His strong performance anchors "The Odds," an unconventional teen murder mystery that hits theatres this week. Johnston plays Desson Orr, a mischievous teen gambler who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery when his best friend winds up dead. "The Odds" premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, and has garnered comparisons to other darker teen/ college flicks like "Brick" and "21."
Johnston has already earned a loyal fan following thanks to his role on HBO Canada's "Less Than Kind," on which he plays the eccentric young Danny Lubbe. We caught up with Johnston during TIFF to chat about everything from gambling and teen shenanigans to how he feels about those oh-so-frequent Tom Cruise comparisons.
What was your first reaction to the script for "The Odds"? There's an element of danger in the script that I don't have in my own life. I grew up in Coquitlam, which is the 'burbs of Vancouver. I played hockey three nights a week, and lacrosse during lacrosse season, and did musicals and plays and hung out with my friends. I didn't have time to get myself into too much trouble - unless you're talking about suspensions from hockey! [Laughs.]
Obviously there's an element of mystery here. Are you a fan of the mystery genre? I am! I used to read "The Hardy Boys" and the "Screech Owl Mysteries" series about a hockey team that used to solve mysteries on their road trips.
Your character is really into gambling. Are you a gambler yourself? I've been to Vegas, where I gambled unsuccessfully. I just played poker, and maybe a couple of slots. I play blackjack with my dad or my family when we're camping, but we're just betting pennies or peanuts or something like that.
Did you ever have any secret vices when you were a teenager? Nothing secret. I've never had much of a censor. I was never rude, but if there was ever anything I didn't agree with I was always totally open with expressing myself and sometimes that would get me into more trouble than it was worth. But I wasn't one of the teens that would go out and smoke weed. I didn't drink until I was an adult. I didn't find myself needing those vices. I was an athlete; I had my sports to keep me occupied.
Who do you think the movie will appeal to? I think it will appeal to everyone. Teens, and adults too, because there's a real story. There's no vampires. We're not all models. I'm a regular dude, the rest of my cast mates are regular guys and we're telling a real story. I think people will appreciate that. It's the storytelling and hopefully the acting that will appeal to people as opposed to chiseled abs and large breasts.
What has the whole TIFF experience been like for you? Well, it's my first time here and I'm having a blast. I'm not really one to get super star struck by anyone in particular. I met James Franco last night and Gus Van Sant. We didn't have any deep conversations or anything like that, but I was at their party and just wanted to thank them for having me. That being said, if I was to see Angelina Jolie walking down the street right now it might be a bit of a different story. Or even Ryan Gosling. I'm a heterosexual male, but he's a beautiful man! [Laughs.]
Speaking of Ryan Gosling - are there any actors you look up to? Ryan Gosling is definitely one of them. He's a Canadian boy. He's picked his roles very wisely. He is an actor. He also has those chiseled abs, but he's an actor who brings his characters to life. That's what I hope to be as an actor. I also love Tom Cruise.
I'm definitely getting some Tom Cruise vibes from you. Uh huh. Yeah. I've been hearing that a lot actually. Which is flattering, he's done great movies. He's been getting a bit of a bad rap the past few years, but you can't deny the work that the guy's done.
I noticed that you already have a fan site. What was your first reaction when you saw it? One of my friends had told me about it. I was a little weirded out at first. Of course I was extremely flattered. It felt cool. Someone put the time in to make a website dedicated to me.
I learned on your fan site that you starred in your high school production of Footloose! Have you seen the remake? [Laughs] I loved my Footloose experience. I got to sing and dance! I'm not rushing out to see the remake. All these remakes are happening, and I'm thinking 'let's see some new stuff.'
What's your dream project? With all this Tom Cruise talk I think it would be cool to play a young Tom Cruise! Or his son, I think that would be a lot of fun. Maybe in Mission Impossible 6 or 7 I could show up as the young Hunt, his little son.
"The Odds" opens in Toronto at the AMC Yonge/Dundas on Friday, March 2.