Interview: Johann Urb
Wed, 23 Sep 2009 07:34:26
Johann Urb Videos
Johann Urb is a truly enigmatic screen presence.
He's the kind of actor that can simultaneously play a tough, ready-for-anything hero in 2012 and an-all-around nice guy in Eastwick. From small screen witches to big screen disasters, Johann Urb is facing it all this fall. However, he's still one of the coolest dudes you can meet. The Estonia-born, Finland-raised actor came to the States at 16. After six years of modeling in New York, he finally jumped into acting. The rest, as they say, is history.
"The first time I ever felt home in my entire life was when I landed in LA," says Johann with a smile. "I was 16, and it was the strangest feeling. It's been that way ever since. I came to LA for six months, hung out and got to see Korn play at the Whisky [Laughs]. It was amazing!"
Johann spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor Rick Florino about more "amazing" things, including 2012, Eastwick, making the jump from model to actor and so much more.
Eastwick premieres at 10pm tonight on ABC.
Is there something fun about experiencing the end of the world in 2012?
Dude, that movie is so awesome—I can't even tell you how amazing it is. I'm so excited to see it again. When I saw 2012, the film was about 89 percent done. All of the effects weren't ready just yet. I love action movies, and I love them when they're good, you believe them and you're blown away by them. This movie is like that. It's one thing for me to say that being in the film. You never know how it's going to turn out. A lot of my stuff is green screened, and I'm flying this giant fucking plane. Roland Emmerich would just say, "Now, you're flying this plane and crashing!" When you see that shit, it's badass. After seeing it, first you'll want to move out of LA and then you'll want to move off of planet Earth. I don't want to be here when that shit happens. It looks so real.
What instantly resonated with you about your character Sasha?
I like that he's a regular guy. He's working for a really rich dude, and he's in a very complicated situation. The audience gets to see him really rise to the occasion. When shit hits the fan, you get to see how different people react to it. As an actor, it's fun to play both sides of the story—be the guy who's only thinking of himself or be the guy who really steps up to the plate. With Sasha, he really gets to do that. When I read the part, I saw that there was a lot of humor as well as these fun epic moments that you get to experience. For me, I love epic action movies. When I was reading it, I was super excited because I got to fly this giant plane and do all of this cool stuff. I love Roland Emmerich. I'm a huge fan of Independence Day—it's one of my favorite movies. The Day After Tomorrow is great. Roland combines action and humor, so the films are fun and they don't take themselves too seriously.
The characters seem more realistic that way. Was it enjoyable to imbue that human element into a character placed in this high-stakes situation?
I try! I love my job, and I love when you can combine action and comedy and make it real.
Well, then it's more relatable. Most people wonder about what they would do when faced with something like the end of the world.
It's the moment of truth. I love exploring that. As a character you have an arc and these different moments, and you really get to explore them as people. What would you do as a guy from here with this upbringing and this background faced with this situation? It's cool to explore the human condition, and I love it every time, man.
Exploring the human condition is the most important part of being an artist. When a piece of work can effectively delve into what makes us tick, that's when art lasts. It's the search for truth.
I agree with that. Good directors always give you freedom to explore. For me, acting is a spiritual journey. It truly is a way to explore humanity and to understand and have compassion for people. Recently, I was in an independent movie called Porn Star. I played a gay porn star, who's straight. I was watching these documentaries on these guys who are doing gay porn, and they've got girlfriends. I really didn't understand it initially. Putting yourself in that position without judgment and allowing yourself to feel those feelings, suddenly, it all makes sense. It's all how we justify what we do. Everyone's filters of how they view the world and interpret the world affects. Neuro Linguistic Programming has a saying, "The map is not the territory. The menu isn't the meal." We all map the same territory differently depending on where we're looking at it. It's really cool that my job is to essentially map the same territory completely differently each time. It's fun.
When does Porn Star drop?
It's going to be a DVD release in two or three months. They're just finishing up music and some other last touches. I did a movie called Strictly Sexual a couple years ago, and it's been a big hit on the internet. It's a really cool movie. I'm really proud of it. We shot it for 100 grand, and it came out superb. We had a great team. It's a romantic comedy about two construction workers from Queens. They come to LA and can't find jobs but they end up moving in with these chicks. It's sweet, heartbreaking and funny all at once. You can get it on Amazon, Blockbuster and all of those other sites.
