Actress A.J. Johnson Tells Us About Her Newest Film, Life After Baby Boy, and Why She Took a Step Back from Hollywood
It’s because of A.J. Johnson that we grew to understand the single mother with the overgrown and overbearing son, fighting to regain her womanhood after balancing motherhood for so long. It’s because of A.J. Johnson that we grew to understand the beauty of a bond between Black women and how powerful it can be when it’s unbreakable.
With game-changers like House Party and Baby Boy, Johnson transcendentally gave us the characters Sharane and Juanita. Two characters that still, to this day, serve as a cultural staple for women of color. Two characters that broke boundaries and severed stigmas that had been placed upon us for way too many years before.
Now, after a hiatus from the mainstream side of Hollywood, the New Jersey-born actress has come back to deliver yet another groundbreaking role to rave about. In her latest project, TV One’s Sins of the Father, Johnson portrays Phylicia Richardson, a leading detective who’s so stone-cold with her cases that she deserves a cape.
The film, which is the first of the network’s LOVE, LIES, & MURDER series, centers around the prominent Burnett family and the betrayal that surrounds them. After Pastor Clarence Burnett’s wife, Karen, is killed outside of their Atlanta residence, bedlam erupts. Who did it? And why? Those are the questions that Phylicia Richardson, along with her partner, must find the answers to.
Premiering on TV One on July 7, Sins of the Father is written by Katrina O’Gilvie and directed by Jamal Hill. It is inspired by the company’s true crime programming and also stars Deitrick Haddon (Pastor Clarence Burnett), Clifton Powell (Deacon Kevin Williams), Terayle Hill (Robert Banks), Angela Davis (First Lady Karen Burnett), Danny Pardo (Detective Perez), and Angela Love (Chevelle).
To no surprise, we’re more than positive that A.J. Johnson has done it again. Each and every time she hits the screen, she not only leaves us with something to remember but someone to remember. Her ability to authentically become the character in the story that is being told is unparalleled and shouldn’t be anything less than admired and appreciated. The storied beauty has mastered it all throughout her thirty-year-plus career and proceeds to do so in Sins of the Father.
A triple threat on and off the camera, Johnson has also taken the health and wellness world by storm. Through her fitness mentoring, lifestyle coaching, and motivational speaking, the Spelman graduate continues to change the lives of thousands.
We recently had a sit-down with the honorable A.J. Johnson, and we talked everything from the heinous aspects of Hollywood to now finding her happy place.
Check it out below!
Parlé Mag: So, let’s get into your latest film, Sins of the Father. Tell us a little bit about this project and how it all came together.
A.J. Johnson: Well, I love to go back to the very, very beginning for me, which is when I stopped focusing on acting. It was because of the fact that John Singleton had spoiled me—with his technique, his spirit of collaboration, and a great cast. Just the way that he worked made the process—compared to none—for me. After Baby Boy, I just really had a hard time finding that depth of a work ethic. Pursuing other things, at that time, in my life and career, it made it easy for me to do that. When my healthy living and my life coaching started to explode, it made it easy to pass on the scripts that were still coming, the meetings I was having. It made it easy to kind of just focus on my healthy living and not be acting. My life didn’t shift away from my travel and my finances. If anything, I was having more fun because it was less stress. I was being more fulfilled in the healthy living lane, at that point.
So, all of these years later, TV One called, and they said, “We’ve got this amazing script. We’ve got this character that we think only you can do. Your psychology background would be perfect for this.” They knew that I was a Psychology/Chemistry major in school, so they were like, “We think this would be awesome!” I read the script, and I immediately fell in love with what I thought the character could be! Phylicia Richardson wasn’t written the way that I played her. She was very conservative. Even when I got to wardrobe, they had a bunch of blue and gray suits, dark pumps, white shirts to try on. I was like, “Yeah, no! I’m not really thinking this is who she is!” [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
A.J. Johnson: So, I met with the director, and we talked. We had a nice video chat with the TV One executives. I said, “You know, it’s in the writing that she’s different. Every time somebody meets her, they keep saying, ‘You’re a detective.’ There’s something about her that doesn’t say detective. So, why are you putting her in a gray suit, blue pumps, and a white shirt?” Even TV One was saying, “What are you thinking? More like Sons of Anarchy? Ripped jeans, motorcycle jacket, hair in the wind?” And I said, “No.” Only because that’s close to who I am on an everyday basis. I have a plethora of motorcycle jackets, love my jeans and boots. So, I was like, “No, if I’m going to do a character in a dramatic piece—that nobody’s seen me do, since, probably, Baby Boy—I want to do something to make people understand that if I’m going to act, it has to be something to really make me sink my teeth in.
