simply amazing, as an actor and as person.
Having appeared on a number of Hallmark shows, what initially made you want to join the Hallmark family?
NOEL: I really enjoy the feel-good side of Hallmark’s stories, which mixes humor subtly into its writing and looks for the best in people. That may sound cheesy, but sometimes one needs a break from the doom and gloom. Hallmark provides that. I also am constantly impressed with the executives they bring on board, who are encouraging and feel like they’re always a real part of the production.
For you, what are the positive aspects of being part of the growing Hallmark family?
NOEL: I like to know that I’m helping to tell stories to folks out there who want to see some positive messages. Other positives are that I get to meet new people who share that vision and enthusiasm and that’s simply uplifting.
What has surprised you most about your career to date?
NOEL: Getting the chance to play a character like Danny in SOMEWHERE BETWEEN. I have played all sorts of roles on screen from lawyers, cops and accountants – roles that are very apparent for my “type” but I’ve always wanted to play a character that takes me out of my element and challenges me and I’m so grateful for that.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the amazing variety of roles and projects you have worked on?
NOEL: I think that over the trajectory of my career, I used to look for what’s similar in the characters I play to myself. And now more than ever I look for the differences, because when I investigate those differences I find the unexpected, the interesting, the surprising. As a result, I’m changed as a person and as an actor. It somehow expands my humanity.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
NOEL: That I feel more relaxed and confident about what I can do and as a result I don’t worry so much about what’s coming next but embrace the unknown because I know something is coming. It’s nice to start to feel part of a community in which people are getting to know me and of me and are starting to appreciate my work.
If there were one role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
NOEL: It would be Ivanov – a role I played on stage about 10 years ago. He’s a very complicated character and his motivation often misunderstood. I feel like I’ve grown immensely as an actor since I last played him and I think I could bring a lot more levels to him now and reveal his motivation more compellingly in very key moments than I feel like I did the first time. I feel like I understand his struggle more now than I did before.
Do any of your characters and the situations they find themselves in ever leave a lasting impression on you?
NOEL: Yes, absolutely. Most recently, as Danny, waiting to see my brother Nico in prison was such a powerful moment for me as a character and as an actor, I can vividly remember his helplessness and excitement that combined in such a gripping way, I couldn’t stand still before the scene started. I was caught in Danny’s reality so strongly I had no choice to let go everything that I might normally drive as an actor. And then on stage in Buffalo New York, playing Einstein in Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” I remember opening night, lighting up my pipe on stage, which worked perfectly thanks to my dad who was sitting first row that night, who had instructed me very carefully on how to light a pipe. I remember being able to feel his pride and satisfaction from the audience that it had gone well and I’ll never forget that.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten? What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
NOEL: There are two pieces of advice actually! One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard applied especially to me because I kind of look like the nice guy next door. Bruce Katzman, a brilliant teacher in New York and then LA once told me very early in my career that I needed to play more sinister, darker characters because they would color and add depth to any role I would play, especially the “good guys” lending them a sense of struggle that life imposes on us all. Secondly, Shea Hampton, another brilliant teacher has taught me about trust, in the moment and with character expression – in other words channeling them rather than playing or driving them with ideas I’ve imposed upon them. Simply put, investigating what the character is feeling initially before the scene and at the start, and then trusting that that feeling will lead to other feelings in the scene naturally rather than contriving what your character is feeling and thinking about in every moment. Our unconscious/subconscious life will take care of what our conscious life most often fails at.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
NOEL: Yes, I do! I’m in 2 Hallmark features, playing Ron Williamsburg in “Peared with a Kiss” and Wade in “All My Heart.”
To see where his character Danny’s journey concludes, watch Noel’s heartfelt performance in SOMWHERE BETWEEN as the final 4 episodes air Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on ABC. Then be sure to look for more of Noel’s work in all new episodes of the comedy series LOUDERMILK premiering on October 17, 2017 on Audience Network available on DirecTV. To get more information about what Noel is up to in the future, you can follow him on Twitter @noel_johansen