If more people had audition stories like Ryan Johnson, who moved to the United States from Australia and within a week had landed a starring role as ambulance-chasing attorney Ben Grogan on Fairly Legal, the streets of Hollywood would be even more crowded than they are with unrealistic hopefuls.
But what they need to realize is the Brisbane native and graduate of Queensland University of Technology paid his dues before trying his hand in Hollywood. His TV credits at home include the series All Saints, Home & Away, Sea Patrol and Out of the Blue, so he was more than ready when it came time to read for the role of the outspoken, money-loving attorney opposite Sarah Shahi.
“We shoot so fast at home, it really gets you into the mode of getting your lines down fast, hitting your marks and not hitting the furniture,” Johnson jokes. “If you can bring something more to it, all the better. So, I think, because of the pace we work at home, it really teaches you to be prepared.”
In this exclusive interview, Johnson, who can be seen on a new episode of Fairly Legal tonight, shares his quick-as-lightening casting story, the upcoming triangle between Ben, Kate (Shahi) and Justin (Michael Trucco), and what it is like to work with an American accent.
Had you moved to the U.S. when you auditioned for this role, or were you still in Australia with your sights set on America?
I had never worked in America. I had done productions in Australia that were from America. That is where I had to use an American accent and the like. I was getting to a point at home where I felt like with television roles, I wanted to step up to the next level. I was focusing heavily on getting a role in America. It so happened that I got an awesome one.
Do you have a cute audition story?
I basically was down to a two for a play that didn’t come through in Sydney when I finally got my American work papers, so I raced across to the States, thinking, “I will do a month and see if they are interested in me, get my foot in the door for pilot season, do a couple of guest star roles or whatever.” Then, I just so happened to read for a thing called Fairly Legal. It was on a Friday, by Friday afternoon, I was reading with Sarah. By Tuesday, I was reading for the network, by Thursday, I was on a plane, and by Friday, I was shooting. It took seven days from audition to being on the set.
So then did you have to get Canadian papers?
That is exactly right. I spent six months trying to get American papers and then I landed a gig in Canada [Vancouver] and that took 24 hours.
Ben is quite the character. What appeals to you about him?
Pretty much everything. He gets to turn up in every situation like a whirlwind. He gets to disarm everyone around him. He is smart but he has a great sense of humor. He gets to hang around pretty girls like Virginia Williams (Lauren Reed) and Sarah Shahi, so there really is a lot going for the guy.
Does he resemble you in any way — other than appearance?
I think I relate to him in the way that he uses humor as a way to deal with situations. I think he has a great ability in times of high stakes to turn up and keep everybody a little off balance with his humor, which is something I try to adapt in life.
In an earlier interview, Sarah intimated that there might be a triangle coming up, are you up for that?
Yes. At first, I am just annoying the hell out of her, and Justin doesn’t seem too ruffled by this new guy, but after a while, Ben’s way of chasing the money and Kate’s way of chasing the truth — despite the fact that they completely clash on that level — they really are worthy adversaries. After a while, we start to see they are learning something from each other and that they came together for a reason and there may be something a little more behind it than just business. I think there might be a little attraction there, but neither of them will admit it and that starts to ruffle Justin’s feathers.
There is a lot of fun to be had with Ben and Justin. They get to do some storylines together. It is fun to put them together because Justin is so by the book and he is such a moral and trustworthy guy and Ben is this ambulance chasing, money-hungry man. Couple that with the kind of tension that is coming from both of them having feelings for Kate, and it gets pretty juicy.
Why do you think Ben wanted to join Reed & Reed after being successful on his own?
I think because he has gotten to a point where he can continue doing what he has been doing on his own, but he sees something in the opportunity of joining a firm. It is kind of inevitable, I think, if you want to expand. I think he sees great opportunity at Reed & Reed. Lauren is a great businesswoman and Ben is a savvy operator and, I think, he sees if they combine forces they can really make something out of the company.
Your American accent is pretty good. Do you stay in it while you are on the set?
I did for a couple of weeks. Then I found Ben’s voice and I trust myself to switch in between. I have never had to do the American accent for so much time in one day, so once I get tired, the muscles in my throat get tired and that is when I have to keep an eye on myself. It is easy when you are preparing for an audition, because you just have a few lines to work with, but when you have eight pages to shoot in a day, it really becomes a challenge.
Fairly Legal airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. on USA Network.
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