So, we went to wardrobe and created a look. Sent the pictures to TV One, and they were like, “Oh, my God! Already, we love Phylicia Richardson! You have creative control! You and Jamal [Hill]… write, do whatever you have to do! We love this character!” That’s kind of how I became a part of it. But there are other pieces that make it important. From Jamal being this incredible director, who was collaborative—just like I prayed for, like John Singleton. We would do twelve-to-fifteen-hour shoot days and still order food in and sit and re-write scenes for the next day. Insane!
Parlé Mag: Wow! Talk about dedication!
A.J. Johnson: Right?! Even down to props, our wardrobe. The departments had fun helping me create her, and the cast. Clifton Powell, Deitrick Haddon, I didn’t really have scenes with them, but they would come on set, even when they weren’t working, and give me ideas and snicker and giggle at things she would do. You know? They fell in love with this character and gave me confidence, even on set, with what I was creating.
Parlé Mag: It seems like it was just meant to be!
A.J. Johnson: Exactly! And that’s rare. All of that chemistry, all of that collaboration, it’s the type of rare that is the reason why you haven’t seen me on-screen for years. That’s how rare that is. So, when we have it, as actors and actresses, it usually creates magic. I had it on the set of House Party, there you go. Baby Boy, there you go. I’m hoping that we created the same kind of magic in [Sins of the Father]. Because I’ve never been a part of something where I’ve had that camaraderie and it not make magic.
Parlé Mag: What can we know about your role as Detective Phylicia Richardson?
A.J. Johnson: Phylicia graduated from the FBI Academy, Quantico. Top in her class. She was so brilliant that they kept her on as a leading psychotherapist for the other trainees. Every now and then, she’s called in to cases that are deemed unsolvable because she solves them! Not only does she solve them, but she’s known for solving them in record time. Like, if you notice, even the precincts start to take bets on how much time it’s going to take her to crack this case. They know her; they know her skill set; they know that she’s this boss chick, and as quirky and weird as she is, she’s a genius. She’s great at what she does. I wanted to create a character that people would not only enjoy the storyline but also enjoy her, as a person, as a detective. You don’t meet people like her. You just don’t! I didn’t want to play the same, old detective; I didn’t want to do the same, old story. To me, it was a snore, and if they could let me give it some color, I thought that it would give the story a different elevation. I tried to create a character that I would want to watch.
Parlé Mag: Yes, that’s important!
A.J. Johnson: Do you remember Columbo?
Parlé Mag: I’ve actually never heard of Columbo! [laughs]
A.J. Johnson: Columbo was a detective show that was on forever, that I grew up on, that was very much like Phylicia! [laughs] This dude looked homeless, but he was brilliant! His hair was a mess, he had on a dirty trench coat all the time, he stuttered, but he was brilliant. You would never think that he was this genius detective. I loved him.
Parlé Mag: Those are the best kinds of people!
A.J. Johnson: Yeah! I loved the element that, because he was so unassuming, people didn’t see it coming that he was cracking the case! They just dismissed him because he was so unassuming. I loved the element of Cagney and Lacey, another detective duo. They were so in sync that they would finish each other’s sentences. With me and my partner, in this particular movie, I also wanted to create that element. They were connected; they knew each other, and that’s what made a great detective scene.
Parlé Mag: When first reading the script, were there any similarities you noticed in yourself?
A.J. Johnson: Oh! Let me tell you something! Phylicia is actually A.J. before Hollywood!
Parlé Mag: Really?
