‘I feel most alive when I’m acting’

Rewarding role: Molly Johnson, left, stars in The Fall Leaves

Tragedy set Molly Johnson on course for a career in film and theatre. Sport had been her focus but her perspective changed, after a friend died by suicide in high school.

“It was such a shock to my system, I was so lost and in such grief,” she said.

“The theatre at my school became this place where my grief could be processed and it could become laughter and movement.

“There is something so magical about theatre and I think that is because you are accessing such a deep part of yourself that most people don’t allow themselves.”

It helped that others recognised her talent. The 23-year-old was named best supporting actress at the recent LA Indie Short Fest for her performance in the independent film The Fall Leaves, directed by Maya McCullough. The movie itself was given the Best Short Film award; Johnson, who performs as Molly Watts, and cast member Auvray Andreas were named best acting duo.

Being an actress, however, is only part of her skill set. She has worked in all aspects of the industry since graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2017.

“I continued to audition and create work with my friends, but I also wanted to hone the skills of being behind the camera and looking at how to get a project on its own feet,” she said.

“Creating my own work is very important to me, so I focused on directing, assistant directing, production and casting.

“It really informed me about the different roles. It is important to know and respect as an actor because it allows a supportive environment and ego is out of the way.”

The Bermuda High School student left the island at 13 to board at Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut.

Her bachelor’s degree in theatre came with support from a Gilbert & Sullivan Society scholarship. She first appeared on television in a commercial for a furniture company in New York.

“I spent a lot of the day jumping up and down on the couch,” laughed Ms Johnson, who was here this year working with the Bermuda Festival for the Performing Arts.

She played a young woman waiting out the final stages of her pregnancy in a home for unwed mothers in 1960s Mississippi in The Fall Leaves.

“It is really exciting when you are part of a project that is so collaborative and supportive,” she said.

“If one person is recognised, it means everyone is because every person put their heart and soul into it.”

She is a great admirer of Jill Soloway who created Transparent, the Amazon comedy-drama about a transgender parent. She feels it important that the industry produces more work that speaks genuinely to the LGBTQ community.

“After my friend died, other pain started to surface,” said Ms Johnson, explaining that it was through that sorrow she gained a fuller acceptance of herself and accepted herself as being queer.

“Growing up in Bermuda, I had a really hard time being myself and I think that was part of this pain that came up when I found theatre.

“As a queer artist, Transparent spoke to me. I appreciated them showing real queer people on TV; gay actors and people who look like me and the friends I hang out with in New York.

“It’s important to me to acknowledge my privilege as a queer white woman in New York and especially within Bermuda’s community, and that there is a lot of work to be done so that queer women of colour are given more space and representation so that the stories, the storytelling, and the bodies on stage are truly showcasing our world and varied experiences.

“I think it is important that these issues are coming to light now because we can’t continue to not address them. A lot of beauty can come from open conversations and honesty.”

With one award behind her, she hopes to hone her craft on the stage.

“My focus is acting. It is what I feel most alive doing, especially in theatre. I want to create a production company one day and direct and create my own work with like-minded people.

“I want to keep pursuing director opportunities and chances to create from scratch.

“I hope to create spaces that allow for open communication and dialogues that push forward our cultural narrative.”