Jake Johnson is pretty much exactly what you imagine, and that's because the actor likes characters rooted in reality. Based on an event that he actually experienced, his latest film, Digging for Fire, with director and writer Joe Swanberg, all starts with a gun and a bone. We fired off some questions about the film, including whether or not his wife would help him dig up a dead body and if he'd ever allow Anna Kendrick to give him stitches. Here's what we learned.
Have you ever found anything that freaked you out?
Jake Johnson: Yeah. I found a gun, I found bones, I found a license plate that inspired this movie.
Do you think your wife would help you dig up a dead body?
JJ: Well, in real life I found a bone, license plate, chopped-up bones, and I told my wife, and she did help me look for a dead body. So the movie was inspired by things that really happened — and I had a group of friends and my wife and we all went digging.
Are you actually any good at doing taxes?
JJ: Yeah, no, kind of. At a certain point the numbers get on top of me, but I had done more work than my character has done.
If you were a teacher, what would you teach?
JJ: If I were a teacher, I would like to teach freshman English — so I could be the Robin Williams type in Dead Poets Society. I wanna be that guy. I couldn't teach seniors because they'd be smarter than me. I need to start with, like, eighth-graders, because once they understand the literature it's like, "Ah, shut up!" I want like a kid who's inspired but not quite there yet, so I can be their captain. Whatever it is before they're really smart.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JJ: I wanted to be a second baseman for the Chicago Cubs. Problem is that my athletic abilities in my mind are greater than what my body can accomplish. And my level of fear and anxiety of getting injured is greater than my courage to stand at the plate. So I quit sports at about 14 or 15, but in my heart I'm still a professional athlete.
Would you ever let Anna Kendrick give you stitches?
JJ: No. God, no. Not a chance. I would let Anna Kendrick do just about anything else, but not have a needle to my face.
Are you anything like your character Tim?
JJ: There are some similarities, I think, with all the characters I play. I'm not a guy who sees the desire to transform with each part; I'm not a piece of clay. I think some actors pride themselves on disappearing into a role. I'm into the game because I like experiencing and exploring themes, so I put a lot of myself into the person. Then I like fictional stories — like, things that never happened but the seed of it starts as real, but then we wrote a fictional story so I got to live out the fantasy. So as I'm doing it, it's not stuff that I would do, because I actually did things differently. So my dream job is to be a baseball player, and in a movie I might actually get to be a baseball player — but it's not me, it's a fantasy version.
Cats or dogs?
JJ: Dogs. I got two dogs and a cat, but our cat's an outdoor cat because I have allergies. But we have like a whole house that my wife built for Peter the cat. I like Peter, but I view cats as more like wild animals. We feed it, but a lot of times it's not eating the food because it's murdering other animals outside and eating their meat. Whereas my dogs are like — if I let my dog Poppy outside, she'd be dead in an hour and a half. So I like dogs, but I have more respect for cats.
JJ: I wanna go to Alaska. I was just looking online, actually, about flights to Alaska because I want to go out there for a few weeks and experience it.
Can you do yoga?
JJ: I can. I'm not very good at it. I've tried doing it in the past, but I do believe — and I'm sure yogis would disagree — there are certain bodies built for it. My body, I have a Chicago frame, and I don't know if yoga and Chicago bodies were meant to be together. There's just certain ways my body doesn't want to bend. So, I can do it, but it's not very pretty. I see what you're doing, but my body does not do that.
Have you ever been in a bar fight? Did you win?
JJ: Yeah. I didn't lose, but I couldn't call what I've done in the past winning.
Favorite musician or band?
JJ: Dylan. Bob Dylan, I'd say, is probably my favorite musician. My favorite band, well, it's always kind of changing. I've been listening to a lot of Pandora, and James Carr is the current station I'm going to, but I couldn't call him a band.
One thing you're nostalgic for?
JJ: The 1980s. Here I go, sitting in the back of my mom's car growing up.
Do you think Orlando Bloom would be able to seduce you?
JJ: Sadly, yes. I think he could seduce everybody. He is a really talented guy, and he's really good in this movie. And he's super handsome.
What's a book that you think everyone should read?
JJ: A book I really loved that I still love and think of and doesn't get talked about as much as I think it should is called The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien. I think, in terms of the movies I like to make, that's an interesting book because it's about a guy who was in Vietnam whose writing of the war makes everything seem real. And his special acknowledgments are to the characters in it, and you feel like you're reading a memoir — except midway through you realize it's all fiction, but he believes that the story doesn't actually have to have happened, but it's the emotional truth of it. So, going back to am I like my character? Kind of, but I try to create a truth in there that feels really real, like realistic fiction. And that's what The Things They Carried is.
As a kid did you play cops and robbers? Were you a cop or a robber?
JJ: I've always been, in games, the bad guy. If there was ever cops and robbers I was always a robber.
Go-to karaoke song?
JJ: I don't do karaoke. Joe Swanberg, the director of this movie, loves karaoke and has a karaoke machine in his basement. Multiple nights on set, the movie would end and everyone would go do karaoke. I don't believe in karaoke. Let's let the singers sing. If I'm in a bar and I gotta be sitting next to some clown who's like, "It's my tune," I don't want to hear you belt out Bruce Springsteen. That's why we have jukeboxes! Let's let Bruce be Bruce. You be that clown at the bar next to me. I like karaoke when someone is surprisingly good, but it's very rare, especially with alcohol; usually they're just dog shit and they're very bold with their dog-shit singing. So no: I don't have a go-to karaoke song.
Do you speak a second language?
JJ: I speak a little Spanish. I lived in Costa Rica for a while when I was 18 and there was a time when I could speak more fluently, but its really fallen off. But I can communicate if people speak very slowly.
On a scale of 1-10 how good of a dancer are you?
JJ: Ten being the best? Two. One point five. I say that because a zero is someone who physically can't move. It's like, "Oh, that's so sad. They can't move." A one is somebody who can like have a convulsion and you're like, "Are you OK?" and I'm right past that. I have the capability to move and I can hear music, but something gets lost in translation.
New York or L.A.?
JJ: Well, I lived in New York for a long time, so I would say New York in my twenties and L.A. in my thirties.
Do you collect anything?
JJ: I mean, I'm a 37-year-old man. What if I said marbles, how crazy would that be? Yeah, jacks and marbles and bubble gum. I try to collect money and I keep it in a special place called the bank. I collect a bunch of things called money, dollar bills, and I keep them in a safe under my bed.
Last question: Best piece of advice you've ever been given?
JJ: If you have the ability to work with people smarter than you, always try to be the least smartest person in the room and surround yourself with talent, because iron sharpens iron. Aspire to do better. Instead of being the leader of the group, be the little person.