Toronto Native, Lamar Johnson Opens Up about His Life and Career
“The work is your truth, and everything will go the right way. Always be willing to learn and always remain a student. There is always room for improvement,” says Lamar Johnson. Named one of Toronto International Film Festival’s Rising Stars of 2018, he has been showcasing his talents since the tender age of nine. Johnson attended the film festival for his role in The Hate U Give. The teen film is based on Angie Thomas’ 2017 novel, and it takes on themes of Black Lives Matter and police brutality. Johnson was honored to be recognized for all of his hard work. “I'd say it's a massive deal for me, especially being from Toronto. It's just so great to be recognized for my talent and the work that I put into the craft. I got to connect with some amazing people and filmmakers and artists, you know, it was just such a great time,” shares Johnson, who also starred in 2017’s TIFF film Kings alongside Halle Berry and Daniel Craig.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Johnson attended Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts starting in the tenth grade. Taking classes there helped him craft and cement the visual artist he is today; he joined a variety of dance groups, which enabled him to land his first on-screen role in the Jessica Alba film Honey in 2003.
Johnson’s mother raised him and his two sisters on her own, and she always nurtured Johnson’s talents and encouraged him to pursue his passions in entertainment. “I don't think there's really anyone else that has supported me more than her. Obviously, I have great supporters and I have people in my corner that you know but she just brings that spark out within me,” he says of his mother who often took time off work to drive him to different stage performances, rehearsals and talent shows. “I think she really aided me in becoming the person and the artist that I am today.” Although Johnson had a fairly normal childhood and had plenty of friends, there were some things that were not very normal in his life. He would sometimes miss school and have to hop on a plane for different projects he was involved in. He filmed a television show (Pop It!) at age 13, which only fueled his passion. (He had the opportunity to work with Chris Brown at one point, as well.) “It was kind of just a part of my life and also something I loved to do, too,” the 24-year-old artist recalls.
“It never felt like I was being forced to do anything because I made the decision to do it, and my mom allowed me to make my own choices.”
Moreover, Johnson trained classically in dance for about a year. He did ballet, jazz, and contemporary dancing. He eventually came to realize that hip-hop (both its style and genre) was part of his identity, and it gave him that push to enter the hip-hop dance world. A film that inspired him to take his dancing to the next level was You Got Served
with Omarion where the dancers in the film incorporated flips and tricks that he would try and imitate. “I was also inspired by my peers and who I was dancing with. Sometimes, we would be in basements and just like play music and freestyle. That is kind of how I started dancing, and eventually, I transitioned into doing my own choreography,” he elaborates.
Along the way, though, Johnson actually stopped dancing and started participating in sports. As a matter of fact, he became quite the athlete and developed this newfound love for basketball. He made many friends on the court and had a strong bond and brotherhood with his teammates. And then, a huge influence in his life came around: Michael Jackson. Johnson was inspired by Jackson’s artistry, technique, and choreography in his music videos. “I'm a very visual learner. I was always watching his music videos, and to see the way that he moved, I was like, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ I really wanted to do this,” he describes. “At first, it was about me trying to imitate Michael Jackson and trying to do his moves. The slides and the way he moved his shoulders were very inspiring to me.”
At the moment, his primary focus is acting as well as filmmaking: X-Men movie Dark Phoenix, Native Son (he plays a character named Gus), and All the Bright Places starring Elle Fanning. He hopes to, one day, direct his own films and write screenplays so that he can tell his own stories while Johnson has other creative aspirations that he would love to explore, too. “I want to put on live stage performances so I can still have dance as part of my world. I want to start a clothing line, as well, and design furniture,” he says. “I think, at different stages in my life, there will be different things that I will want to explore.”
Writer: Dylan Worcel
Photographer & Videographer: Nelson Blanton (nelsonblanton.com)
Stylist: Marc Littlejohn (@marcalittlejohn - for Ken Barboza Associates Inc.)
Men’s Grooming: Phoebe Dawson
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Amber Thayer (@amberthayer - www.amberthayer.com) &
TheHenry (@thehenryrestaurant - www.thehenryrestaurant.com)