A.J. Johnson: Yeah! Phylicia is the Psychology/Chemistry major at Spelman who found it hard to communicate on a social level because she was so highly academic. I grew up in a very highly-academic family. They made it very safe for me to be that academic nerd. So, it wasn’t until I got to Spelman where I was taught by other Spelman women, who were intellectually high achievers, how to create the balance between that and socialization. What I like about Phylicia is, I decided that, in that part of her personality, she didn’t have to create the balance, because she was highly decorated for who she was. She finished at Quantico first in her class; they kept her on as a psychotherapist. She’s jamming! She’s a boss chick! So, there’s no reason for her to compromise. You see, she feels like her high evolution of intellect is what puts her on the map. Like when it comes to her high sense of style, she thinks that she’s rocking! [laughs] She really does! In her GasCans, Indy bags, and shoes and socks. She thinks that she is a fashion trend, and everybody else has to catch up! [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
A.J. Johnson: She does!
Parlé Mag: Sins of the Father not only explores the untold realities of the Black community in general, but it also sort of delves into those of the church community as well. How important do you think it is to bring these types of conversations to the forefront, on-screen, and set that table for dialogue?
A.J. Johnson: I’m pretty much a truth seeker. Even when I was little, I think I got on my family’s nerves because I was the one asking the fifty questions at the dinner table! That’s who I’ve always been. Another thing that attracted me to this script is that we’re living in a time where everything is captured by cell phones and on social media. Whether it’s true or not. I think we face deception, and we all want to see the dysfunction. Look at reality TV. There has to be dysfunction for us to pay attention. So, it’s time for us to pay attention to the dysfunction within the church, realize that’s true, and if we’re going to clean up the church to be what we want it to be, we have to realize where it’s broken and how we have to fix it. We can no longer live in a time and space where we act like homosexuality is not within the church, where deceit and adultery are not behind the pulpit. We already know it is, but we’re trying to ignore it. This project, Sins of the Father, says, “What happens if we stop ignoring it?” I’m really interested to see people’s response to that element of the film because I don’t think we’ve ever seen it before. That’s also why I was attracted to doing this movie. I personally have never seen it handled so in-your-face and to what degree one lie leads to another lie, especially in the church.
Parlé Mag: Right. And it’s extremely necessary to show that. Because a lot of people don’t want to accept the fact that there are sinners in the church. You know?
A.J. Johnson: Yeah! I’ve always been raised to understand that pastors and ministers, they’re men who deliver God’s word, but they’re not God. So, I think that’s another thing, on a good note, that people have to walk away from. Men of God are men of God; they’re not God. They’re human, and they’re going to have faults as well. Sometimes, we have a tendency to put our pastors on such a pedestal, that it’s unfair for them to try to live up to it. Now, of course, they have their responsibilities, but, at the same time, we have a responsibility to know that they’re just men and delivering a word and interpretation from God.
Parlé Mag: I agree! What message could viewers expect to take away from Sins of the Father?
A.J. Johnson: Like we just mentioned, there’s corruption in the church, and you have to say that. As they say, when you’re an alcoholic and you go to AA, the first thing you have to do is admit who you are. “Hi, my name is A.J. Johnson, and I’m an alcoholic.” That’s where it starts. So, I feel like that’s the same thing here. The church is corrupt. The church environment is filled with homosexuality, adultery, deceit, and it’s gotten to that because of the worldly expectations that people in the church have. I mean, look at our world. All we see is the spirit of comparison–for cars, shoes, money—
Parlé Mag: Yes! All of these materialistic things!
A.J. Johnson: Exactly! And half of what we’re being shown is not even real.
Parlé Mag: It isn’t!
A.J. Johnson: But, we buy into it. Social media has taken over our reality. What we deem the church to be is false. This particular project deals with that.
Parlé Mag: As an actress who’s been in the game for over thirty years, what has been your secret to surviving in such a cutthroat business?
