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An Interview with Kenneth Johnson (ex-Lem, The Shield, Ham, Saving Grace)


An Interview with Kenneth Johnson (ex-Lem, The Shield, Ham, Saving Grace)
One of the most memorable death scenes on television came during season five of The Shield when Strike Team member Shane murdered his co-worker Lem by throwing a grenade into his car in an effort to prevent Lem from ratting out the other members of the team to Detective Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker). Kenneth Johnson treasures his days on The Shield, but the best part of the job was the lifelong friends he made. Kenneth has moved on from his days of playing a crooked cop and now stars in a new TNT drama with Holly Hunter titled Saving Grace, coming to a television near you this July.

I was fortunate enough to speak with Kenneth about everything from his struggle with dyslexia to pulling one of the funniest pranks I ever heard and found this compelling actor to be extremely down-to-earth, funny and with a doubt, one of the nicest guys you'd want to meet.

Q: You were a football and baseball player growing up, why did you decide to pursue modeling and acting?

"I played at Central Connecticut University. When I was a freshman, I cracked the base vertebrae in my back. Someone hit me with their helmet in my lower back and some guy hit my upper back and it twisted my body the other way. That was my dream, to see how far I could go and I think something got planted in my head that if you get hit the wrong way, something may happen. I came back two years later and played my third year, but something was always in the back of my head and I lost that edge of being not afraid of anything. In baseball, I think I just didn't have it in my mind set that that's where I wanted to go. As a kid growing up in Vermont, I always had this dream of going to California. I went out there with no idea of what I really wanted to do, it was the path that I kind of got scared into."

Q: I understand a man named Moses Aboles was instrumental in discovering your talent, tell us about him.

"A man named Greg Beeman went to him, he's the showrunner of Heroes. Greg was a friend of mine for a number of years. When I first got into acting, we had talked about my problem with dyslexia. I went to an institute in the Valley for three months and Greg said that this was his (Aboles) specialty. I went to Moses for two years and basically worked on what he believed could help cure to a certain degree, dyslexia. It definitely helped me."

Q: Does the dyslexia make it difficult to learn your lines?

"I have people read to me aloud. I can read it and read it, but it doesn't settle in. When somebody reads it aloud to me, I learn it very quick. The thing with dyslexia is that it's still there and I have that fear every time I grab scripts. Of course, I read if I have to, but it will take me four or five times longer than any other person. Reading is definitely one of the hardest things for me, but at the same time, it's good because it practices the instrument to get it better. Reading is great because creatively, it takes you to so many different journeys when you read the scripts."

Q: I heard a story a couple of years ago about a prank Michael Chiklis and the rest of the Strike Team played on a neighbor of his -- tell us the story!

[laughs]"Michael was having his house redone in Sherman Oaks, so he rented a house that was a few miles away. There was a guy two doors down who was a writer, so they became writing partners and were working on a project. The guy had his best friend flying in and he didn't know his friend knew Michael. His favorite show in the world was The Shield, so they were going to watch the second half of the show. Michael, Walton and myself got dressed up in our Shield stuff, with the fake guns and badges. We waited until about 10 minutes before the end of the show.

They were in the back room, which led to the back yard, so he was going to leave the door a little bit open. All the lights were off and they were sitting there watching the show and are completely into it and we kicked the door in and just started screaming and yelling. We whipped them on the ground - everything we do on The Shield. The guy was looking dumfounded and was so scared, he didn't even realize it was us. He got up, shaking and looked at us and said, 'The Shield!' He totally tripped out about it."

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of playing Lem on The Shield?

"For me, I think the most challenging aspect the first few years was that when the part was originally written in the pilot, it was a recurring role. They saw the way Michael, Walton and I had this energy together. Before the first episode came up, they offered me a series regular. It was something they wanted to do, but I don't think Shawn (Ryan) had in his mind how Lemonhead fit in. I have a very hard-core work ethic where I always create my own history, I'm constantly writing notes every night about how he (the character) feels, what he's going through. A lot of times, there was very little to do, but I'd always have to keep active with very little lines. The challenge was being an active player in a small role. Once they started giving me more stuff to do, I was extremely happy."

Q: Were you happy with the way your character died?

"I was extremely happy it was one of my guys. To me, if they had a bad guy set me up or kill me in jail, it seemed people would get something like that, but the way they did it, I couldn't be happier. Shawn wanted people to be affected by this, have it be one of the great deaths, to be memorable in everyone's minds. They were really wonderful about it, they paid me for the next season and you never hear about that happening."

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