Actor and area native Johnny Alonso discusses with wit and candor how determination and a love for performing took him from fronting a local alt band as a teenager to an industrious career in film and television. Former Baltimorean, Johnny Alonso has been active in the television and film industry for over fifteen years. A graduate of N.Y.U.’s Actor’s Studio, Johnny Alonso got his start on All My Children and has since appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Homicide, and Dawson’s Creek.
We first met in the 80’s in Baltimore. Are you a native? You got your start in the art realm in a locally popular band, ‘The Unknown.’ I recall going with you to a show or two. How and when did you crossover into acting?
Johnny: Actually, I’m a New York native from Howard Beach, Queens (don’t hold it against me) My family moved to Baltimore when my brother and I were younger. I’ve spent enough time in Mobtown – I can classify myself as a Baltimorean. I tag myself as a Baltimore actor – not just at auditions in Los Angeles but on TV and trade paper interviews.
‘The Unknown.’ Wow, a fond memory caught in time. My old band ‘The Unknown’ was made of two pairs of brothers – Johnny & James Alonso and Peter & Stephen Ramos. Neighborhood friends that grew up in Ellicott City. Other than walking train tracks, hopping freight cars and discovering alternative and punk rock music with the help of Music Machine, Record & Tape Traders and Night Flight there was jack shit to do in that beautiful train set of a town. So we decided to start a band. We were 14, 15, 16 & 17 years of age when we kick started ‘The Unknown.’ We were looking desperately for a way out of Old Town Ellicott City – and being so young we thought our only chance was to write original music, press vinyl and tour the east coast. Yea right….but guess what? That‘s exactly what we did.
We submitted our album and press kit to every club/promoter/manager/fanzine we could find (this will apply to my acting career in an answer coming up) and we got a southern tour together – on the road with a fistful of dollars in a VW bus with our drums, guitars and amps – total teenage freedom. One day we called to let the parents know we were still alive. My cousin informed my parents that she heard our music and that our album was in heavy rotation on 89.7 WCVT and 99.1 WHFS in particular a song called “Songinsee.” (Watch a video of “Songinsee”). We were stoked. And being on the road heading to Florida only added to the local hype about this local band from Baltimore called “The Unknown”.
Our debut self-titled album was reviewed by Baltimore City paper and swept ‘Best New Local Band,’ ‘Best Album’, and ‘Best Live Show.” We were kids. Within the four years the band was together we came out with two albums, landed on two national DC/Baltimore punk CD compilations, reviews in Maximum Rock-n-Roll, Music Express, College Music Journal, toured the East Coast twice played at every awesome venue including the old 9:30 Club, D.C. Space, Cignel, Wax Museum, Marble Bar, Knitting Factory, CBGB’S – you name it – we were there. Then…the inevitable….college and girlfriends – the cruel recipe for band destruction.
Once we dissolved the group, I was at a loss. I was hungry to perform but didn’t have it in me to start another band, nor did I want to. I did realize there was a ton of acting on stage, playing music live and something told me to try my hand at acting. I didn’t know anyone on that side of the entertainment industry – so I decided to go back to school and try for a degree at N.Y.U.
I fell in love with the classes, the strength from acting and using language and body language to tell a story, but I hated the actors, every one of those actors. These clowns were all self-absorbed know it alls, thinking they were all going to be the next big thing. If you saw their acting you’d agree with me – they sucked. And I had no problem letting them know how I felt. I was still a musician with Baltimore brass balls, so no one liked me. I never had an acting partner and always had to do my scenes solo. Which was fine with me – because I found creative ways to make my “dialogue” a “monologue” and expand on my acting abilities. As you can see in this interview, I like to talk. And as an actor – the more intelligent dialogue – the better. I learned how to rely on myself in my scenes and to not rely on anyone to “feed energy” from. Being in a band made me want to perform in front of people. Acting for stage and camera made me want to perform for people but in the end perform for myself. I wanted to become a professional gun for hire. I was hooked. Welcome to the world of acting.
You’ve done a little of everything, have you done any theater?
As a screen actor you will do a little bit of everything. Television, film, industrials, voice overs etc. I did some theatre at N.Y.U. – it was a part of our program. I love theatre, it’s the greatest on the spot acting. Acting isn’t just knowing your lines and your marks, it’s being intuitive and one step ahead of everyone – especially the audience viewers. I wish I had more theatre on my resume but fortunately (depending on how one looks at it) I booked straight out of college and landed a recurring role on All My Children (where he played Susan Lucci’s nephew, Seth) – so I never really had to do the local circuit rounds in New York with all those clown actors from my classes – yea…
You’ve got a lot going on right now, a web series, Click on This, a television series, NASA 360, and film roles as well. Did I miss anything? How do you maintain such a frenetic pace?
How do I maintain such a frenetic pace? I have an agent and manager that have classified me as a cyborg. It’s just a lifestyle that people only really get if one is in the fast paced world of filmmaking. I’ll use an example of my insane career. I use to be on Dawson’s Creek as the 8 episode recurring character ‘Jimmy Franco’ – I auditioned for Dawson’s 27 times before I landed that role. 27 different auditions, screen tests, callbacks before I got a contract on the WB. It’s about determination and pushing the hell out of yourself. If you’re not driven to get what you want – you’re not going to get it in this business – and that I promise you. I go down in history as the one actor who auditioned the most ever before nailing a solid role for the Dawson’s Creek, which landed me another contract core recurring on the show that took the place of Dawson’s Creek – another WB/CW series One Tree Hill as ‘Joey D’ a 6 episode core recurring. I’ve been conditioned to just keep driving.
