Jake Johnson at Eric’s Architectural Salvage.
Photo: Damien Maloney
Dream date: brush up with our celebrity favourites.
About seven minutes into our conversation, Jake Johnson shows a globe from the 1960s once used by Japan Airlines and a small bronze bust that may or may not be an antelope – his last haul of stuff saved from a life gathering dust in a moldy shop, or worse, a junkyard somewhere. Soon, we go on tour: the table on which the globe rests is also recovered; the same goes for an impressionistic painting of a boat highlighting a melting orange sky; as well as a pair of metal grasshoppers placed on a shelf. He points the Zoom camera at what appears to be an elegant wooden chair with jackets hanging from either side and a pair of boots perched on the seat – which he lifts to reveal a huge tear in the cane-woven center. This is not a problem; it is a project. “I will eventually solve this problem,” he said. “A chair like that is a really fun activity – figuring out how to fix it, finding the materials, and then going to the location to get the materials. It gets really fun. Yes, Jake Johnson is an antique dealer.
The 43-year-old actor is an expert at turning trash into treasure. He did it most famously with Nick Miller, the emotionally puny alcoholic on new girl who inspired more than one thirst tweet. But he also did it all his life – his mother owned flea markets and he grew up visiting salvage yards and flea markets. It remains a huge hobby for him; he still frequents salvage stores like Eric’s architectural recovery and old good things in Los Angeles. He honed the “dirt with a heart of gold” trope, giving it depth and nuance via characters like the aforementioned Nick Miller; Ben Hopkins, the unbalanced and spiraling but deeply committed basketball coach he voices on Netflix hoops; and most recently Doug Renetti, an accidentally feminist 70s porn magazine editor on his new HBO Max show, Naughty.
The show centers on Doug’s clash-turned-collaboration with Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond), an enthusiastic editor who hopes to work on the phone at a teen magazine whose dream is to produce a feminist magazine she titles The awakening of matriarchy (don’t worry, she ends up changing it to titular Naughty). Doug convinces Joyce to work with him, combining his articles, on topics like equal pay and marital rape, with nude spreads tailored to the female gaze. Yes, that means an HBO dick edit. First episode, baby.
Photo: Damien Maloney
Johnson has long been of the opinion that the dick is an objectively funny organ, so in the more dickful scenes he had to hold back the giggles and giggles. Fortunately, his childhood prepared him in a unique way for this task. He grew up going to baseball games at Wrigley Field, where the layout of the men’s bathroom didn’t allow for any privacy. “There were no individual toilets. It was like a manger,” he says. “So as a young boy you’d go to the bathroom – it’s packed, so you’re shoulder to shoulder. There’s about 25 drunks. Everyone in that bathroom is making jokes, having fun But when you go to pee, you notice everyone’s penis. Everyone tries to look forward not to laugh. Or they don’t care, but for me it was always: Do not laugh. Do not laugh. Do not laugh. Do not laugh.
As extravagant as Naughty‘s Doug may be (at one point he viciously steals a bag of Boy Scout belts from a congresswoman’s office), there’s also something real and familiar about him — at least for Johnson . The actor was raised in a Chicago suburb by his mother and a collection of uncles and other family friends. “My uncles and those men around me when I was growing up were really characters that could have been considered dirty bags,” says Johnson. “There were characters who had come to us who had legal issues. The first time I saw weed was from my uncle. They were all smoking a joint in the garden, and they were loud. And they were crazy. And they were drunk. And they were fighting with people.
In retrospect, he admits that particularly demanding neighbors considered his house “trash” and “rough”, but he never bought into this perspective: “I didn’t like the suburbs. I loved my uncles and I loved my family. As Jake, I want to love the characters I play. I want to think they’re on the right side of the world, and it’s not the world as anyone else sees it, except me. It was ultimately what drew him to his Naughty character. Although Doug is, as Johnson puts it, a bit sleazy, the show’s writing treats him with nuance. He’s a good neighbor. He cares about his employees. He’s half for the feminist cause – as long as it makes money for him. “I’m a firm believer that characters can be two things at once,” Johnson says.
