TV star Keean Johnson takes a spooky ride to stardom

When Keean Johnson learned he’d be making his television debut as Adam Freeman, Spooksville’s adventurous new kid in town, he felt like pinching himself.

“I felt so lucky to get onto a TV show, and even luckier it was a show like this,” said the fresh-faced young Colorado-born star of the action-adventure series filmed last spring and summer in the Cowichan Valley. Additional scenes were filmed at Fisgard Lighthouse and Craigdarroch Castle, doubling as Shadowmire, the show’s spooky hilltop mansion.

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The 22-episode series based on author Christopher Pike’s popular children’s books premièred on the Hub Network in the U.S. last fall. The family-friendly alternative to the popular horror and supernatural genre made its Canadian debut in April on Super Channel.

Johnson said he appreciated his good fortune even more when he thought of something one of his favourite actors once said.

“Mark Ruffalo said it took over 600 auditions before he got his first real break,” recalled the actor, whose character learns he holds the key to an ancient battle between good and evil in Springville, the seaside town nicknamed Spooksville because of its supernatural history. Each episode chronicles his adventures with his new friends, spunky Sally (Katie Douglas) and brainy Watch (Nick Purcha).

He said he was attracted to Spooksville because of how screenwriter James Krieg (Scooby-Do) adapted the series produced by Vancouver's Front Street Pictures and Jane Startz Productions.

“The way Jim writes is amazing. He really knows how to take kids on a journey.”

Johnson, who has since guest starred on Nashville, the ABC series starring Hayden Panettiere as a rising country music star, said Spooksville was a real learning experience. It’s not surprising considering he got into showbiz as a dancer at age five, beginning his acting career five years later in Plainsong at Denver Centre Theatre.

“If it wasn’t for dance, I would never have started acting,” said Johnson, who landed his first starring role onstage a year later as Michael in the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Billy Elliott.

He also opened the show in Chicago and starred in the touring production.

“I had people like Oprah Winfrey and Sarah Jessica Parker coming to watch,” recalled Johnson, who was over-the-moon when Robert De Niro showed up.

“I was so happy because he’s my acting idol,” he said. “I was always bad about getting my picture taken with people, but I just had to get my picture taken with him.”

He describes as mind-boggling the contrasts between starring in a big Broadway musical based on a movie he says “probably should have been a stage musical in the first place” at New York’s Imperial Theatre, and shooting in the Duncan Curling Club, which became a massive, other-worldly Spooksville soundstage, and other locations in Chemainus, Ladysmith, Saltair and Lake Cowichan for four months.

“It’s so different. You have ‘live’ and then you have maybe five people in a room with a camera,” he said. “The simplicity in acting really makes a difference. In theatre you have to be really heard. If you’re angry, you really have to yell, but in TV the camera does a lot of the work.”

As different as doing episodic television might be, there are some similarities to the days he sang Elton John tunes and danced on Broadway.

“You still have to stay in shape, but it’s a different type of discipline of knowing your lines, coming to set each day, finding your light and making sure the camera can see you without looking into it,” said Johnson, whose experiences as a young gymnast came in handy.

“I had to hit a Cadillac,” he said, recalling one example. “I had to ride my bike down a hill full-speed and stop, and act like there was a car coming. I had to stand on a box, jump into the air and then ‘slam” into a windshield.”

When Johnson wasn’t catching up on his favourite TV show The Walking Dead or reading Conn Iggulden’s Emperor military adventure books, he went surfing in Tofino and indulged his passion for photography.

He credited his parents with keeping him grounded.

“My mom has always said, ‘Keep humble,’ ” said Johnson.

The most valuable lesson the L.A.-based.-based actor has learned is the importance of knowing what you’re doing all this for.

“A lot of kids come to L.A. to be stars, and that is a great road to ruin,” he said. “If any kid reads this, remember you have to want to act. It’s not like I wanted be a star, give autographs and be in the limelight. I just enjoy acting. I’m not here to become the new teen idol.”

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