Up Close With Actress Kendra C. Johnson
As someone that is much more involved in the modeling industry, you can imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to interview Kendra C. Johnson. You may remember Kendra from her role along side Mo’Nique in Phat Girlz or her role in “The Game” but what we don’t see on camera is her incredible spirit, passion for her work and incredible drive towards her goals. Hope you enjoy getting to know Kendra as much as I have.[Maddy] We enjoyed your performance in the movie Phat Girlz with Mo’Nique. How long have you been acting? [Kendra] My parents say I went from the womb to the stage! There is SO much truth to that… LOL! I actually began taking classes in dance, drama, voice and piano at the Artists Collective in Hartford, CT at the ripe age of three! I continued to perform throughout my school years… writing, directing and acting in a number of school and community productions. In September of 2002, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a professional acting career. [Maddy] How did you go about pursuing your acting career? [Kendra] Fresh off the boat… I began working as a background actor on various television shows and movies. That was my everyday job. It was a priceless learning experience. It was as if I was being paid (very modestly) to go to school! I moved on to work as a “stand-in” for Queen Latifah, which is how I became eligible to join the union. While working as a background actor and stand-in, I was also enrolled in acting classes. Being on sets and in class, allowed me constant opportunities for hands on learning, networking and relationship building. I took my job and my work in class seriously and worked to always handle myself professionally. Networking, in turn, is how I first acquired agency representation in Los Angeles. Once I had representation and joined the union, I began auditioning. The rest is… the beginning of the 2nd half hour of my E! True Hollywood story! LOL!!! [Maddy] As a fuller figured woman, have you found it challenging to obtain meaningful roles? [Kendra] Indeed! Meaningful roles are not terribly plentiful for women of color or fuller figured women. Falling into both categories, you can probably imagine the challenges. However, I have been fortunate in some of the roles I’ve booked. One of the most meaningful roles for me, thus far, would have to have been my recurring character on “The Game”. Renee Royce, was my character’s name. Renee was an intelligent, successful, independent, well-spoken & attractive fuller figured woman… just to name a few of her attributes! She was dating Malik Wright (played by Hosea Chanchez), the football team’s quarterback. The entire storyline did NOT revolve solely around the fact that Renee was a fuller figured woman and not the typical “hot chick” you’d expect to see on Malik’s arm. We ended up dealing with normal relationship issues and Renee was not the constant “butt of the joke”. This is absolutely the direction I’d like to see writing and storylines go in, in our industry. The more roles I see where fuller figured actresses are portraying characters that really mirror our everyday lives and experiences and don’t only revolve around our waistlines, the more progress I’ll know we’ve made. It’s coming! I’m claiming it… and I CANNOT WAIT! [Maddy] One of the models we have worked with for PLUS did some stand in roles for Queen Latifah and I know this is something you do as well. For those models looking to get into this type of acting would you explain to them what a stand in does? [Kendra] Absolutely! A stand-in pretty much does exactly that… you STAND in place of the principal actor. The directing, camera and lighting crews rely on stand-ins to assist them in preparing the sets and their shots prior to actually shooting with the principal actors. It’s an incredibly good use of time and resources. So much goes in to making movies and television shows, before anything’s ever ready to be shot. Stand-ins run lines, rehearse blocking and whatever else the crew may need of them-in order to be prepared once the principal actors are ready to shoot. One piece to remember, that people often get confused, is that stand-ins are NOT seen on film. Working in place of a principal actor, on film is body or photo doubling not standing in. I’ve done both, but there is definitely a difference between the two. [Maddy] You currently finished filming – could you tell us a little about the movie and your character? [Kendra] It’s a pilot presentation for a television show. The project is called, “Glass Heels”. It’s been tagged, “Laverne and Shirley in a gentlemen’s club”. It follows the lives of two women, Jasmine and Carla, who find themselves trapped, working at the Scuttle Butt, a gentleman’s club, after their jobs are dissolved due to the economic crisis. Their plan of only working here for two months has somehow turned into nine months, leaving Jasmine desperate, bitter and confused and Carla empowered, laid back and enjoying every minute of her new found destiny. My character’s name is Angel. Angel is, in essence, queen of the club. She’s the top money maker… by far! LOL!!! My friend and colleague, Joyful Drake (she played Mia, Mo’Nique’s character’s cousin, in Phat Girlz) is one of the writers, producers and lead actresses on this project. We had a blast working