AJ Johnson

Twenty-one years post its theatrical release, for the film’s co-star and love interest, “it doesn’t feel like it has been that long.”  House Partydebuted in March of 1990 introducing movie audiences to a young, vibrant and ultra talented cast which featured Kid ‘n Play, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Robin Harris, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell and AJ Johnson. “[House Party] was the beginning for most of us,” recalls Johnson adding, “when there’s a beginning that’s so strong and so effortless … that’s contagious … and so the desire to see that energy, that chemistry, that degree of fun, acting or not … I think [is] what people gravitate towards and what got affected by all these years later.”

In 2001, Johnson would achieve her most heralded performance as Juanita, the single mother in John Singleton’s critically acclaimed Baby Boy.  “I look at what keeps these films hot and alive [and] I personally think it’s not just moments on cinema, I think it’s just genuine, authentic vibe that got captured on film,” states John crediting Reginald Hudlin and John Singleton as “both amazing directors, both have a style that encourage and celebrate authenticity [and] neither one of them forced anything that didn’t feel real in the moment of shooting … and so I think there is something to be said for the product they both created because of that position they took as directors.”

Absent from the screen for the last five years to pursue her passion advocating health and wellness as a celebrity life coach, Johnson shares, “I hear [my clients] fighting for their work, and their feelings and their development of character to be respected.  I don’t know if directors are open to trusting their actors,” adding that her departure from Hollywood roles was not “necessarily [her] choice to walk away from acting.”  The Magna Cum Laude Spelman College graduate who holds a dual BA degree in psychology and chemistry states, “Roles that were attractive to me were fleeting an far and few between and if you look at the last ten years, it’s like the roles for strong African American women, for prominent women, for life-changing women, they’re not a lot of them and if you are really trying to make a career and a mark in your life you can’t do that by doing one film a year.”

But one additional film from Johnson’s resume, which challenged her, was the 1994 role of Heather-Lee, a betrayed lover opposite Morris Chestnut in the coming of age motion picture The Inkwell.  “That was really tough for me, because I had never really had a relationship where I’d been betrayed before and tried to really work with an acting coach to find what it really means to be betrayed … and I had to dive into my fear and my disgust of being lied to,” explains Johnson of the emotional scene adding, “It wasn’t about infidelity for me … it was about I’m a liver of truth and when I expect that we’re living a mutual truth, how disappointing and how hard of a fall it is to take when someone lies to you.  That’s what that scene was about for me.”

And in yet another very difficult, emotional but non-acting scene, Johnson recently publicly discussed the early loss of her mother and father.  “Oh my goodness! What you didn’t see in the show is that I lost it,” reveals Johnson in response to hearing her aunt inform her that ‘everybody was protecting you because we knew that your future was important’ during the film of her TV One episode of Life After.   “With my mother dieing and my father now gone, there were some answers I was after I had still not gotten,” says Johnson explaining, “that wasn’t a set up scene for the show … and so as you heard that, I was hearing it for the first time.”

Sudden unanticipated loss of someone close unfortunately followed Johnson to Hollywood as her House Party co-star and rising comedic talent Robin Harris passed away just nine short days after the film’s release.  “It was very painful for me … I was devastated at watching somebody who was literally on a fast trajectory to amazing career status beyond what he’d already done to just get taken …especially in Black Hollywood,” says Johnson, reflecting on “the death of my mother and then my father” adds, “it just helped me focus on making sure I was happy, making sure that I expressed the importance of people in my life everyday.”

But along with the death, there was also the birth of a long-lasting friendship with her House Party and School Daze cast mate Tisha Campbell-Martin that exists to this very day.   “Tisha was my girl, so she was right there with me,” revealing the duo had “done a lot of [music video] choreography for New Edition N.E.’s HeartbreakFishnet video for Morris Day and The Time, and Gerald Lavert and Lavert.”    Johnson and Campbell portraying Sherane and Sydney in the House Party film would innocently go on to choreograph and produce what would be celebrated “as one of the baddest dance battle scenes in movie history,” crediting “the chemistry between she and I and Kid ‘n Play, that was just part of who we were as buddy friends shooting the movie, the choreography of dance battles was just part of how we were friends.”  But what wasn’t part of regimen was drinking Kool-Aid as Johnson laughs, “I had never had Kool-Aid in my life … when we shot that … everybody on set had to tell me what it was!”

And of her both her most famous characters when asked which she would be most interested in revisiting to portray today Johnson admits, “I fell in love with Sherane in House Party and I fell in love with Juanita in Baby Boyprobably because they were the most unlike me and I had to really work hard to design them and create them and learn who they were and become them and as much as it was a challenge, it was fun … and it made me grow as a person to portray them as characters, so either one of them.”

And despite the five year absence from the acting challenge, the former In Living Color fly girl says,  “I never said that I stopped acting [but] it would have to be a lot of ‘right’ that would have to be in place to pull me away from what I’m doing [with The AJ Zone] but I would love to see what would happen to go back on screen. I’m not opposed to it.”