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Soap Opera News

September, 1998

Thereís an unwritten Hollywood maxim: If a crew gets excited about a project, it must be special. So Paul Johansson (ex-Greg, Santa Barbara; ex-John, 90210) knew it was the start of something big when his co-workers on the set of the new movie Wishmaster 2 began to buzz that he was off to Toronto to do Highlander: The Raven. "One guy went, 'Wait a minute. Youíre going to do that?'" reports Johansson. "All of a sudden, there were 10 crew members asking questions."

Johansson plays Nick, the mortal, in this sequel to the highly rated Highlander series. The immortal this time around is a woman named Amanda (with former Miss America Elizabeth Gracen reprising her original role).

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Johansson is very happy about how heís cast. "I donít ever want to become an immortal," he confides. "As an actor, thereís a helluva lot more for me to do to play the jeopardy that exists in life. We have a time frame. This is the beginning and this is the end, and everything in the middle is a lot more important than if you live forever. I like the limitations of a mortal character."

While Johansson may feel that immortality is overrated, heís upbeat about the direction of the new series (which will also shoot half the time in Paris). "The story is awesome," he says. "I love the first four episodes; theyíre great, as is the interaction between the two of us - Nick and Amanda are sparring, star-crossed, maybe-one-day lovers. Right now, the chemistry between us is magnetic. Elizabeth is truly sensational as an actress and as a character."

Ironically, acting wasnít the Canadian-born Johanssonís first career choice. At 6-ft. 2-in., he was seriously considering a career in pro basketball - he was even offered a tryout with the Atlanta Hawks - when a talent scout encouraged him to move to L.A. He packed his bags and moved to California with a fellow actor - and future co-star - Jason Priestley (Brandon, 90210) - and soon after found himself quickly adjusting to soap hunkdom as Greg Capwell on Santa Barbara.

But after a year, he was unceremoniously let go. "They didnít even bother to write me out," he laments of his short stay on SB, which ended in 1990. "I donít get run over by a car or anything. I say, 'Iím tired. I think Iíll go upstairs and take a nap.í"

Shortly after leaving, art imitated art when he was cast as Sally Fieldís characterís much-younger husband in the soap spoof Soapdish, which led to his being cast in the short-lived Fox sitcom Parker Lewis Canít Lose. "It was a critically well-received show by insider who-whos," he notes. "It just didnít have a huge following, more of a cult following."

After his Parker stint ended, Johansson decided to take a couple of years off from acting to write a novel and travel. He was in his car, two weeks into a road trip, when he got a call from his agent informing him that Aaron Spelling wanted him to audition for the role of Big Man on Campus John Sears on Beverly Hills 90210.

"So I came back - and that was a big turn-around for me," says Johansson. "That role really broke me out in peopleís minds. I didnít have to play a goody-goody. I got to play somebody with an edge, which has been my forte ever since."

Indeed, the actor has barely stopped working over the past few years - in films (Sheís So Lovely), telepictures (Ed Mcbainís 87th Precinct movies) and primetime. He guest-starred as an East Indian guru on ABCís hit sitcom Dharma and Greg, did an episode of 7th Heaven, playing a Protestant minister, and was a self-help guru on NBCís Players. "Thereís a spiritual theme to it," Johansson says thoughtfully. "My last two years are about spirituality or human consciousness."

The universe may be trying to send a message to Johansson - or the weightier roles could be attributable to his growth as an actor.

"Iím getting older now, so Iím getting into meaty roles and Iím getting excited about it", he declares. "I love aging as an actor. So many doors are open to me now, so many character options. The 30s and 40s are the best. You have a different mentality, too. Thereís an impending sort of, 'Iím truly in the middle of my existence.' In your 20s, you still think youíre a sprout starting out."

That mentality extends to his off-camera life. The studio has rented Johansson a Toronto apartment about an art store, which means he can go downstairs, buy acrylics and oils, then sit on his balcony and paint.

"Painting is the most boring thing in the world," he admits, "but I enjoy it. Anything that turns off your mind is great - sometimes even music is an intrusion. My dad has a great quote. He says 'Spend an hour a day listening to your own thoughts.' "Toronto has a city life, but it still moves at a slow enough pace that you donít have to get caught up," he adds. "Itís a great place to be if you want to write a novel. They say in L.A. when you go out to a nightclub, every dance is a career move, here, you can have an isolationist lifestyle, keep focused on your work and not have to interact with other people."

Johansson has also spent 10 years working on his novel. "Itís taking time because itís like they say, 'Writing isnít writing, itís rewriting,í" he explains. "Every time I write a chapter, I rewrite it. I re-read it and say, 'No!' So I rewrite it. Iím stuck in this sort of literal suicide. Nothing can be perfect. One day you just have to submit it. People donít think in words, they think in thoughts. Words are only representations of thoughts, so writing never comes out as good as you pictured it. The limitations of language are why acting is a great outlet for me. I can put an emotion behind a word and change the meaning of the word, which is fun."

With all that going on, Johansson has had trouble finding a satisfying love life. "Itís difficult to have a relationship in this business," he admits. "To find somebody whoís understanding, whoís worthy of taking on your emotional [baggage], your jewels, the things you cherish. You come home, youíre feeling insecure, you had a bad day at work and they just want your time. Iím dating a girl who travels as much as I do. When she has time, she sees me. When she doesnít, she doesnít. Itís lonely, but I like loneliness."

Which isnít to say heís totally alone. "I have a Great Dane named Damascus. Heís huge - 165 pounds and taller than me on his hind legs, and Iím 6 ft., 2. I lost his brother about four years ago, so we figure that weíre lucky we have this time together and weíre going to make the most of it.

"Thatís my character Nickís attitude, too. Iím not talking carpe diem [seize the day]. But thereís something to be said for knowing that you have X amount of time and youíve got to do what you can do. This means cleaning house, getting rid of things that are holding you back and not wasting time on unachievable goals. Youíve got to take what you do have and make the most of it."

~By Paula Cohn
Soap Opera News
September, 1998


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