Lamar Johnson has just landed in New York from his hometown of Toronto. He shows up to a photo shoot in Midtown with a large suitcase in tow, and quickly trades his Calvin Klein denim for Thom Browne trousers. (Raf Simons? “He’s just killin’ it,” says the 24-year-old actor.)
Johnson recently attended the Toronto International Film Festival, where he had a film premiering for the second year in a row. Last year, it was “Kings”; this past September, he was there for “The Hate U Give,” adapted from the popular young adult novel centered on racism, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Everybody’s receiving [the film] so well, and it’s really resonating with people,” says Johnson, who portrays the brother of the central character; the film stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter. “I just knew that people would have a conversation about it — I knew it would evoke conversation.”
The film’s producers knew that as well.
“George [Tillman Jr.], the director, he actually got the manuscript before it even came out as a book. So he had his ear on the pavement very, very early,” Johnson says. “And when [the book] came out, it was number one on The New York Times bestseller list and then 20th Century Fox was kind of just like, ‘OK, cool, we need to make this movie.'”
The film has received favorable reviews, and although it’s targeted toward a teen audience, the themes being explored are topical and provocative across demographics — age, race, social.
“I think it has a lot of representation for both sides — black and white, or even just people of color in general,” Johnson adds. “The topics that are touched in this film are so very relevant and topical, and also I think there’s a reason why these stories are being told….I think it’s really great that it’s being put on this medium and on this scale for people around the world to see this.”
The actor found out he was cast in the project while filming the upcoming X-Men mega-blockbuster “Dark Phoenix” in Montreal. Johnson signed a multipicture deal for the Marvel film; while his character hasn’t been revealed, Johnson offers that he is portraying an existing student from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. “There are so many characters, so I’m just happy I’m able to be of service to one of them,” he says. “I’ll be a part of the next [film], too. You kind of get to go on this journey with my character, so that’s a lot of fun for me, but also fun for the fans that love and know this character.”
Book adaptations — be it comic or literary — seem to be a theme in Johnson’s current career arc. He also appears in artist Rashid Johnson’s forthcoming film “Native Son,” adapted from the Richard Wright classic, and this month will begin filming “All the Bright Places,” another adaptation of a novel, starring Elle Fanning. “I feel like I’m getting all these adaptations, but those are the best ones,” he says.
“I’m very blessed to have worked on such great projects with such a great cast, such great filmmakers,” Johnson adds. “I’m an inspiring filmmaker myself, I want to direct — so to work with these people and to be able to just watch the process and soak in as much as I can on set, it’s just amazing to do. Because then I’m going to apply certain things into my practices and it’s only going to then elevate me.”
The actor, who grew up in Toronto, moved to Los Angeles in March after traveling back-and-forth for several years. While acting has taken center stage, he’s found time to film a few short freestyle dance videos as well. He’s self taught, and credits dance as his first passion; one of his first acting credits was the dance TV drama “The Next Step.”
“With these videos I do, I use it as a way to exercise my directing muscle and that thing I have inside of me,” he says. “But also to use it as an outlet to continue to dance, because acting has taken over my life — in the best way possible.”