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Monday, August 20, 2007

Interview with Flash Gordon’s Eric Johnson

by Jennifer Squires Biller

The day the new show Flash Gordon premiered, I spoke to “Flash” himself, actor Eric Johnson, by phone. He was - to quote him - “like a kid at Christmas,” waiting for the debut and for fan reaction to the pilot.

As it turns out, Flash Gordon was a smashing success and gave the SciFi channel its best-rated series premiere of 2007, earning 2.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings.

Some of you know Johnson only as television’s newest superhero Flash Gordon. Others remember him from his role as Whitney Fordman on Smallville. Whether you’re familiar with Johnson’s work or new to this fresh face, you don’t want to miss the following mind-blowing, gut-busting interview. (Yes, I have a passion for hyperbole, but it’s good. I promise.)

In addition to chatting about Flash, I got Johnson to share his thoughts on his Smallville exit, divulge his hair-care secret, discuss what it was like playing a young version of Brad Pitt in the film Legends of the Fall and, of course, reveal his favorite TV shows.

He also told me whether he can sing the infamous Flash Gordon Queen song, and I know you’re dying to know that piece of juicy scoop. Plus, I’m pretty sure Johnson coined a new term: “flashtastic.” So, without further adieu, tubers, please read this exclusive Tube Talk interview with Flash “ahhh-haaaa” Gordon.

Jennifer: Most little boys grow up playing superheroes. You actually get to do it now as an adult — minus the tights. So, what’s it like playing a bonafide super hero?

Eric: (Laughing) The thing I really like about Flash Gordon is that he doesn’t actually have a super power. He’s just a regular guy in some pretty extraordinary circumstances. For me, the fun part is that when he puts himself up against an adversary, he’s just going in as any other man would. When he gets knocked down, he’s hurt just like anybody else. It adds a humanity to the role. That’s what I really love about this. It’s a complete riot every day at work.

Jennifer: If viewers aren’t familiar with the Flash Gordon story, will they still be able to tune in and enjoy the show?
Absolutely. What the show does is it slowly starts educating the audience. It’s not like we jump in in the middle of the story. Where the story is picking up is really the making of a hero. It’s not that Flash is a superhero, as he was in the comic books, because he hasn’t had the opportunity to do that yet. So, it’s very much the creation of this hero. He’s getting educated along with the audience.

Jennifer: On Smallville you played a supporting character, as opposed to Flash Gordon, where you are the title character. How are you handling the stress?Should I send Prozac?
Eric: (Laughing) It’s funny. Making a TV show is such a collaborative process. There are so many people that go into shooting an individual shot, let alone an episode. It really is an ensemble project. We have an incredible cast. I don’t feel any added pressure. It’s an honor and responsibility to go in and do my best every day and not phone it in, so to speak. And also and with the fan base that Flash Gordon already has, there’s a responsibility that you have to the people to do the best that you can. They truly care about this character. Other than just that sense of responsibility, it really is an honor. There is very little individual pressure. It’s a team effort.

Jennifer: I watched the Comic Con panel that you guys did, and you discussed that you do some of your own stunts on the show. Are you working out more? You were always athletic in your Smallville role as quarterback, but this seems to present a whole new set of challenges.
Eric: Before we got started with the show, I was working out more than I ever had in my life, doing the six meals a day and really pushing hard. It’s about a 15-hour day for me, door to door, at work so it’s leaving very little time for working out. But, we’re managing to sneak some in there as we go along through the year. The workday is pretty hectic, but at least, thankfully, I can sneak at least some stretching in there in the middle of it.

Jennifer: So I can put the rumor out that we’re going to get a buff Eric Johnson for Flash Gordon?
(Laughing) Yes, you’re gonna get a buffer Eric Johnson. And hopefully he can keep it up for the whole season.

Jennifer: Flash Gordon has been around since the 1930s. What can you tell us about your version of Flash?
Eric: Like anything that is 75-years-old, to make it useful in the modern day, you have to do some updates, and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve updated a lot of the technology that was being used from the original; things that have become obsolete are gone by the wayside. That’s the biggest change. There will be fans of Flash Gordon that are going to miss the spaceship and things like that, but what I think is the most important thing is the overall arc and the heart of this story and that is taken directly from the original source, which is Alex Raymond’s comic strip. We’re doing everything we can to update this for a new audience and still be in keeping with the original spirit of the comic strip.