A.J. Johnson: I believe I have not been afraid to live my truth. As much as that sounds life coach-ey, it’s true. I had gotten to a point where I no longer liked how the business was run. I’ve always liked the acting portion; I’ve loved the performance. I’ve loved the rehearsal; I’ve loved the creative flow of a character, but I never liked the business side. When I started to see that, that was actually a bigger part of being an actress, and you have to deal with business more than you have to deal with opportunities to act, it started to become a turn-off. I have a lot of passions, so I started to just feel like, “Is there any way that I can pursue other passions and possibly maintain my lifestyle with them?” I didn’t ask for The A.J. Zone as a business. The A.J. Zone was blessed to me, just because I was living my lifestyle out loud. People who I was working with—Julia Roberts, Alfre Woodard, Tisha Campbell, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx—all throughout my career, kept asking me for healthy living advice.
“What’s that nasty drink you were drinking in the makeup trailer?” “What’s that smell?” “What’s that food you were eating?” They’d be hating on me one day, but then the next day, they’d be asking me where theirs was. [laughs]
Parlé Mag: See! That’s how it usually is.
A.J. Johnson: That’s where The A.J. Zone came from. My celebrity co-workers, cast members, producers, and directors were asking for my assistance in healthy living. So, my dad—rest his soul now—used to say, “Okay, great. They’re asking you for your help, but are you charging them for it?” I’d be like, “No, no, no! They’re my friends.” And he would say, “Well, I’m the one who paid your Spelman tuition. Can you ask them to pay you so you can just pay me back?” [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs] Oh, gosh!
A.J. Johnson: My father was really big on saying, “There’s a happy in you that I don’t see much. There’s a dance in your body, and there’s a sparkle in your eyes that kind of seems to be going with this acting thing. There are a lot of different sides to you, and I want to ask you to pursue more than just acting and believe that you can do it.” Okay, I’m getting ready to choke up.
Parlé Mag: Take your time. I understand.
A.J. Johnson: It’s so interesting because I’m now living a thirty-day span where I feel like what he prophesied is coming true.
Parlé Mag: It’s happening.
A.J. Johnson: I have this movie coming out. I’m on my way to do some healthy living at Essence, with Walmart, one of their leading sponsors.
Parlé Mag: That’s amazing!
A.J. Johnson: Thank you! I’m also on my way back to Ghana for the third time since January, speaking at their Year of Return: Pana Fest celebration. It’s blowing my mind that what he claimed for me is what I’m living.
Parlé Mag: So, would you say that you lost love for acting at one point?
A.J. Johnson: Oh, absolutely. And I wasn’t willing to live that way. I think a lot of people do. It’s a hard thing to maintain. There’s a lot to not love about it. You’re on a red carpet, and everybody’s screaming your name and taking your picture, but two seconds later, soon as somebody else walks up, they’re screaming their name and taking their picture. So, it’s a business that tries to teach you that your validation is only as strong as your latest project. I always felt like I had so much more to offer than just the latest film I’m in. That’s all everybody ever wanted to talk about. Now, here comes the A.J. part of Phylicia. I was like, “Did you read the news? Did you hear about the infection in Africa?” But no one wanted to talk about that. It’s only about your last project.
Parlé Mag: Like, “When’s your next one?”
A.J. Johnson: My point! Even when I was on the set of Baby Boy, my first day of shooting, Entertainment Tonight was there, and the first question they asked me was, “What’s next?” What’s next is I’m getting out of this chair and shooting this scene that I beat a thousand women out for! What do you mean… “What’s next?”
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
A.J. Johnson: The industry has a way of making you think that you’re not good enough.
Parlé Mag: Or, that you’re not doing enough.
A.J. Johnson: I just knew that wasn’t necessarily the story that I wanted my life to be about. I didn’t know what my destiny was going to be; I just knew it wasn’t that.
Parlé Mag: Since your introduction into the business, do you feel that Hollywood has changed? If so, in what ways?
A.J. Johnson: Yeah. I feel like talent and skill are not as important as it used to be. Again, social media. We’ve fallen into, if you have a million followers, you’re a celebrity. So, how about we put you in a movie? And the funny thing, to me, is, I think the cycle of that is shifting again because the industry has seen where followers don’t necessarily translate into success on-screen. You have to have some talent; you have to have some sort of skill set. So, just because you have a million followers doesn’t mean that you’re a good actress. Or, just because you have a million followers doesn’t mean [the public] wants to see you do something else besides what they’re following you for. We’ve seen that with a couple of celebrities who have thousands and millions of followers, but then their projects tank, fast. And there’s a reason for that.