What distinguishes 2012 from other big post apocalyptic action movies?
The premise is really cool. I've been sort of obsessed with conspiracy theories and prophecies since I was a little kid. I love history, and I feel like it always repeats itself. We really don't know much about this deep history that we have. There are artifacts that are so old and mind-boggling. It's interesting to explore these cycles. The Mayan prophecy essentially says, "Well, we're at the end of this grand cycle and shit's going to hit the fan." There has been so much around that—similar to Y2K. It could be that the next day everything is normal and life goes on as usual. That's a big possibility, but we always like to build things up. It's fascinating. My philosophy is, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I don't know where I'm going to be when that date happens, but I definitely think about it. I love the movie's premise that the governments around the world know that shit's going to hit the fan on that day. Earth's core is heating up, and things are happening. It's a very possible scenario in some ways. The whole solar system is heating up. In a way, it's very realistic. There's massive destruction going on, and the governments don't do much. It's a very cool, interesting and realistic depiction of what could happen.
Does Eastwick have a bit of an edgy and evil undertone?
I feel like we're getting there. We're approaching the edgier, darker, creepier vibe, but right now it's a progression from a fun and light story with darkness in it. We're on episode five through six. If you like that evil side, you have to be a little patient in the beginning. Now, we know the show is on at 10pm on Wednesday on ABC, so we can go a little risky. The show's great. It's a really fun show. The girls are beautiful, amazing and talented. The devil's cool [Laughs]. It's a pleasure and privilege for me to be doing that. I love what's happening right now on the show. I think a lot of people will enjoy it and dig it. It's a modern take on The Witches of Eastwick, and the magic in it is more accidental. It kind of happens organically. These girls can't even really control the magic, which I think is really cool.
Are you particularly excited that it's moving in that direction?
My character, Will St. David, is very saintly, gallant and always leading with his heart [Laughs]. He's a photographer and a journalist at the paper, but he's also a volunteer fireman. He plays bingo with old people on the weekend and he coaches kids. He's a good dude [Laughs]. He's got tangled up in all of this darker stuff, but he's like the pillar of goodness and light while all of this other stuff is happening around him. It's fun for me to tangle with all of the beautiful witches.
There's nothing like an evil girl!
There is nothing like an evil girl with magical powers [Laughs]! It's fun, and I really dig it. I'm from Northern Eastern Europe, and the way we're bred is sarcastic and dark. We listen to metal, and that's who we are. My sense of humor is very sarcastic and ironic. Will is so not that at all. It's fun for me to play somebody who is so much more open and vulnerable. He always gives the benefit of the doubt, gets injured and bounces back. He doesn't have that tougher shell. Will is really nice. He is a guy's guy, but he's shy and a little more awkward. Around his love interest, Joanna, he's a little awkward, but around other people he's more empowered. It's interesting. I keep discovering stuff in those dynamics, and it's really cool.
How did you make the jump from modeling to acting?
I come from a line of performers. My uncle is one of the most famous actors in Estonia, and he and my dad have a band. Ever since I was a kid, music and acting was kind of pushed onto me. Whatever is pushed onto me, I don't want to do [Laughs]. I was always like that really stubborn kid. When I got to the states, I was living in New York and modeling. A buddy of mine is good friends with Anna Strasberg, and he told me I should think about being actor. I was like, "Why is everyone always telling me this shit?" [Laughs] I'm always cracking jokes and making people laugh. That's what I naturally do. I don't try to do it; I just do it. I think my wife loves me so much because I make her laugh all the time. So I checked out Strasberg's school. It was the most frightening and exciting thing I've ever done. I was so petrified and enthralled all at the same time. I just knew I had to do it. It was a big challenge for me. Growing up in Eastern Europe, one of the things we didn't learn was how to talk about our feelings. We talk about our feelings a bottle of vodka deep. Acting has really been a way for me to connect. I didn't even know I had feelings. I was like a machine compared to what I am now. So it's just been this amazing path. First, I took classes because I thought they were cool. I got to play around and express myself. I realized that it was my path to understanding myself and my fellow humans. That's how it happened.