Exclusive: J. Quinton Johnson Talks ‘Last Flag Flying’

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Exclusive: J. Quinton Johnson Talks ‘Last Flag Flying’
Posted by Wilson Morales

November 6, 2017

Currently in theaters is Last Flag Flying, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Yul Vazquez, Cicely Tyson, J. Quinton Johnson, and Deanna Reed-Foster.

In 2003, 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War, former Navy Corps medic Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) re-unites with Former Marines Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) on a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives.

For J. Quinton Johnson, this is his second film with Linklater. Johnson was cast in Linklater’s sports comedy film, ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’

Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Johnson about his role in the film while he’s taking a break from his current job in Broadway’s Hamilton as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison.

How did the role come about for you?

J. Quniton Johnson: It was Richard. He had been trying to make this movie for a long time and when it looked like the film was finally going to be made, I was fortunate enough to work with him on ‘Everybody Wants Some!’ and he sent me the script and asked if I would be interested. Of course I was. I still had to read for the role and I was the only guy who did so. Rick had me in mind and I was thankful enough that he asked me to do another picture.

How would your role as Washington?

J. Quinton Johnson: He’s a curious being. He’s the kid that goes off and just learns that it’s different from the inside than it is from the outside. I don’t think that Washington was too enthusiastic about going over there in the first place, but these guys from these small towns, it’s what they do. If you don’t have any prospects at the end of your senior year, for some of them, their best option is to serve in the military; especially in 2003. It was post-9/11 hysteria. They were trying to find some kind of purpose. It was there for them and they went out and did it. Washington learned a lot of things that he wouldn’t have learned elsewhere.

Did you do any research of the war and the guys were in the military, at least during that time period?

J. Quniton Johnson: I marched military in high school. I knew a little bit about that culture. It’s not the same as the armed forces, but there’s a discipline to it. I also spoke to a Marine back in Austin. Rick has set that up and I sat down with him over a burger or two. We chatted about what it was like for him because he had served in the military from 2007 to 2011 and he was out there for a while. So I brought in my conversations with him and my own experiences to the role.

Can you talk about working with Bryan, Lawrence and Steve?

J. Quinton Johnson: They were great. I was really nervous coming in just because I had known all of them before I wanted to become an actor. I knew of them through the consumption of whatever I watching at the time. Even as a kid growing up, I had seen Bryan in Malcolm in the Middle, which was before Breaking Bad. I had known all of Steve Carell movies and even after I decided I wanted to be an actor, I had seen him in Foxcatcher and The Big Short. With Lawrence, I had been watching his movies with mom and the same thing with Cicely Tyson.

To see me do Q & As with these people, it’s interesting because we felt that we knew them before I ever became an actor. To be told that I will be working with them, it’s intimidating and scary. It’s also exciting, but you definitely think that you don’t want to mess that up. Rick wouldn’t put me in that situation if he didn’t think I could do it. He had a lot of faith in me that allowed me to let the intimidation factor go and let me do what he knows what I can do His faith in me eased the nerves that I had going in.

In working with Richard a second, what’s the difference in his direction?

J. Quinton Johnson: I’m getting schooled. It’s a luxury to have rehearsals before we started shooting and Rick has a extensive rehearsals, but he’s also the only director I’ve worked with in terms of studio films. I don’t have other references. I thought it would be different from Everybody Wants Some! but he has the same approach from the rehearsals to the actual shooting. He would them ask me how did I feel and how was this or that. He’s very much into letting the actors find the right lane and in my theatrical experience, that’s not always the case.

How are you enjoying your run on Hamilton?

J. Quinton Johnson: It’s great. I’m learning a lot. Just like Washington, I’m learning a lot on the inside that I wouldn’t from the outside. With Hamilton, I’ve done about 300 performances now and it’s almost a year. You have to adjust. It’s a grueling schedule in doing eight shows a week. I’m so grateful to have that job and the opportunity. Even with your day off, you’re playing catch up with everything else going on, but you adjust and figure out what works for you.

While you’ve been in LA, have you seen the production there?

J. Quinton Johnson: I had seen the LA production when I was out there a few weeks ago. It’s fantastic obviously. They all rehearsed in New York and I remembered seeing them around when I was first stepping in the show. To see them a few weeks ago was excellent.

Clip – How’s The Living Over There

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