Jennifer: Tell us about the style of the show. Does it have the cool special effects of Smallville or the dry humor of Battlestar Galactica? Is it adventure-comedy, or completely unlike anything we’ve seen?
It’s unique in the fact that it’s treading a fine line between the drama and the humor and going back and forth. The stakes that we’re dealing with are very real, and people’s lives are at stake. At the same time, there are these bizarre moments that we poignantly address in the show. It doesn’t take itself too seriously at times and has a self-deprecating sense of humor, which makes it very original, plus having all the action and stunts and adventure of what a comic book show should.

Jennifer: So we’re going to get some laughs from the show?
Eric: You are absolutely gonna get some laughs. That’s the biggest thing that the audience will be surprised with. It’s funny, and it’s supposed to be.

Jennifer: Are people tormenting you with that infamous Queen song about Flash Gordon? (“Flash ---ahhhh haaaa” Savior of the Universe...
Eric: (Laughing) I get asked to sing it a lot, which I will not torture anyone with. It was funny; we had a director who liked to play music in between takes, and when we would do an action sequence he would play the 1991 remix version of that Queen song. Karen Cliché, who plays Baylin, and Gina Holden, who plays Dale, and I were running around listening to the 1991 remix song.

Jennifer: That’s funny. I hope that makes it on the blooper reel.
I hope so, too. It’s pretty funny.

Jennifer: Every superhero has a love interest. What can you tell us about your relationship with Dale?
Eric: Dale and Flash were high school sweethearts, and she went off to college, and Flash stayed home. When she returns, she comes back with a fiancée. So, things get a little rocky. Things are not as easy for Flash, as he may have liked them to be. We meet some other ladies along the way, too. Including Baylin, the alien bounty hunter, and Aura, who is very sexy and spoiled.

Jennifer: You have a long list of acting credits, including guest roles on Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer, The Unit and The Dead Zone. Do you have a favorite role?
This one is taking the cake. I’ve been so lucky to play a variety of things and have worked with hundreds of talented people, but I really have to say that this part and this show is really something special. The enthusiasm that is behind us at work, and the crew as well, we really have a good time. We have a lot of fun making this show. We work really hard to do the best job that we can. It really is a team atmosphere. That is really special, plus, the fact that the show is an action/adventure with some comedy. It’s like the ultimate actor dream for me to get to do all of three of those in one show.

Jennifer: I checked out your profile on IMDB and I was shocked to see that you played the young Brad Pitt role in Legends of the Fall. What was it like working on that film?
I was about 14-years-old and had done a few film roles, but that was the first big feature that I had ever stepped foot on. I was a wide-eyed kid at that point. I just loved every moment of it. I was just looking around saying, “If I could do this for a living, if I could make movies and TV shows for a living, that would be the coolest thing in the world.” Those three weeks I spent running around in the Rocky Mountains and playing with a 1,400-pound grizzly bear…what 14-year-old boy would not be over the moon and completely hooked on the process? Every career day at school was spent with me thinking about being an actor and working toward that.

Jennifer: By the way, there is a whole discussion on the IMDB message board about how you look like Brad Pitt and/or River Phoenix.) It’s quite a debate.
Really? (laughing) That’s hilarious!

Jennifer: I read that Flash is being filmed in Vancouver. What’s it like being back there again after Smallville? Do you keep in touch with any of your former cast mates?
Vancouver, first of all, is a beautiful city. I love living there. We’re kind of out of the Hollywood system so we can focus on the work and not have to worry about too many red-carpet things and stuff like that. The Sci-Fi genre shoots a ton of shows in Vancouver, so there’s this fraternity of shows out there that are all shooting at the same time. I think I’m gonna have to make a pit stop and say hello to the folks at Smallville. They were very good to me for many years, and it would be nice to go over and say, “Hi.”

