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Introducing Kathrine Johnson

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, September 19, 2021

While for many 2021 has not been a particularly good year, Jamaican actress Kathrine Johnson is giving thanks for the successes the year has brought in spite of the current global health crisis brought on by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Johnson made her film début in March of this year as the lead actress in a short film, and has since shot an episode in a series, as well as a role in a feature film. Not bad for a girl who studied the sciences in high school up to the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) levels and then went on to university, and who only took up acting as an extra-curricular activity when she joined the drama club. She admits that she was bitten by the acting bug. She then took advantage of every opportunity that presented itself to be on a set, whether it was as a make-up artist or production assistant. Then it moved to being an extra in a film, commercial, or music video. Then came 2021.

“Once I got into acting I quickly realised that this is it. I have always admired persons in the arts. They are always so passionate about what they do. I soon realised why, and I fell in love. Things really snowballed to this point, and I quickly realised that being in Jamaica with no agent, I just had to network and take advantage of every opportunity. So I go to every audition that I hear about. I guess it's a way to show people that you are serious.”

It is that attitude that led to Johnson's screen début in the short film Things Left at the Table, written and directed by Kevin Jackson, which is yet to be released. Her leading lady role came in March of this year when she shot Revelation, a series available on the Digicel's PlayGo app, written and directed by Sosiesia Nixon.

“Each was filled with its own set of valuable experiences. I was able to get the role with Kevin [Jackson] as he knew me for some time and decided to give me a shot. The film is about two married couples, who believe the other has the perfect relationship. They go on a double date and what comes out is interesting. He has big plans for film festivals before releasing on a streaming platform. Revelation is all about living during the pandemic. This was a great experience, with some very talented people. As a cast we were required to live together during shooting, which played into the storyline, which is all about life in lockdown... I really enjoyed that experience,” said Johnson.

But her biggest gig was yet to come. Johnson shot her first feature film in August of this year. She has a role in the soon-to-be-released film Blackjack Christmas directed by Victoria Rowell of Young and the Restless fame. Again, it was a case of networking and taking advantage of opportunities which landed her this gig.

“A friend of mine, who I met while working on another project messaged me to say Victoria was working on a film to be shot here in Jamaica and he had put my name on the list. I did my audition with Zarabelle Talent Management via Zoom and about a week later got a call that I had been cast. I knew it wasn't a major role, but as we say in the business there are no small roles.”

Johnson had no idea she would have been acting alongside seasoned Jamaican actors Oliver Samuels and Fae Ellington, as well as American actress Dawnn Lewis, who many will remember from her role as Jaleesa on the 1980s sitcom A Different World.

“Typically I don't get nervous and I was fine in the rehearsals, but once we got started shooting I found myself saying, “Oh my God, I can't believe this is me.” Victoria was so sweet and recognised that I was getting tense. She was so reassuring and told me I was great in the rehearsals, so I would be fine. That was the nature of the environment surrounding this film, everybody was so giving, super supportive, and ready and willing to offer tips to make your performance better.”

Each stop along Johnson's journey into film has had its own experiences, which will remain with her and inform her in the future. For Blackjack Christmas it was a scene she shared with Lewis and fellow actress Charmin Lee.

“It was the second day and he had this hilarious scene where Dawnn is intoxicated. For me, it felt messy and clumsy, things were all over the place. But it became a big teaching moment, as I soon realised that is what was required. I walked out of that experience realising that I just needed to lose myself in the scene and make each moment work,” said Johnson.

Unsure of what the future holds, Johnson is optimistic that, if, despite a pandemic, she can make such a mark, then good things are in store. She would love to work with multi-award-winning actress Viola Davis whom she admires for her strong characters, who break the stereotype of black women. Oscar winners Mahershala Ali and Lupita Nyong'o are also on her wish list of people with whom she wants to work. Locally, actresses Camille Davis and Shantol Jackson are among those who catch her eye.

“I dont know what will happen in another five years. I'm a strong believer in manifesting. So I will just put things out into the universe and hope for the best. This year has been tough, yet I have had three experiences, so I give thanks and can only be optimistic of what will happen post COVID,” said Johnson.