Last night NBC’s legal drama/comedy, “Harry’s Law” starring Oscar-winner Kathy Bates premiered. For Johnny Ray Gill, a 2007 Temple alumnus, it marked a momentous step in his acting career. Starring Bates, Gill portrays Damien Winslow, who offers his protection services to Bates’ character for a hefty fee. After graduating from Temple, Gill moved to Los Angeles to further his education at the University of California, San Diego. After signing with an agency, he quickly secured his role on “Harry’s Law.” Gill shared his thoughts about acting and prospects for the show with The Temple News.
The Temple News: What did you do to start your career at Temple?
Johnny Gill: My first play, “Jitney,” by August Wilson, was at Temple. One of my professors [worked as] a mediator and motivated me to audition. I was a theater and film double major, so I was all over the SCT. I never really had a moment in my life that I said [to myself] “I want to be an actor.” I knew I wanted to tell stories and that manifests itself in different ways – as a director and writer, and other times as actor. After graduating, I applied to several graduate directing and acting programs. Acting was the best fit for me at the time. I graduated from the program at the UCSD in June.
TTN: What is the show about and how did you land the role?
JG: I attended a UCSD showcase with NYU and Yale in LA. It’s kind of a “film draft” for theater students. Top casting directors and agents scout school talent. From there you have meetings and if people like you, you find an agency that fits you and you fit them. I was signed with an agent at the end of July and started auditioning.
My character, Damien Winslow, comes into the law firm in the pilot offering protective services. He works in the neighborhood to protect local businesses from gang violence and robberies. But all of our lives collide, and we become a family that tries to help the little guy I guess you could say.
TTN: Where do you see the show going?
JG: When you have Kathy Bates and David E. Kelly together you have a potent combination. Kelly’s work has always been great, and I hope that the show can pick up momentum. They have a strong following, so there’s definitely a possibility that it could go for a long time, but we’ll see what happens on Monday.
TTN: What’s it like working with a big star like Kathy Bates?
JG: It’s been a tremendous learning process. Kind of like the most fantastic paid internship you could have or like the residency that medical students have, when you work right next to professionals you aspire to someday be. Kathy’s a beautiful spirit … there’s a reason that she is so admired so it’s been a treat.
TTN: How do you prepare for an audition?
JG: I lean on my graduate training. You try to be as specific as possible to the character that you’re trying to portray and become. Often, you don’t have a lot of time to prepare and you’re trying to create a character in less than 24 hours, which can be difficult. I always try to create a soundtrack for my respective characters. You can tell a lot about a person’s core by the music that inspires them and what they listen to. Music shoots straight to the soul, and I can draw from that.
TTN: Advice for those trying to make it in show biz?
JG: Everyone’s journey will be different. People who didn’t go to grad school, and [instead] move to LA or NYC, and start from ground up – I personally think that’s a difficult road, especially now that I’m inside the industry a little bit. The best advice I have is to be persistent, be clever and as creative as possible. Do good work – the cream always rises to the top. It may take a year, five years or 10, but if you feel like you’re called to be an artist then it’ll happen for you at some point.
TTN: Anything else you’d like to add about the show?
JG: Watch. Hopefully it gets picked up for a second season. The great thing about life and this show is that it gets better with each episode. A lot of shows have gimmicks and you know what you’re going to get. But like wine, it should get better with age, and I hope we have the opportunity [to do that].
Kara Savidge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.