Jennifer: Many fans of Smallville were ticked when your character was killed in action. (Including me.) Were you pleased with how they handled Whitney’s exit? Many of your fans are secretly hoping Whitney will come back from the dead and save Lana Lang from evil Lex Luthor.
(Laughing.) Oh, that’s funny. (The exit) was great. That sequence that Whitney got to go out on was a pretty incredible day, with the explosions and the helicopters. It was an intense full day of action and drama. I think that Whitney, who was the all-American boy, went out as a hero. I think that’s a good way to go out.

Jennifer: What were you like in high school? Onscreen, you’ve played the quarterback, the all-American boy, and now you’re a superhero. Were you the prom king or the quarterback in real life?
No I was a goof. I attempted sports and even made some of the teams, but it wasn’t due to my prowess. It was due to the fact that I was at a small school. I really was the dork and the outspoken goof in the corner. That’s what I was in high school. I fantasized about being the quarterback, but I didn’t quite have the aptitude.

Jennifer: I have to ask this question, as Tube Talk is a TV-based site. What are your favorite shows on television?
Eric: There’s not a lot of time for TV, but thanks to inventions like TiVo, it’s helping me out here. I get home fairly late from work, and I’m usually able to catch a South Park rerun and, of course, Colbert Report is a personal favorite of mine. And I get addicted to Discovery Channel. I watch a lot of Discovery Channel.

Jennifer: The Deadliest Catch, right?
Eric: (Excited) Deadliest Catch! Deadliest Catch is an awesome show!

Jennifer: It’s like TV crack isn’t it?
Eric: Yes! (laughing) I watched a lot of TV as a kid. The one thing I always watch are animal documentaries, too. I get sucked in. That whole series Planet Earth was phenomenal. As soon as it came out on DVD, we bought that.

Jennifer: What is your dream role?
Eric: Wow…umm…I love playing the cowboy. I love doing westerns and being up on a horse. That to me is amazing, getting to ride around on a horse all day and being outside. I love shooting outside and being in far-reaching places. The whole western genre is a favorite of mine. That’s the ultimate.
Jennifer: Maybe you can talk them into doing a western arc on Flash.
Eric: (Giggling) Yeah, Flash on a horse on Mongo. That would be hilarious.

Jennifer: Finally, my totally shallow question of the day: Eric, you may have the best head of hair on primetime. Seriously, you could rival McDreamy with those locks. Do you have any hair-care secrets to share?
Eric: (Laughing) My hair is in the care (stops for more laughter) of the talented people at the show. They’re the ones who take care of me and assure that it’s looking “Flashtastic.” I have them to thank for it. One of their big tips for me is, “Don’t wash your hair when you go home tonight,” so maybe (my hair care secret is) dirty hair.”

Jennifer: Is there anything I haven’t asked about Flash Gordon that you would like people to know?
I’d like people to know, who are fans of the original stuff, that that’s what we’re going for. It’s important to us to continue what has been great about Flash Gordon all these years, and that’s a great story with a great hero. It’s a lot of fun. I hope they enjoy it.

A special thanks to Eric Johnson for taking time to chat with me. Catch Flash Gordon on Friday nights on the SciFi channel at 9 p.m. ET. The premiere episode was released on DVD August 14th.


ashley said...

Awesome interview Jen!! *sighs* God, I love him:)

tube talk girl said...

Thanks, Ashley! He was very nice. I know. You hate me. :)

ashley said...

lol, he seemed really nice in the interview. That always helps.
I LOVED him on Smallville. I have to watch Flash Gordon now:)

Big Tuna said...

LOL at his hair comments. He does have a nice coif.

Miz bhavin said...

I didn't love him on Smallville, but I'm enjoying him as Flash. The special effects aren't good, though, but he is.

Jess said...

Thanks for such a great interview. He's so hot! Love the show.

Keisha said...

OMG, I had no idea he was on Legends of the Fall. I've seen that movie like a hundred times and never put it together.

kittycat229 said...

"flashtastic"....too funny. I miss him on Smallville. He kept Lana away from Clark!

Jenny said...

Great interview, Jennifer. I've always loved Eric, even when he played dull as dirt Whitney on Smallville.

Casey said...

I don't like the new shows, but I like Eric. Is that wrong? The show seemed kind of cheesy, special effects wise. They could take a note or two from Smallville.

Andrea said...

Oooh, I loved the interview :D

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