Photo: Damien Maloney
Our tour continues. Johnson emerges into his sun-drenched garden where Nora, his black lab-retriever mix, roams and shows me the well-stocked tool shed where his projects begin. Then we head to his pride and joy, a small wooden cabin he built himself during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – passing, of course, a stone bench and a sculpture of horse, both recovered, along the way.
The cabin, which Johnson uses as an office, is an 8ft by 12ft rectangle containing as many, if not more, salvaged finds as his home, from the door lock to the articulated gorilla figurine sitting on a tiny stained-glass shelf. from the window (which he all shows me while Nora sniffles). Even the floor is salvaged, in a way – it’s made up of spare two-by-fours that he stained. “The puzzle of putting this floor together was incredibly fun because every step of the way it just wasn’t going right,” he says. “And then you try something else, and you try something else, and then when you finally like it, then it’s done.” It’s like playing, he says. “I love having a showrunner or a director that you’re constantly in touch with, and you’re constantly trying to evolve the character and find it. Then it’s up to the audience, and you know, it’s over. This n is no longer mine.
Photo: Damien Maloney
Now that we’ve reached his favorite Zoom spot, Johnson turns the camera back on himself, and I take a moment to appreciate his look, which can only be described as, well, exactly what he is: a dad who really comes in handy around the house. He rocks a full beard, a somewhat rambling coif, and it all comes with a plain blue crew neck layered over a gray t-shirt, both aged but, like, in a good way.
It was from this corner that Johnson found his compatriot new girl comrade Trent O’Donnell, one of the series’ recurring directors, to co-write a film, Mount the eagle, which dropped on Hulu last July. Both stuck with no project to work on during the height of COVID, the seed was formed in a conversation they shared about how much they missed being on set and how media resistant they both are. short-form notebooks. You won’t catch Johnson on TikTok anytime soon: “I’m not interested. I do not like it. I like the long form. I like the characters. I want to do things that are more like a novel than a one-page blog.
The other inspiration behind the film, which he starred in and directed by O’Donnell, was Nora, the Dark Lab. He’s a retired guide dog that Johnson adopted in 2020 and, as he puts it, “his fucking brain is remarkable.” Her ability to ignore distractions in her peripheral vision made her think she would be able to handle a close-range camera with ease, and it was immediately clear that she had the emotional range of a true actor. “I believed that by getting a retired guide dog – an assistance dog, a working creature — you received something in the house that would understand how I see the world, that is to say: you work, and when you have finished working, you are retired. Hanging out. This dog is back to all the puppy years she never had. She is more difficult than my children, in terms of emotional needs. This means that when he needed her to look sad after receiving a harsh lecture, she was able to deliver – so much so that the whole team ran to comfort her as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. .
Naughty is his first big project to scrap since that movie, and he’s openly curious what the answer will look like. When new girl began to gain popularity and he began to be recognized in public interactions, he noticed something strange: “Men used to apologize to me for liking the series”, says- he. “They’d be like, ‘I gotta say, man, this shit ain’t for me. But you are funny. And I was like, ‘Thank you,’ and they were like, ‘My wife loves the show.’ I was like, ‘Oh, great,’ and then they were like, ‘Yeah, you and that Schmidt guy. Schmidt is hilarious. I say, ‘Yeah’, and they say, ‘Man, this scene…’ After a while, I realize, You watch every episode, asshole. You like the show. Why aren’t you just allowed to say – because it’s called New girl – that you like the fucking show? »
With all the questions he asks himself about feminism – questions for which he admittedly feels ill-prepared, even though he says he considers himself a feminist and thinks that everyone should be – he wonders if Naughty, too, will get the “my wife loves the show” treatment. He hopes it will be watched by audiences of all genders and understood for what it is: a nuanced narrative ready to tackle the moral gray area of trying to be a person in the world in the layers of the capitalism, racism and sexism that surrounds us all. . He concludes, rightly, with a bit of good old existentialism: “I am a big believer that everything is confusing, in terms of, also, why we are here. I’m not a guy who believes in religion because it’s hard to find an answer, but I find a lot of really interesting stuff. But whatever. I also probably drank too much coffee.
Photo: Damien Maloney