'Blindspot' Star Ashley Johnson: I Was a Child Star—and Lived to Tell About It
I guess it happened by accident: When I was around 6, we were living in Michigan and visited friends in Los Angeles whose kids were actors. I went with them to an audition for the 1991 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Lionheart and the casting director came out, saw me and was like, “Hey, do you wanna read for a part?” I said, “Sure!” and ended up getting it, so my mom and I stayed out here and I kept working.
The whole time, my parents had the mentality of “Have fun while you’re doing it, and if you ever don’t like it, you can always do something else.” It was never a big deal in our home, and I think that helped make me semi-not-go-crazy. They did such a great job of making it feel like I was still a kid.
I was probably 15 when I realized acting was something I did want as a lifelong career. It didn’t hurt that I was in regular school, and aside from when I was on Growing Pains [from ages 7 to 9], as I got older, I was mostly working with kids my age. Also, the majority of my closest friends—even now—are not in the industry. My best friend has been my best friend since kindergarten. You have to keep a sense of normalcy in your life. There is so much more of the world than just this.
I do get recognized for Growing Pains a lot and generally the follow-up question is, “Are you still acting?” For a while, part of me felt like that was almost a rude question, but now I almost take it with a sense of pride. Maybe it means some of the characters that I have played are so different from myself that people don’t know it’s me! Fast Food Nation might have been the first role where I felt like an adult because I actively sought out that film after reading the book, and it really felt like the kind of work I wanted to be a part of. And Blindspot is the first show that I have been in where I play an adult. [When I got the part,] I was like, OK, I guess I’m a grown-up now!
For kids getting into this career, I feel like so much of the responsibility is on the parents. Kids can be taken advantage of because they don’t really know what’s going on, so keep it fun for them. I always knew this wasn’t something that I was forced into, and I know I got the good end of it because there have been so many people who have had a hard time with it. I am so thankful.
Blindspot, Wednesdays, 8/7c, NBC