ICYMI: Tyler Johnson Interview

Magic Johnson

Landing in Genoa City has been a dream job for Y&R’s Tyler Johnson

Growing up in Maryland, Tyler Johnson found his love of performing early. “I used to put on plays with my brother,” Johnson shares. “I did all of the roles. I was the set decorator, I was the director, I was the casting agent, and since I only had one person to cast, my brother, I had a very small casting pool. I remember we did Stone Soup and he had to play the elderly lady. I had him dress up and God bless him for it.” From there, Johnson began acting professionally. “I did commercials. I did the I Love Virginia commercial,” he recounts. “I did a four-month run in Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. I was doing some modeling as a wee lad.”

When he got to high school, however, Johnson found other interests. “At that point, I was very much trying to find myself and so I didn’t do much by way of expression during the first three years,” Johnson recalls. “When I got to senior year, I started to look toward the future.” At the time, that meant a more traditional life path. “I was sort of driven by my mother to go to Penn State,” he explains. “While I was there, I wasn’t having the greatest time. I had a finance scholarship and I was learning all about the ins and outs of finance. I thought, ‘This is not something I’m interested in.’ And then at a Christmas party during my first year at Penn State, one of my dad’s friends was a casting director out of New York City and she thought I should send some pictures to her. I was hesitant, my father was not, so he sent photos along to her.”

That chance meeting resulted in Abercrombie & Fitch calling. “I went to New York and I did their campaign,” says Johnson. “Then I started working with [photographer] Bruce Weber and we did Italian Vogue and VMAN. At the end of the summer, I told the agency I was with at the time, ‘Look, I’m not interested in being a male model. If I’m going to stay in New York, I’d like to go out as an actor.’ They had some precedent for sending models out as actors. At the time they were sending Uma Thurman, for example. I lobbied for it enough that they sent me for a movie.”

That indie film was 2007’s Gardener of Eden, and although it was far from a hit, Johnson’s foot was in the show-biz door. And even while racking up TV appearances (30 ROCK, GOSSIP GIRL), he didn’t abandon higher learning. “I was not going to step outside of a collegiate environment no matter what things were thrown at me,” he notes. “Ultimately, it took me seven years, but I got my bachelor’s degree. I could’ve been a doctor by that time! My thing was to enroll six credits at NYU [New York University] and then four credits, and I picked up four more at The City University of New York, then I picked up six more from Baruch College and picked up six more from NYU. I just kept going around and around until I was finally able to get my diploma, but I didn’t get to walk in the ceremony.”

That’s because by that time, Johnson had switched coasts. “I moved to Los Angeles for a girl, and that is the worst reason to relocate anywhere,” he chuckles. “Like many stories that start this way, the relationship was over within six months. She vacated L.A. and I stayed, but that was not the plan originally.”

But the breakup didn’t put a damper on Johnson’s career goals, which branched out from acting. “I was making the majority of my income as a writer at the time and had ghost-written for some novels,” he relays. “I was also doing punch-ups and polishes on B horror movies. I would do a brief synopsis and then I would do an outline of how I saw it and I would give my recommendations and do rewrites.”

In between, more TV and movie gigs rolled in, including this year’s Lifetime film PSYCHO STRIPPER, in which he played the titular character. “As soon as the director told me the title, that’s when I knew it was a project that I wanted to do!” he enthuses. “I love the absurd and I do think that we’re in a time where just that title is enough to grab people’s attention. There’s something about it that I really take pride in. Some people think I’m going to be embarrassed by it, but I really love that movie and I recommend it. The thing about that movie is I do like to dance, but I do very much dance in my own way [laughs].”

Daytime was a medium Johnson hadn’t tackled, but was certainly on his radar. “I’ve heard people talk very glowingly about the process, so when I heard that Y&R was casting, I called my agent and said, ‘Listen, I want to audition,’ ” the actor shares. “She said that they were moving too quickly to get me into the room so I needed to put something on tape. I went into the stairwell of my building at 5:30 in the morning, covered the lights with bedsheets and my girlfriend shot some footage.”

After submitting his tape, Johnson went rock climbing in Malibu, where he was summoned for an audition that day. “I was two miles from my car, but I got to CBS Television City for a 4 o’clock appointment. I walked in to what I have since come to understand was the biggest room of bigwigs. I think if I had fully known who was in the room, I probably would have collapsed into a little pool of sweat. It took about 45 minutes of just conversation before we even went to the scene. I did it once and the executive producer turned and said, ‘Well, I don’t trust him!’ A few days later, I heard that I was on hold and a few days after that, I heard that I was hired!”

Johnson admits to having first-day jitters. “I couldn’t believe that I was standing in the scene with these amazing actors that I had seen on television before,” he marvels. “I delivered my one line and between you, me and all the readers at Soap Opera Digest, I started sweating badly enough that I turned my face away from the camera. It was this trip of like, ‘Wow! You just did it. You delivered your line.’ I laugh at it now because we do 15 items in a day. But for that moment, at that time of saying one line, I was completely overwhelmed by it in the best way.”

Now that Theo has been unveiled as Dina’s long-lost grandson, the character is even more entrenched in Genoa City, which suits his portrayer just fine. “Being on Y&R has exceeded every and all of my expectations,” Johnson raves. “I’ve never worked harder in my life and I never enjoyed what I’m doing more.”


Just The Facts  

Birthday: August 13

Moving On: Born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in nearby Gaithersburg, MD.

What’s In A Name? His full name is W. Tyler Johnson. “The W stands for William. My mom’s reasoning at the time was she wanted children with presidential-sounding names. My younger brother carries around a first initial, as well. He’s R. Parker.”

National Treasures: “All school field trips were to the Smithsonian or the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial. Being from D.C., you don’t necessarily become political, but you become politically aware.”

Relationship Status: He lives with girlfriend Katie. “She’s wonderful. She reminds me that the sun is shining and the birds are chirping.”

Physical Altercation: “I was into boxing for a very long time, until I developed an aneurysm in my right hand from throwing an uppercut during a sparring match. That was only about three or four years ago, but that was quite a wake-up call.”

Book Club: “I have a literary agent and I’ve written a few YA [Young Adult] novels. I have one right now with Trident in New York that’s a dystopian romance.”

Channel Surfing: “I watch a lot of documentaries and true crime. I think it has to do with the extremities of the human condition, whether it’s about the most exalted benefactor or the most despised criminal.”