Aaron Johnson in London, February 2010. Shirt and tie: Lanvin. Necklace: Shaun Leane.
Not every young actor gets to have a breakout year; many who have them don’t survive them. And while the jury is still out on whether or not this is Aaron Johnson’s breakout year—all signs point to yes. These are indeed life-changing times for the 19-year-old Brit. Johnson, a former child actor, has been working for more than a decade, but in the past 12 months, he has completed no fewer than four films, headlined by Matthew Vaughn’s recently released comic book action movie Kick-Ass, in which he plays a costumed teenage crime fighter, and artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s highly anticipated first feature, Nowhere Boy, in which he stars as a young John Lennon. (The latter film is due out this fall.) But if that isn’t enough to make a young man’s head spin off his shoulders, then consider this: Johnson is also about to become a father. He and his Nowhere Boy director—and fiancée—Taylor-Wood are expecting their first child later this year. Kick-Ass director Vaughn recently spoke to the actor.
MATTHEW VAUGHN: When we first met, you were just a young whippersnapper. But within a year, your life has probably changed beyond recognition. Where is your head at right now?
AARON JOHNSON: Quite a lot has changed. I dunno… I’m just happy. I’m sort of more interested in what’s going on in my life rather than my career right now, to be honest. It’s quite exciting because I’ve got two really interesting films out this year, so it’s a good moment to sort of take a break and enjoy life.
VAUGHN: When you rang me up and said that you were having a baby, I felt like it should have shocked me more than it did. I find it intriguing that I wasn’t that surprised.
JOHNSON: Mmm. [laughs] Well, it would shock me if Chris [Mintz-Plasse, Johnson’s co-star in Kick-Ass] phoned me up and said he’s having a baby. He wouldn’t have a clue what to do.
VAUGHN: I still don’t even have a clue how to make one. You’ve been acting since you were quite young. How do you think you escaped becoming a child actor from hell? Because a lot of kids who’ve been acting since they were 5 or 6 normally turn into really crap actors.
JOHNSON: You’re probably thinking of a lot of American actors there.
JOHNSON: Or Hollywood actors. I was brought up by a really proud, supportive family, so I have that sort of grounding. When I was about 10, I went off to film a movie in Amsterdam…
Knowing that I actually just want to be at home for a little while to see Sam’s belly grow, I’ve said no to some things. But the more I’ve said no, the better things have come alongAaron Johnson
VAUGHN: What were you filming in Amsterdam?
JOHNSON: Some film that goes on Sky Movies. It was the first film I ever did. It was called Tom & Thomas . I played twins who get split up at birth—one goes to an orphanage or something, and the other lives in this beautiful home. But, you know, it was all made with Dutch money, and it basically went nowhere apart from Sky Movies—they quite liked it as a family film to show around Christmastime at nine in the morning. But I was brought up in a village outside of London, and no one really knew what I was doing when I’d go away for that amount of time—and I’d never talk about it. I was never that kid who used to brag about anything.
VAUGHN: How are you going to pick your next movie?
JOHNSON: Wisely. Knowing that I actually just want to be at home for a little while to see Sam’s belly grow, I’ve said no to some things. But the more I’ve said no, the better things have come along.
VAUGHN: I told you to do that, didn’t I?
JOHNSON: Yeah, you did say that. But it’s kind of funny, though, because I’ve never even thought of being in that sort of a position.
VAUGHN: In Hollywood, the power of no is huge. Is there any type of genre you want to try next?
JOHNSON: It’d be great to do some really fucking great, proper Western. Like a cowboy Western—kind of gritty, you know? Even a Brokeback Mountain –type one, I wouldn’t mind.
VAUGHN: What was the difference in style between working with me and with Sam?
JOHNSON: That’s a good one. I’ll tell you what the similarities were.
VAUGHN: Did I look at you with loving eyes all day long?
JOHNSON: Well, you’re obviously very different in your ways, but you’re both really sort of family-oriented on set. I mean, you’ve been working with your crew for a long time, and I think you do your best with people who you trust like that.
VAUGHN: Did Sam ever have to bullock you like I did?
JOHNSON: No. There wasn’t so much bullocking going on. I’ll tell you what, there was a lot of—
VAUGHN: —rollicking? [both laugh] Okay. Last question: Of all the living actors right now, whose career would you most like to follow? Just a name—no reason.
JOHNSON: Oooh, shit. That’s a hard one. I try not to feel like I want to follow anyone else.
VAUGHN: I’ll just say a couple of names, and you say yes or no. Daniel Day-Lewis.
VAUGHN: Macaulay Culkin.
VAUGHN: Daniel Craig.
JOHNSON: I wouldn’t want to be a James Bond.
VAUGHN: Johnny Depp.
VAUGHN: Robert Pattinson.
VAUGHN: You don’t want to be like Robert Pattinson?
JOHNSON: Is that surprising?
VAUGHN: Chris Mintz-Plasse.
VAUGHN: Brad Pitt.
VAUGHN: Okay, Tom Cruise.
VAUGHN: Really? I think Cruise is very underrated. I think he’s a very good actor. I don’t know why people suddenly have this image of him. He’s done some brilliant work.
VAUGHN: But it’s your decision, not mine. Is anyone going to come on the line and say, “That’s enough”?
JOHNSON: I think that’s enough.
Matthew Vaughn is a writer, director, and producer whose credits include Layer Cake and Snatch.