So, I do think the industry has gone down into a hole of thinking that popularity translates into skill and talent, and I don’t think it does. We also went into a phase where music took over. Where if you had a hit single, you were now the star of a film. I think we’re moving back into that space of real talent. You’re starting to notice that some of the old shows are being rebooted, some of the old comedies. Some of the old movies are going back and doing remakes. Why do you think that is? Why would that be the thing to do? Because there’s no new content compared to what worked before. So, yeah, I think the industry is different, and I’m glad to be at a part in my life where I can pick and choose and have fun. Acting is no longer my only thing; it’s no longer my mainstay for finances. It’s literally to have fun and exercise that part of my brain and my creativity! It’s now fun for me, which, before, it was more like, this makes or breaks me; this makes or breaks who I am.
Parlé Mag: Almost like a job!
A.J. Johnson: Yeah! And, now, it’s not a job anymore. It’s for fun.
Parlé Mag: What would you say was the hardest part about breaking into the entertainment field as a Black woman? And do you still find yourself facing some of those same challenges today?
A.J. Johnson: Well, honestly, it’s funny because it wasn’t hard for me. It’s just being the brown-skinned girl. I know, through history, that I came into this industry as the fun, popular brown-skinned girl. I became that through House Party and In Living Color and the other roles that I played. I learned, over time, that I was really a mainstay for brown-skinned women. They stopped me all the time. “Thank you for giving me permission to be pretty,” “Thank you for helping me love myself. I’ve had so many issues with my skin color.” Interestingly enough, I never experienced that. In high school, I was one of the only Black kids in my high school, but I still graduated first of my class. I was homecoming queen, and I was captain of the basketball team, head of the dance department. So, I never experienced any color discrimination.
Parlé Mag: That’s so shocking!
A.J. Johnson: Right! Isn’t that crazy? I go to Spelman, same thing. It was almost like, at that time, the AU Center (Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta) was very Afro-centric. So, the darker you were, the more popular you were. Even in their environment. I mean, Spelman used to do the brown paper bag test to get you in school. If you were darker than a brown paper bag, you couldn’t get in. At that point of evolution, [when I attended], the darker you were, the badder you were. So, I got to Spelman when my brown skin was like, “Uh oh! Who’s the new hottie on campus?” By the time I got to Hollywood, and I heard this kind of talk from other people—brown-skinned actresses and people who I would talk to—that’s when I realized that it was a thing. That being a brown-skinned woman was a thing. I didn’t really realize that, and I had never gone through anything to tell me that. So, I just feel like that probably kicked it all off, in terms of where I started, what do I see now. I know that that’s been an issue, and I know that it’s an issue for some women, still. That’s never been an issue for me.
Parlé Mag: Any plans for other projects moving forward or are you taking it easy this time around?
A.J. Johnson: I don’t know if I’ll do other projects. I’m focused on the now. I’m enjoying promoting this film. I’m getting ready to do another project when I get back to L.A. from Essence. I’m getting ready to work with one of my best friends on a TV pilot. You know, I’m here to have fun this time. So, I don’t know where God’s going to take me on that journey. I’m just kind of open to knowing what gets delivered.
Parlé Mag: You’re just in the passenger’s seat and down for the ride! I can definitely relate to that.
A.J. Johnson: Yeah! So, there’s not a whole lot of room for what’s the issue going to be or what’s the problem going to be. I now have something else that allows me to say “no thanks” when there’s an issue. I don’t have to stay in it. I don’t have to take projects to take care of people I know and love. I don’t have to do projects if I don’t want to do the script because I have to pay my car note. There’s nothing I have to do within the industry. So, I removed that limitation off of me. Now, I can just really have fun. I can pick and choose what script I want to do, who I want to work with, what character I want. The good news is, thirty years of a reputation has given me that creative freedom. I didn’t realize I had that. When I made the suggestions [about my character] to TV One, I was waiting for them to say, “No, no, no. Great idea, but not the right project. Thanks anyway. So, put on your little blue suit and your pumps and be this detective.” Which, I would’ve done. I would’ve done it, but the fact that I had the courage to say, “I don’t see her like that, and I’m thinking this could be different,” it gave me what I needed to properly execute Phylicia.
