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special thanks to the impossible project

For a man who has acted opposite the likes of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street), Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher (No Strings Attached) and has a starring role in hit US sitcom New Girl, Jake Johnson seems remarkably unfazed by his success. His rough-around-the-edges good looks have led to him being described as a younger, more-chiselled Mark Ruffalo, a comparison that elicited a typically humble response: “I am an enormous fan of Mark Ruffalo and honored to be in the same sentence as him. I hope to one day act with him; I think we could play brothers.” 

Happily married and with his career going places, Johnson doesn’t seem to have much in common with his character in New Girl, Nick, who’s still living with roommates, working in a bar, and doing the dating thing. Those days might be long gone, but they’re not forgotten. “My last roommate was Brian ‘Beans’ Farrell. He’s an actor and a stand-up comedian. We lived in Hollywood together and worked in casinos,” he recalled. “We were like a very low-level version of the characters from Rounders. My ‘Nick’ days were spent staying up very late and always worried about money… and a lot of gambling.”

Despite beating his onscreen counterpart at the game of life, bagging a leading role in TV’s most adorkable show doesn’t seem to have gone to his head – or to have overawed his relatives that much either. “My Uncle Paul put me being on New Girl in a funny way. He said, ‘It’s like you’re in my living room every Tuesday, but it’s not you… but it’s you.’ So how I feel about being on a show is that I like being in people’s houses every Tuesday. Sure, it’s not me… but it’s me.”

Playing the lead in a successful sitcom is the pinnacle of many comic actors’ careers, but all that red-carpet walking wonderfulness doesn’t usually come without a good dose of hard work. Although the way Johnson described it, it sounds far from the daily grind. “The best part of work is the jokes that we have with each other. We work long hours and have a very vocal crew, most notably the great camera operator Casey Hotchkiss, so work is very fun off-camera.” In fact, it sounds like the toughest part of his day is leaving his new roommates behind in the morning. “I’m also sad about saying good-bye to my two dogs. They give guilt trips when you leave the house.”

Popularity, pranks, and puppies are all in a day’s work for Johnson, but would he ever consider keeping the cameras rolling after hours, and letting fans in on his real life? In quirky romantic comedy Paper Heart (2009), his co-stars Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi played fictionalized versions of themselves while he kept a couple of degrees of separation by playing the film’s director. “I really don’t have any interest in playing myself in a movie. I’d never want to do a reality show or anything like that. When I was in my early twenties, my friend Billy Bungeroth did a week-long documentary about writing and performing a comedy show. It was an intense experience and one I am not looking to repeat.”

With a bit of luck fans will get to see his Ruffalo-esque good looks soon in Drinking Buddies, which premiered at SXSW, alongside Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston. “Magnolia [Pictures] just bought it so hopefully we will find out the release soon.” As for other projects, Johnson plays his cards pretty close to his chest. “I am always working on something original,” he said. “I can’t tell you anymore about it because then I would have to kill you.” 

With a passion and drive for comedy and acting, Johnson really is a world away from the life of slacker tapster Nick. Well, kind of… “I’d love to open a bar one day,” he said. “It’d be very small. A lot of wood. Cheap drinks. Pinball machines. An old jukebox.” While we’re sure it would be an awesome place to hang out, something tells us Johnson will be too busy to bartend any time soon.