We were able to sit down with Kenneth Johnson to talk about TNT’s Saving Grace along with his personal projects. Here’s what the talented and charming actor had to say:
Now I’ve watched the March episodes, and it looks like Ham is kinda wishing he was back with Grace. What can you tell us about the dynamic between Ham and Butch?
Kenneth Johnson: Ham and Butch… obviously, you know their histories. Butch came from a little richer, snootier background than Ham did. Ham is more of a gritty, earthy guy, so they approach things differently. Holly was with Butch before, so there’s a little tension in the first season because of that. But I think he kinda got over it, because she’s been with about a hundred thousand guys, you know [laughs].
Kenneth Johnson: So, I think they’re butting heads. They have two different ways of working. And I think that the fact, when you get somebody like Ham and Grace that can kind of finish each other’s sentences and thoughts, you know, that’s a great way to work. That doesn’t come along that often in life, in any career that you do. And when you do, it just works. And when it works, you guys are great at what you do. And then you go with somebody else who’s got a completely different technique and way of going about it, it’s definitely gonna cause conflict. And that’s our whole thing, we both try to take the lead in these things. And he’s set in his Butch ways, and that’s not gonna change. I think he like wants to bust him in the head, but he’s just like, “What am I doing? Please 28 days go by so I can get back to Grace.”
Then Grace doesn’t want me back. She’s like, “You left me, dude. Deal with it.”
Beyond the March episodes, what can you tell us about Ham’s relationship with Grace both in professional and personal terms?
Kenneth Johnson: Beyond the March episodes, they do get back together. However, since she opened her heart up to him for the first time and he didn’t know how to deal with it… he just couldn’t emotionally deal with anything due to what had happened… that obviously pushed her away. He really wants to be back with her, and he realizes right after he wanted time off that he wanted to be back with her. And she makes it hard, she makes him earn his way back.
I feel as an actor, I may be wrong, but I feel there is still a part of Grace that won’t let him back in like she did prior to that. It’s definitely not right back to where we were, she’s making me earn it back, and even then it’s not the same.
Also, I won’t say why, but they get into a little bit of the religious aspect of spirituality and belief in God. That’s something they’ve never done before. So that’s an interesting dynamic that opens up, and I think it might be explored more in the 3rd season coming up.
What do you think Ham’s true feelings towards Grace are? Do you think deep down he wants to be with her?
Kenneth Johnson: I think so. I think he helplessly thinks that she is the one. And as dysfunctional as it all seems on the outside, he can’t deny that he feels that way on the inside. There’s something about their souls or their spirits… sometimes you just meet someone.. and you’re just head over heals, and you don’t know why. That’s what is with him, so I think he’s always hoping that someday… the potential of it being her… he’s not going to let that go.
How many new episodes are fans going to get in this go around?
Kenneth Johnson: Seven.
What’s been your favorite case on Saving Grace?
Kenneth Johnson: That’s an interesting one…. that’s a tough one. I like the serial killer case, that’s kind of a cool case. There’s a case coming up that goes over a couple episodes that’s interesting where Grace’s brother Doug meets a woman. He thinks she’s the one, and she keeps getting beaten up by someone. It’s really a bizarre weird story that goes over a couple episodes. No one knows why or what is going on. That comes up in the 5th and 6th one coming up.
After leaving The Shield what made you decide to go back out for another cop show? What was it in your opinion that made Saving Grace stand out?
Kenneth Johnson: I try not to look at it as cop shows. On The Shield there were dirty cops, and then over a period of time the guilt of what they’ve done kind of tears their friendships apart. There were a lot of layers to the characters. There are a lot of cop shows that are just formal shows, and I never really want to do that. I don’t believe The Shield was that, and I don’t believe Saving Grace is that either.
I was given like 30 something scripts when I left The Shield, and there were only two of them that I liked. One of them was Saving Grace. The material was so well-written, and I thought it could be another The Shield. Then they said that Holly Hunter was attached to it…. and obviously I’ve always wanted to work with her… so I just thought between the material and Holly Hunter… if that ever happened it would be a dream come true.
One thing I think is so great about the series is its open-endedness, the way it makes more questions than it really answers. What kind of answers can fans look forward to seeing before the end of the season?
Kenneth Johnson: What kind of answers? Hopefully none! [laughs]
Just a lot more questions? [laughs]
Kenneth Johnson: Actually, yeah. There are a lot more questions that will be raised by the end of these seven episodes. There is just a major climax that I think will just bring about 10 times as many questions as leading up till now.
