“I’m still just a kid that goes to public school in my small town when I’m not working. I am always kind to everyone I meet. I always smile and work hard. I think just being nice is the best thing anyone can do for the world.”
I had the distinct pleasure to interview Austyn Johnson. Unbelievably, she will be making her feature film and primetime television debuts in the same week. She stars opposite Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams as their daughter in The Greatest Showman which hits theaters on December 20th. She is also opposite Tom Hanks as his daughter for director Steven Spielberg in The Post which hits theaters on December 22 and she will make her series TV debut opposite Kevin James on his hit show “Kevin Can Wait” on CBS on December 18th. Prior to these projects she appeared on Broadway in Matilda and she is a classically trained ballerina.
What is your "backstory"?
I am from a small town in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York. The middle child and the only girl. I started dancing when I was 3 years old and when I was 8, I won a National Dance Championship in Anaheim, CA. That summer I decided to try musical theater by being a lead dancer for a small production in NYC. That was when I realized that I loved to sing and perform. Two months later, after begging my parents to let me audition, I travelled back to NYC to audition for Matilda. It was my very first audition and I booked the national tour. Me and my mom traveled with the show for 6 months and then I made my Broadway debut. Things just kept getting better!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting/performing career?
I booked the role of Caroline in “The Greatest Showman” from a tape, so when we started rehearsals I hadn’t met the director or any of the producers. The first day, I rehearsed a scene with Hugh Jackman and the girl playing my younger sister. I went home and told my mom how strange it was. I explained how Hugh was taking advice from “the camera guy”. They were working together and brainstorming ideas. Half way through the second day of rehearsals my mom told me that “the cameral guy” I was talking about was actually the director, Michael Gracey. I was a little embarrassed, but it did help to ease my nerves thinking I was only rehearsing for the camera guy!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now I am preparing to be Clara in my local ballet studio’s production of The Nutcracker. It has been my dream to be Clara since I was 5 years old. I was really excited that I could take the time to participate this year.
Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have been so lucky to work on the projects that I have. My first film was with Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams, and we had so much fun! We made up elaborate hand shakes, that were more like choreographed dances. Hugh brought his Wolverine claws to set the first week and I got to put them on (maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever done), and Michelle would always rap Hamilton songs with me. I sobbed when we wrapped. I loved being with my movie family. My second movie was “The Post” with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. I was more nervous for this one, because Tom Hanks had always been my favorite actor. I never thought I would be working with him on my second job, or EVER! I brought a Rubik’s cube with me to set on the first day. Tom Hanks and Sarah Paulson were impressed that I could solve it, so then I solved it with my eyes closed (a Matilda trick), it was the perfect way to warm up to everyone before we started shooting.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Well, it’s not a person in history, but someone that inspires me now, is Ellen Degeneres. She is absolutely hilarious! She says what she thinks, without trying to impress anyone. She stands up for people and her beliefs, she’s just real. She’s a strong person, and she loves animals!
Who do you aspire to be like one day?
I would want to be like Michelle Williams. She is so beautiful and so talented, and still so nice. She is funny and loves to laugh and have fun, but she’s quiet. I just loved working with her.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m still just a kid that goes to public school in my small town when I’m not working. I am always kind to everyone I meet. I always smile and work hard. I think just being nice is the best thing anyone can do for the world.
What are your "5 things I wish someone told me when I first started" and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. To not stress over auditions. What’s meant to be will be.
2. To watch your step when paparazzi are around. I fell face first when we were filming a scene outside for “The Greatest Showman”.
I don’t have anything else, my experience has been pretty smooth. I’m very grateful.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
This is tough. I would say either Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson or Millie Bobby Brown. The Rock is just so cool and seems very funny. I would want him to sing for me! And, Millie Bobby Brown because, well, she is Eleven. I just finished the second season of Stranger Things and I love watching her. I’ve watched all of her interviews and performances on YouTube. Oh, but then there’s Lin Manuel Miranda. Do I have to choose just one?