together again and I am anticipating the final product! YAY, Joyful! [Maddy] If you could have your choice of one role what would it be and why? [Kendra] Ooooo Maddy! Great question, sister! Well, aside from playing Oprah in her life story, I’ve honestly never really narrowed it down to one specific role. I don’t want to chance limiting myself at all… I want my options to stay WIDE open! Don’t want to mislead the universe! I can say this, though, I want to be a part of telling great stories! I have a pressing desire… a calling, even- to inspire others, make their hearts smile and feel hopeful! Ideally, being the female lead would be LOVELY. However, it’s not always necessary. Again, I just want to be a part of INCREDIBLE storytelling! Oooo… Hold on… that’s my phone ringing! Wow, that was fast! You have not, because you ask not!!! [Maddy] Many people have paved the way in the modeling industry for the young girls working today. Who do you believe paved the way for you to work in the entertainment industry? [Kendra] Wow. Well, Hattie McDaniel, of course, comes to mind first. So many others come to mind… for varied, personal reasons. Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Nell Carter, Isabel Sanford, Marla Gibbs, Roz Ryan, Esther Role, Bern Nadette Stanis, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Angela Bassett, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jennifer Lewis, Anna Marie Horsford, Jackee Harry, Natalie Desselle-Reid, Shondrella Avery, Loni Love, Kym Whitley, Kim Fields, Kim Coles, Erika Alexander… Ok, I really have to stop! I could go on and on and I know I’m leaving So many incredible talents and “way pavers” out! I love and appreciate each of you… Thank you sisters! [Maddy] Lets talk about the shoot you had with PLUS in the May 2009 issue of PLUS. You look amazing! How do you keep in such great shape? [Kendra] Thank you! The shoot was an AMAZING experience! Inez Lewis, Tia Jai, Reah Norman and Dee-Dee Kelly ROCK! Woo-Hoo!!! I love to eat! I love sweets (minus chocolate)! I hate to feel deprived! I DO NOT love to exercise! That all said, I owe it all to my PHENOMENAL personal trainer! His name is Timothy Moore (Pushin’ Weight- firstname.lastname@example.org), he’s based out of LA and he really gets me. That’s one of the most important things for me when deciding to work with a trainer. He’s not trying to make me a “skinny girl” or convince me to adjust my lifestyle in a way that is unrealistic for me to maintain. Tim also keeps the workouts varied and unpredictable. Cardio is much more than hopping on the treadmill and weight training is more than lying on a weight bench. I’ve found his approach to be refreshingly unique and it works really well for me! YAY, Tim!!! [Maddy] Have you had much opportunity to model – you did really well in front of the camera? [Kendra] Thanks so much! Sadly, no, I haven’t had very much opportunity to model as of yet! My future is wide open, though! My PMM shoot definitely gave me a greater appreciation for what it takes to be a skilled, quality modeling professional. It’s so much more than just taking “pretty pictures”. I have to admit, I AM HOOKED! I had an AWESOME time and, given the opportunity, I’d do it everyday! Prayerfully, this was only the beginning of a blossoming career in the modeling industry! I am actively seeking and researching professional modeling agency representation! I’m absolutely ready to begin expanding that portion of my resume! [Maddy] The dresses Reah, the stylist, chose for you were very flattering. What is your personal style? [Kendra] Reah is absolutely INCREDIBLE! She really gets my personal style! She pulled such perfect dresses for me, it was extremely difficult to narrow the options down at my fitting. LOVE HER! As for my personal style, my most notable quote has been – “If it ain’t tight, it ain’t right”!!! LOL!!! All I really mean by that is, I believe it’s important to compliment and accentuate your curves… or at least, for me, MY curves! I think it’s important to be very clear on what works for YOUR body type. Everybody cannot wear everything, so I always feel “hottest” in what really works best for my curves. Reah also introduced me to my new FAVORITE dress designer… TADASHI! OMGoodness! Talk about fitting me like a glove… I was truly in awe! You know a piece is PERFECT for you when you can totally pull it off with or WITHOUT a foundation piece (i.e., girdle, Spanx, Body Wrap). Amazing! Lastly, I would be remiss in not mentioning my OBSESSION with color… In the spirit of my last personal quote – “If it ain’t BRIGHT, it ain’t right”! Orange is my favorite color… all shades of orange…in clothes, in everything! Red, pink, yellow… and any other non-black color, LOVE IT! I’ll admit that black has it’s time and place, but bright colors are much more reflective of my aura and personality! GO RAINBOW! LOL!!! [Maddy] What advice do you have for women interested in pursuing their acting career or moving from modeling into acting? [Kendra] First and foremost, only pursue an acting career if you can honestly say you’d do it for free… I believe you HAVE to be that passionate about it! Persist in your passion, be clear on your purpose and be grounded in your faith and beliefs! DREAM BIG! Blessing & Success~ [Maddy] Thank you so much for your time. [Kendra] My pleasure, sweetness… Anytime!