Ryan Johnson, a sixth-grader Rosa International Middle School, would like you to believe she absolutely loves mandarin oranges. She’d also like you to trust in the safety of a German national airline, find solace in our health-care system and the healing power of traditional brand-name wound care.
She also wants you to know that she wants to be a regular kid: going to a new school in the morning, studying her favorite subjects, then practicing gymnastics and diving later in the day.
Though just 11 years old, Johnson has already logged time in a dozen commercials, as well as having a repeating role in the HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire,” and appearances on NBC’s “Red Nose Day” alongside comedian Tracy Morgan and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.
“Ryan could always talk very early, and like most kids, their parents thought that she was very cute; but through a mutual friend, we were introduced to a manager by the name of Marilyn Zitner who represents actors and actresses out of New York,” said Ryan’s father, Jawwaad Johnson.
When Ryan was 3 years old, she interviewed with Zitner. What could have easily been a daunting situation – separated from her parents, sitting in an office with a stranger – turned out for the best.
“The assistant (later) told us we could come back out and Ryan was spinning in the assistant’s chair. She was very comfortable going with adults and interacting with adults from an early age, and we thought this was right for her and so, we began her journey there, with a Band-Aid commercial in 2012,” Johnson added.
On “Boardwalk,” Ryan said it took some time to adjust in making the leap from commercials to a network TV production because of the sheer volume of people and machinery involved in making the show work. She also was surprised with how much more serious all involved were, and how much longer the show took to shoot than commercials.
Ryan recalled working with actors Margot Bingham and Michael K. Williams, then recalled closeness with actor Jeffrey Wright, who starred as Dr. Narcisse.
“I remember I was sitting on his lap and then they started doing (the scene) and they started before I was ready. All I remember was I was sitting on his lap and saying my lines, and then he picked me up and then I got placed on someone else’s lap, like a doll. So I was placed on this one and this one and this one, but it was still fun,” she said.
Also setting her apart from her peers, Johnson has taken well to the middle school experience. Calling it a lot better than elementary school, she readily admitted how much she’s gotten lost in the school year’s first month but already has multiple favorite classes and teachers.
“Language and literature and science, because on Friday, we get to dissect owl pellets in class,” she said. “My science teacher Ms. (Alexandra) Romano, and then Miss (Kim) Pennock (language and literature) and Mrs. (Teresa) Convery (sixth-grade inclusion).”
Johnson also participates in diving and is also a dedicated gymnast, who trains up to 4 ½ hours per day during the school year to prepare for competitions. She credits the discipline involved with sports as an influence on acting.
“I think gymnastics helps with acting, because when my coaches tell me to do something, even if I don’t want to do it, I have to do it because I want to get better. Like with acting, even if I don’t want to go over my lines, I know I still have to do it,” she said.
With experience in a range of diverse interests and managing multiple responsibilities at a young age, Johnson is confident she wants to pursue art in the future – planning to become a screenwriter.
“I feel like acting helps, because with the (reading and memorization of) my lines I can just learn (how to write) just from that. I want to follow that in college because I think it would be really, really fun and it will help in the future with other things,” she said.