NASA 360 has been the greatest job ever. We travel the world and shoot in some of the most wicked locations one would never get to see in their everyday life. I’ve flown flight simulators, worn million dollar space suits, been on the Mars rovers, testing sites in Washington State and on the Island of Kona Hawaii, been to Kennedy, Canaveral and every NASA center you can think of in America, even met, laughed and interviewed an astronaut that has been on the moon. NASA 360 is a traveling show – so yea, we get to fly all over the country with NASA clearance, great dialogue, really informative and interesting show content plus we get to be on tv – who wouldn’t call it the greatest job, ever. It’s a dream job. Working with host/actress/good friend Jennifer Pulley, our senior advisor/writer Kevin Krigsvold, chief editor and 1st team camera Michael Bibbo, and camera/everything else you need Tom Shortridge it’s been nothing but an award winning awesome show. I’m looking forward to begin shooting our next season. Watch some episodes here.
Click On This the Lifestyles web series is yet another show I work on that travels us everywhere. Between NASA 360 and Click I’ve got enough miles to buy you and your family tickets to Greece.
Click On This is a blast because we get to interview not just famous musicians and actors but also do episodes on home cooking, fashion, sports, bars and club scene. We shoot the show with a “loose” attitude making it very audience friendly. Elena Moscatt the creator of the show is our fearless leader taking us all over the map. We’ve shot the Sundance Film Festival, the Grand Prix in Baltimore, Fashion week in New York and Los Angeles 2012, and tons of coverage in the Baltimore, D.C. area for local and national bands and celebrities. Im also a producer on the show, so yea – I get the good the interviews. Check out our episodes.
Another cool example of staying in the acting loop – I shot a movie with Skyrocket Pictures called Safehouse starring Robert Miano (Sopranos, Donnie Brasco), Thomas Calabro (Melrose Place) & me Johnny Alonso. The film was picked up for national/international distribution thru Artist View Entertainment. My good friends executive producer Spencer Johnson and producer/writer David Stever teamed up with Kipp Tribble and Derick Wingo L.A. to produce another film where I was offered to play Trick – the coolest bad guy character ever. The movie is called Coffin starring Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Soul Surfer, New Hawaii 5-0), Bruce Davision (X-Men, Lost, Harry & The Hendersons), Patrick Barnitt who plays ‘Jack’ and yes -your Johnny Alonso as ‘Trick.’ We shot Coffin in downtown Los Angeles and the movie looks incredible. Great psychological thriller. A strong dialogue driven film. Artist View Entertainment and Lion’s Gate picked up Coffin for global distribution and a national release date of 8/2012 check out the trailer on my website.
Skyrocket is putting together another film and hoping to shoot in the next several months in L.A. we’ll see what gives. I just booked a new vampire film Rise Of The Fallen – and yup – I get to play a vamp. Cannot wait….more info when I’m allowed to talk about the project.
There’s a ton more and you can check out my clips on my site or YouTube – but whatevh – I’ve learned you’re only as good as your last gig and if you slow down, you’re forgotten as quickly as a whisper. Los Angeles is filled with us trained actors and if you don’t keep moving forward – it will move without you. My old saying “I’d rather be part of the pack, than part of the prey…“ It’s a lifestyle. It’s not for everyone.
Your home base is on the West coast, yet you manage to make hometown appearances fairly regularly. Why is it important to you to work on both coasts and how do you prioritize projects?
If you don’t stay in the public eye (mainly in the casting world in your network) someone will sit in your seat. Yes, I’m based in Mission Beach San Diego and ride up to L.A. for work or auditions etc. I fly back home to Baltimore to visit family and friends but find ways to get auditions in Philly, New York and North Carolina. It’s important to have some room to travel. I’m not saying my way is fool proof to booking national gigs, but it has worked for me. And to be frank, I don’t know any other way. I like having my office where I hang my hat. Yes, it does get really tough holding down a relationship but I’m also not saying I’m married to my career. An actor can’t be an actor 24 hours a day. That makes for a really boring person. Traveling helps keep your name in the right circles and also helps fill your personal time with real experiences.
As a person who is so creatively active, musically and through film and television, what art, hobbies, and music do you enjoy? (Other than the love we both share for The Damned).
And you thought my answers earlier were long enough!
I love to ride motorcycles. I have a 1964 Harley that I’ve wrenched to life and ride her whenever I can thru the Hills or Laurel Canyon. I’m a huge snowboarder and I’ll fly to Mammoth or drive to Big Bear from San Diego with my brother Jason and our good friends for a few days. Both motorcycles and snowboarding are my way of decompressing. Resets the mind. I love to surf, but I totally suck.
Music. I’ve always been (T, as you know) into the old alternative, classic punk and edgy 80’s new wave. Joy Division, Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo & The Bunnymen, Bad Brains, and The Damned (we went to the 1987 reunion show at the 9:30, remember?) Really the list is endless. I’m also a fan to 50’s doo wops. I’ve always loved that era. I don’t snob any kind of music, but these examples are what on my Android at the moment. Music has a way of getting you into gear.
When it comes to being an actor – you have to be sponge. We are the great story tellers – the ones that guide the viewers or listeners etc. I’ve always loved strong drama films, period pieces and off the wall indie features. I like to think and to be taken by surprise – not just be spoon fed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch “The Muppets 2011” with you, laugh and reminisce. But I really enjoy dark drama. Lately, I’ve been on this kick with horror and psychological drama. I don’t know what it is but these psychological dramas have been filling my night hours whenever I get a chance. “The Others” is a film that totally got me. I would so love to have a film like that in my future.
To keep up with Johnny and his numerous projects, watch trailers of his films, and episodes from his TV work, see his very thorough website.