CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Interview: Kenny Johnson of TNT’s ‘Saving Grace’ on Second Season, Co-Starring With Holly Hunter
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
CHICAGO – “Saving Grace,” which is the unusual and popular police drama on TNT, returns on Monday nights with all-new second-season episodes. Starring the Academy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter, the series focuses on her Oklahoma City detective character Grace Hanadarko.
Grace struggles with so many demons in her life that an angel named Earl (Leon Rippy) has been sent to give her a second chance.
Co-starring with Hunter is Kenny Johnson, who plays Ham Dewey, Grace’s partner and sometimes lover. HollywoodChicago.com recently sat down with Johnson – the veteran character actor who was also in “The Shield” – who spoke about his relationship with Holly Hunter, the ensemble strength of the show and its particular spirituality.
“I fell in love with Holly way back when she was working with the Coen Brothers, and her appearance in the film ‘Always,’ Johnson said.
“What she brings to the table is ultimate professionalism,” he added. “She personally wants to explore as much as she can, otherwise she wouldn’t take on the character. She takes it to a depth and a level that not many actors like to go to.”
Photo credit: TNT
Johnson gave a preview as to what Ham Dewey can expect with his ongoing relationship with Grace in the upcoming episodes.
“Secretly in his heart he loves Grace, and wants to get back with her as a partner, as a human being, he related. “But she is like, ‘whatever, dude, you blew it, you’re gone.’ The fact that Ham wanted another partner, he’s going to have to live with it.”
“There is tension later on, as Grace won’t forgive Ham for not allowing her in his life when he was having all the trouble. It was she who opened up and he pushed her away.”
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com
Balancing the gritty police drama in the story with the peculiar spiritual aspect of having angels and parallel redemption intrigues Johnson.
“We’re all trying to find something positive to give back to life,” he said. “This show gives Grace a second chance. It’s never too late and there is something out there that wants to help if you will open up and try.”
“For me, that parallels my own journey and beliefs,” he added. “I don’t have an angel named Earl, but I definitely believe there is a much bigger thing at work that has helped me in my life and that I can’t explain in any other way.”
Saving Grace is a highly female-centric show, reflected in its star and series creator Nancy Miller. Johnson compared his two police show experiences when considering the nature of this series.
“The female perspective brings a subtle, multi-layered dimension to all the work. If I compare working with Holly versus Michael Chiklis on ‘The Shield’, he’s cool testosterone and she is really coming from an angle that is much more challenging for me.”
“I feel most vulnerable when I share Ham’s heart with Holly’s character. To make that genuine and real is more difficult than doing conventional emotions. I’m sharing a part of me that is more naked emotionally.”
Another “character” on the show is its setting in Oklahoma City. Hanging over Grace’s persona is the loss of a sister in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building there.
“When I went there initially to research the cops, I talked to a couple guys who were first on the scene after the bombing,” Johnson recalled. “I found out what they saw and what they went through and that was an emotional experience.”
Photo credit: TNT
“It began to mean something to me because one of the guys explained to me the horror of what he saw and the people he had to help,” he added. “If through the show we can sometimes communicate that, it’s nothing but a good thing.”
After playing cops in two major police dramas, Johnson shared some background similarities with his life and career to portraying law enforcement.
“I definitely think playing sports in college, physically gives you a competitive edge. Team play and instincts are characteristics of cops,” he said. “I also got into a bit of trouble when I was younger, so I saw the other side of the cell (laughs). It gave me both perspectives on that life, which also helped me to prepare.”
In conclusion, Kenny Johnson talks about the close professional relationships developed in an ensemble show like Saving Grace, and the overriding influence of Holly Hunter.
“Obviously you build a lot of trust between each other, and Holly is a very open person and extremely supportive and loving,” he said.
“She always wants us to speak up for what we believe in. With that kind of trust, it makes all of our characters that much better.”