On a smaller scale, there is resolution with Ham’s character and his wife. He tries to finalize a divorce and be honest with himself and his wife about everything. He needs to get that out. He owes it to her. So I don’t know if you really get any answers from it, but at least it’s a little more thorough than just cheating on your wife and not knowing why.
But yeah, I think there will be more questions. [laughs] But that’s good, that’s what the show should do. So trust me, by the end, there will be a lot of questions.
After these seven episodes, when will you be back again?
Kenneth Johnson: We start shooting again on April 1st for the 3rd season, and I think they want to start airing them sometime in the summer.
One question I’ve always had is why doesn’t Earl help Grace solve crimes?
Kenneth Johnson: It’s not his job man. He can’t jump into God’s work. God’s created this universe and things are supposed to happen for cause and effect… and if he jumped in, it would kind of alter things. And I think that’s why he doesn’t. He would be breaking God’s rules in the grand scheme of things. Things need to play out however they’re going to play out. Lessons need to be learned. I think that’s what it is from Earl’s point of view. [laughs] Earl solving crime… that’s funny.
I’ve also read about your background as a world class arm wrestler. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Kenneth Johnson: World class. [laughs] That sounds nice actually. I like that. What do you want to know?
How does one go from that into the acting field?
Kenneth Johnson: That all happened by accident. Friends of mine that were trainers at a gym were arm wrestling, and I was behind the nutrition bar serving drinks. [laughs] They were like, “Hey you! Want to arm wrestle?” And I was like, “Nay.” But they talked me into so I jumped over the counter and kinda killed everyone there. So we’d go out to bars and arm wrestle and hustle money…. and I’d kill everybody. So one of the guys was a friend of Sylvester Stallone, and he was doing the movie Over The Top. So he found out where the world championships in arm wrestling were. About 2 weeks later, I entered my first competition. I almost beat a couple guys that were ranked in the top 5 in the world, but I didn’t. There was this Australian guy, who was actually Heath Ledger’s uncle that was big into arm wrestling. He became one of my best friends, and he’d make me go to the competition every year. He started training me, and I’d just go and see how I’d do. I ended up placing in the top 5 or 6 for about the last 8 years. The last year I was 2nd in the world. It wasn’t something I wanted to do for a lifetime. It was just for the fun of it.
The acting thing kind of came about through a friend who got me into that competition. He had written a script, and he had written a part for me to play his best friend. And I didn’t want to do it. For 2 weeks, he kept asking and saying that he wrote it for me. I had no interest. I didn’t know anything about acting. I finally said okay. So I had someone help me learn the lines, and something happened that first take where it was almost like an epiphany. As clear as day, something inside me said, “This is what you’re supposed to be doing.”
From that point, I didn’t know why or what, but this is the journey I’ve been on.
So I heard that you also directed and starred in short film that won some awards. Can you tell me a little about that?
Kenneth Johnson: I Heard The Mermaids Singing was a beautiful play that Michael Shurtleff wrote. He was my first acting teacher, and I had done a play for him when I first started out. He passed away in 2007, and this Australian girl calls me and says she has this project. She tells me what it is and says that someone told her I’d be great for this role. I wanted to do it more for Michael, because he had just passed away. It was like my shout-out to him. And the director had just gotten fired 2 days after we’d wrapped on the first season of Saving Grace. Victoria Charters (screenwriter) called me and was going to push the shoot, but I told her no. We both knew the story, we could do this together. So I went up to Santa Barbara, we shot for 2 days, and then we cut it together. It turned out really beautifully. It was a 45 minute play cut down to a 22 minute short film. It was difficult to have two people who come from different worlds, don’t know each other, fall in love, then not be able to be together because of certain twists, and then lose each other. It’s a love story all in 22 minutes, which is not easy to do.
Is directing something you want to do more of?
Kenneth Johnson: Only if it was like the same circumstances with an interesting film. With television…
Not so much?
Kenneth Johnson: No, not so much.
So what’s going on with you right now. Any new projects or anything you’d like your fans to know about?
Kenneth Johnson: I’m doing a documentary with a friend of mine that’s about rape kits not being tested. We’ve been working on it for about 4 months with human resources from New York. It’s still in the process, but the whole thing is to create awareness that there are like 500,000 untested rape kits. No one really has any money in any of these cities to make it a priority to run these rape kits. It’s horrible because the person that gets raped has to pay $1,500 just to get the rape test done. No one pays to get the kit tested, to get the DNA tested. If they don’t have their own money to get the kit tested, then they’re never going to know. We’re just trying to make more awareness with that.
That’s what I’m working on right now. There are also 3 pending films that would shoot after Saving Grace this season.
Interview By: Emma Loggins