Like, if you’re going to call me to do a role like this, let me do the role like this. They were like, “We agree!” So, I’ve learned that I have respect and a reputation that leads to some creative freedom. I’m excited to see where that takes me.
Parlé Mag: Speaking of your reputation, you’ve done a lot in your career. After all of these years, how does it feel to still hold such great stature in the industry?
A.J. Johnson: It’s mind-blowing! It’s humbling. When I first got to set, the hair and makeup department asked, “Can you please call my mom? She doesn’t believe I’m working with you!” I was like, “Huh?” I went to one of the producers, and I said, “This is a little crazy!” [laughs] He was like, “You’re now one of those actresses who you used to clamor to work with. You’re now one of those actresses who people go, ‘Guess who’s on set!'” I was like, “That’s tripping me out!”
Parlé Mag: [laughs] Even after all this time?
A.J. Johnson: Yes! Because I don’t see myself as that. So, when I walked on set and everybody started clapping, I started clapping like, “What are we clapping for?” They were like, “You, silly!” [laughs] I was like, “Oh, oh, oh! Okay!”
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
A.J. Johnson: I will say this. When I started to pray about going back on camera, I knew that, if I was blessed to do it, it was going to be to expand my platform, to shout out how good God is. I knew it wasn’t going to be just for another actress, another celebrity, another film. I knew that it was going to be different because I’m different, and my life is different. I knew that if God said “yes” to these opportunities to get back on camera, it was going to be added responsibility. So, I’m making sure I’m staying in that space.
Parlé Mag: As we know, you have decades under your belt. In the past, there was talk about film legends who tend to feel black-balled as the newcomers come along. Have you ever felt that way, and if so, why?
A.J. Johnson: No. I’ve never experienced that because I’ve never had any negative dealings with the industry. Like I said before, when I started feeling like I wasn’t happy, for different reasons, I stepped aside. I removed myself and found my happy someplace else. And it wasn’t because it was negative energy or I wasn’t being paid, or there was a bad relationship. It was because there was a happy that I wanted to be that I just wasn’t through acting. So, don’t forget, I’m coming back to it under my terms. I’m not sacrificing, I’m not compromising anything that I don’t want to sacrifice or compromise to be an actress. I’m reading scripts, and I’m picking and choosing. I’m looking at who I’m going to be working with—producers, directors, prop people, hair and makeup. I want it to be a fun experience. Because, again, at this point in my life, I don’t have to do it!
Parlé Mag: Thinking back to some of your classic work, like House Party and Baby Boy, how do you feel those productions contributed to the culture?
A.J. Johnson: I think they shaped the culture in different ways. I mean, House Party was the introduction of Hip-Hop, via film. So, it increased the awareness outside of the Black community in America. It also set up the idea of true friendship and camaraderie. Even to this day, thirty years later, Tisha [Campbell] and I both constantly hear, “Because of you two, my best friend and I do that,” or “Because of you guys, my best friend and I have decided this.” We would’ve never thought that we were responsible for designing what real friendship is—the appearance of what real friendship is—based on what we did in House Party. In terms of Baby Boy, I can be walking through the airport and women will say, “Because of you, you gave me permission to love myself as a single mom,” or “My family looks down on me, but because of what you did in Baby Boy, you helped me understand my situation.”
So, I take on roles where I feel like I can make a difference, or I can have a say. I always feel like there’s a message that I’m supposed to deliver. I’m not given a platform for nothing. I really feel like it’s for me. I’m there to give to other people. So, I try to create characters and tell a story from my side of it, where I’m giving more than looking to receive.
Just think about that fact that we have a whole new generational audience now! You still see these films on TV today. Y’all got nieces and nephews who weren’t even born when I did House Party, who are now like, “Can we watch it? Can we watch it? Can we watch it?” And I’m like, “Again?” [laughs] So, yeah, we’ve got a whole new generation. To me, it clearly says that friendship is lacking; simple, good times are lacking. Good, old house parties. I think that’s another thing that has made those films iconic and life-shifting. They’re never-ending in what they represent.
