Hollywood was not Maurice Johnson’s goal when attending Glenn Hills High School, but when his college debate coach challenged him to use his voice, he discovered a world that caused him to change course and pursue a different career path.
“We won a lot of awards with the debate team with the college. I was taking speech and theater on the side. I was a management major, and I ended up switching majors,” said Johnson who attended Albany State University on a football scholarship.
Johnson has been in his hometown this week promoting his latest project, a psychological allegory called Jones Plantation, in which he plays the main character of Mr. Smith. The film will be screened at the Miller Theater Sept. 9. A red carpet meet and greet beginning at 6 p.m. will kick off the night. For tickets, go here.
At first glance, the film appears to be one thing, but Johnson whose character wears a costume with a resemblance to the ones worn by a circus ringmaster said audiences should think again.
“A slave plantation – an antebellum plantation – is the backdrop for this, but it is not a slave film,” said Johnson. “When people see that, what they are thinking it is – will not be it. Even when they see the trailer, they may say this has Pulp Fiction or Django-esque feelings. But think and question everything.”
Johnson likens the film to V for Vendetta and The Matrix.
The original casting called for the character to be played by a White man; however, putting a Black man in the role flips the whole dynamic.
Smith is hailed as a “miracle worker,” a man who can show slave owners how to manage their slaves without using brute force, he said. Smith is deceptive and manipulative as well as polished, suave and smooth.
“People fall in love with me and hate me at the same time,” said Johnson., who called the character a “psychopath” and the villain at the film’s core.
The film has multiple layers, so that audience members report seeing the film multiple times only to uncover more meaning with each viewing.
The movie is meant to provoke discussion and Johnson said he believes people will still talk about the film for years to come.
And for people who can’t make it to the Miller on Saturday, they can purchase the film online here and hold their own watch parties, where they could discuss the film and its impact after.
Johnson grew up as part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Augusta spending time at the club on Division Street.
He joined an elite group of alumni Thursday as he was pinned at a ceremony at the club.
“At Division Street, a lot of greats have come through that boys and girls clubs — athletes dignitaries, politicians, judges and lawyers,” he said.
Although he divides his time between Hollywood and Atlanta, Johnson said he wants to do more for others growing up in the Garden City.
“I love my city. I was born here, and I have a lot of family and friends here,” he said.
Johnson said he would like to screen the film at Paine College and use it to spark conversations. He also wants to mentor the teenage boys at his alma mater and help them see options for their future.
He created a hashtag “JustAKidFromAugusta” to show children that they can have any career they want if they pursue it.
A multi-faceted career
Not only is Johnson the driving force in Jones Plantation, but he’s appeared in other projects such as Chicago Fire, Hawaii Five-0 and The Vampire Diaries. He’s appeared in multiple television shows and films including a few of which are on hold because of the ongoing strikes with the writers and actors’ guilds.
He’s appeared in Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse where he had the chance to work with one of his Hollywood heroes – Michael Jai White.
“He’s one I looked up to a lot and always wanted to be like,” he said.
He also had the chance to work with another role model – Morris Chestnut in When The Bough Breaks.
Not only doe he act, he sometimes performs his own physical stunts as well as stunt driving.
He relies on that athleticism that propelled him into college for his stunt work. While he might receive some extra cash in his check, he often pays a price for the work.
“I’ve gotten a boxer fracture,” he said.
One of his clips at the IMDB website is of film, The Last Punch, where he did his own stunts.
He also has appeared in a car commercial. Although his face isn’t seen, he’s the one driving a VW.
He’s currently in a Honey-Baked Ham commercial, one of the projects allowed by the Screen Actors Guild during the strike.
He’s branched out by offering acting coaching. He also wants to write and produce his own projects in the future.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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