As television’s newest leading man on the rise, “New Girl’s” Jake M. Johnson is a lot of things – but one thing he definitely is not, is 14 years old.
“They just finally took it off IMDB,” Jake told Access Hollywood during a break from filming his FOX hit comedy series of the erroneous birth year – 1997 — previously listed on the movie website – a date which prompted concern from a slew of young women on Twitter.
“I just thought it was so funny that all these 16-year-old girls who watch ‘New Girl’… they, for a moment, thought ‘that weird guy with the beard’ was like, 14,” he continued, with a laugh. “My whole career would be so much more interesting if I was 14 and looked and acted the way I act.”
Even without being the teenage “weird guy with the beard,” AccessHollywood.com’s newest Rising Star has had more than an interesting lead up to his charming break out role as Nick, “New Girl’s” heartbroken underdog and the love interest-on-the-way for Zooey Deschanel’s Jess.
But getting there was no easy feat for the youngest child of a single mom, who fed and clothed her brood by running what Jake called, “kind of junk shops throughout Chicago,” and making stained glass windows for clients.
With an artist for a mom, a teenage Jake fell hard the arts too, but his passion went in a different direction — the improvisational comedy stage at a famed Chicago club.
“Second City used to do a free improv show late at night, and when I was in early high school, that’s when [Chris] Farley was there and Tina Fey was there, so we used to be able to go and watch these greats,” he recalled fondly.
“I knew that’s what I wanted, I just didn’t know the path to get there,” he added of the early dream. “I always wanted to perform and act, it just seemed like [as big of a dream as], ‘It would be really fun to go to the moon one day.’”
Unsure of his route, Jake headed West, well, further Midwest, to the University of Iowa.
During his two years as a Hawkeye, just 230-odd miles from Chicago, Jake began his path to the moon after penning a primate-inspired theater work.
“I wrote a play about a man who works at a gorilla house, and his main job is to care for the old celebrity gorilla. When that gorilla dies, his life kind of falls apart and his wife and friends are really weirded out by the fact that he’s this devastated by a gorilla dying,” Jake explained. “I wrote this play when I was at Iowa just because it made me laugh, and I sent it to NYU and I got into Tisch for dramatic writing.”
Continuing his craft of writing in New York City, the early 20-something hit the stage too, performing with the Upright Citizens Brigade (with Casey Wilson of “Happy Endings”), an experience that eventually helped lead him – finally – to Hollywood.
With the performing bug a full-blown virus, Jake quickly hit the stage at LA’s Second City, with Eric Edelstein, for their self-penned sketch comedy, “This Is My Friend,” and the internet came calling too as he joined the likes of Michael Cera in Derek Waters’ “Drunk History” (see Jake duel Michael Cera HERE), and “Derek & Simon,” a web series featuring “Big Bang Theory’s” Simon Helberg.
From there, doors started to open, landing the talented funnyman roles on shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Tim Roth’s “Lie To Me” and films like Russell Brand’s “Get Him To The Greek,” and the Ashton Kutcher vehicle, “No Strings Attached,” written by “New Girl” creator Liz Meriwether.
“She’s so good and she works so hard and when somebody cares that much at the top, it just makes everybody’s job so much easier,” Jake said of Liz, the woman who is now his full time boss.
And that ease will continue on, as “New Girl” was picked up for a full series run by FOX.
“Random people will walk by and I’ll get a point and they’ll say, ‘Hey man, ‘New Girl,’ and I’ll go, ‘Yeah.’ And they’ll go, ‘Nice!’” he laughed, recounting to Access how his life is starting to change. “It feels like I’m high-fiving a stranger.”
With more roles in the just-released “A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas” and the 2012-due “21 Jump Street” reboot, the journey is only getting better, something Jake said is fun too for his wife, artist Erin Payne.
“When we met, I think I had 400 dollars to my name and a disgusting moustache I was trying to grow. So for her, it’s just really fun,” he said. “I think she’s been enjoying the ride.”
-- Jolie Lash