Parlé Mag: What’s something that they don’t tell you about show business that you think would’ve helped you when you first started out?
A.J. Johnson: That it really is a business, that you have to know the ins and outs of the business to survive it. You don’t know that relationships are important. The girl who’s signing you in at an audition one day may produce the film the next day. That there are no rules. Anybody can do anything… at any time. So, make sure that you are responsible for the image that you want to create and maintain. Everybody is out for something; everybody has a motive, an agenda. And that’s not bad. It comes from the fact that the industry has no rules. So, you have to go for it the way that you want to go for it. You know, coming out of college, you do well in school, you get a degree, then you’re eligible for certain jobs. Right? In Hollywood, that’s not the case. It’s more of who you know and what’s your skill set. If you’re hanging with the right crowd, then you could elevate. So, you have to be careful of that. Everybody’s out for their own good. If you can both win and help each other win, great. But as soon as you start feeling like somebody’s agenda doesn’t necessarily help yours, you have to move on. There are a lot of parts of the business that people don’t tell you about. People look at the glitz and glam and say, “I want to be an actress!” And I say, “Okay, what you’re seeing on TV is the pinky on ten fingers of what the industry is really about.” Research it well, know the depths of the business behind it.
Even right now, we got on a red-eye flight last night, had to lay over in Miami for what was five a.m. for us, in our bodies, then get on another plane, land in New Orleans and jump on interviews. But people don’t see this side. People just see the hair and makeup, the beautiful clothes, getting our picture taken, and the glitz and glam of having a show. They don’t see this part.
Parlé Mag: Aside from the film and TV world, you’re also into health and wellness. Talk to us about that. How did your interest in that area begin?
A.J. Johnson: With the death of my mother. I was sixteen. My mother died, after a very short illness, from thyroid cancer. It also helped me go into science, as a college major, because I just couldn’t understand how cancer operated. I think it was also a part of my mourning process and losing her. I just definitely wanted to understand what had happened, and that also led me to start living a different lifestyle because, at the time, we didn’t know very much about cancer. We wanted to understand—at least, I did—what it was, how we get it, and can we survive it. So, I just started researching on my own. I started eating different, living different. I learned what were factors of cancer, like sugar, stress, and smoking—all of the stuff that we’re taught. I started working with the American Cancer Society as a celebrity ambassador. Me being a Chemistry major, they let me sit in on some of the research meetings, which was awesome. The more I learned, the more I lived. That’s where it came from. Of course, being in an environment like Hollywood, where that’s not necessarily popular, I tried to hide it for a long time.
Only the people I worked with knew because they were a part of my day-to-day life. I just knew that it wasn’t popular. It was my thing, my private thing. It wasn’t anything that I felt like I needed to share. You know? You eat pizza, I don’t. It’s fine. You eat nachos, I don’t. You eat dead food, I eat raw, live food. It’s not bad or good; it’s just different. But, as people started asking me for help, and why I did it, I started noticing that more and more people were interested. And let’s remember… this was like mid-nineties. So, I’m living this lifestyle in mid-nineties, and this was before the calorie count of food was on the menu, even including McDonald’s. This was before all of that. So, I was calorie counting before that. People were like, “Why are you doing that?” I’m like, “Well, because it helps you not gain weight.” Of course, now, they’re saying, “How are you still in the same jeans you were in high school?” Well, with thirty years of calorie counting, this is what happens!
You know what I mean? Like, this is the result!
Parlé Mag: Beautiful! Any final word of advice you want to leave with everyone out there?
A.J. Johnson: Follow your heart; follow your soul. It’s your life. I hope I’m an example of what happens when you do that. Let no one tell you what you can be, what you can’t be, what you can do, what you can’t do. Design your vision, find a plan for the vision. All of these vision boards, it’s cute, but if you don’t have a plan, they’re just boards with a lot of pretty pictures! You have to have a plan, and design that plan to be fail-safe. Don’t be afraid to do the work! It takes work. Even healthy living, it takes work. I don’t always eat healthy, but that means I get up and hike seven miles if I don’t eat healthy.
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