“I passed right away,” confesses Jake Johnson about guest starring on Rob McElhenney’s new comedy “Mythic Quest.” In our recent interview (watch the exclusive video above), he adds, “I’m not a gamer, I don’t know anything about the world or the culture. I said ‘I really respect you Rob but my head’s on this other show (‘Stumptown’) and I’m not a video game guy. I don’t think I’m right for it.’ He just kept pushing and didn’t take no for an answer. I was happy to say yes in the end.”
Johnson starred in the fifth episode of the series, “A Dark Quiet Death,” written by Rob’s sister, Katie McElhenny. It’s a departure episode for the show taking place years earlier and not featuring the series’ regular cast. It tells a tragic love story between Doc (Johnson) and Bean (Cristin Milioti), two game developers that drift apart as they find success and Doc sells out. The actor explains, “Katie had written a great script, and everything was there. What Cristin and I added was chemistry. The only thing that’s never on page is chemistry. I do believe that’s the actor’s job, to connect and find the glue between two people. Dan Aykroyd always talked about John Belushi, and that glue between them that made that thing special.”
The nature of the episode meant Johnson had to come in as a guest but play the lead. He describes, “It was a neat experience. They had already shot the entire season. There’s an energy the team has and you are trying to figure out how you fit in. It’s like being a new kid at school. What’s wild about this one was the whole thing had formed and was complete but we were creating something new, within the rules of that show. We were the origin story about what happened in the space before the show takes place.”
On playing Doc, Johnson he says “He has a very good heart, but he can’t help being a bit of a sellout. He wants to be as pure as Bean, he wants to be a true artist. But he can’t help himself. It almost felt like he has an addiction to selling out and manifest destiny. He needs to get bigger and better. It’s his fatal flaw.”
Being an actor Johnson can relate to questions of compromise. He confesses, “I started off as an actor doing all theater. I thought everything about the L.A. version of acting was less pure. Then I got out here and booked a Yahoo commercial, made $15,000 and everything changed. The idea of getting a taste of the other side is something I could fully relate to. I’ve been in meetings where somebody from a studio lets you know what sort of success a certain change could make. It is very hard to stay pure to an ideal when you see what success could be. Those were the things I grabbed hold of. What I don’t experience is that his love and family life was also connected to his business. By selling out his business he was also selling out his love. That was something that really defines who he is deep down. You got to see how sad he is about it. He loves Bean and he knows he screwed up. He couldn’t help himself at the time.”
He continues, “I don’t think too much about selling out now. I want to work with people who I really respect and are nice and kind to work with. And I want to be doing good stuff. Outside of that, if it’s a big project or a small project I don’t care as much anymore. I want to enjoy the people I spend my actual days with. On something like ‘Mythic Quest’ I wanted to spend those days with Rob, even if this ended up being a really bad episode and they scrapped it.”
Even though the episode emerged as arguably the most critically acclaimed of the season, Johnson was unsure of it’s success when filming. He explains, “When Rob first pitched it to me, it was not a situation I thought for sure was going to work. But worst case scenario: it doesn’t work and they don’t release this episode but I still got to spend this time with Rob. It’s people, and I want to do the kind of acting I’m personally proud of. If it also happens to be a sellout project, then great.”
Johnson, who spent seven seasons starring as Nick on “New Girl” has also wrapped his first season as a regular on the ABC crime drama, “Stumptown,” starring Cobie Smulders.
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