WHILE IT might be tempting to some to make snarky jokes about her previous role as Kimberly Ann Hart, the iconic Pink Power Ranger from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the truth is that Amy Jo Johnson has quietly amassed an impressive body of screen and film work in the meantime.
A key supporting role as Julie in Felicity and a memorable star turn in the Disney flick Susie Q was followed by a move to Canada away from the Hollywood limelight to start a family.
In Toronto, she secured an acclaimed regular role in the hit Canadian cop series Flashpoint from 2008-2012.
A musician in addition to an actress and director, Johnson has released three well-received pop albums.
In between, she has steadily increased her presence as a filmmaker, and that is her role when she comes down to Savannah to screen her first feature-length film, the comedy The Space Between, a surprise hit on the festival circuit this year.
We spoke to Amy Jo last week.
Usually at film festivals, the big audience hits are either depressing message movies, or feel-good comedies. Safe to say The Space Between is the latter?
I’d say this film falls between the two topics. What I try to deal with as a filmmaker is finding the levity within the heavy subjects in life. We have to figure out how to laugh all the way through things. I like to describe this as a heartfelt comedy.
And yet, this isn’t a woman’s story — it’s about the deeply personal odyssey of a man approaching middle age.
When I first started writing it, the main focus wasn’t the coming of age of a 40 year old man, which is basically what it turned out to be. I had done a short film called Bent, the first short I ever did, and in that I found the kernel of a seed for this film.
He’s dealing with his own fertility issues, and his wife decides to save the marriage by sleeping with a busboy at work. The father discovers his redheaded baby is not his. The film deals with his reaction to that.
This isn’t the first time you’ve directed yourself on screen, but it is your first feature film. Where do you get notes on your acting if you’re the director too?
Luckily I don’t have a huge role in The Space Between. Some days I got to show up to work without going to hair and makeup, and those were my favorite days! I'm currently working on my second feature film – and I'm not going to be in it!
Some days, when I did have to act, I just relied on the cast I surrounded myself with. I went to work fully organized, and every day we knew exactly what needed to be done.
To get it all shot within 17 days we had to be really organized. I don’t think I thought too much about it. We just did what we had to do.
That said, as actor I’ve always felt incredibly insecure as a person. When I transitioned into filmmaking I began to feel a lot more confident in what I have to do and what I have to give.
Are you tired of hearing the question about why there aren’t enough quality roles for women beyond their 20s?
I think there are so many great roles now, partially because there's so much great television now, and so many channels.
Back in the day you had movie stars, but today there isn’t much difference. There’s certainly no difference anymore in the caliber of acting between movies and TV.
I’m just the type of person who doesn’t look at what the obstacles are. I don’t think that way. I just do what I want to do and what my heart wants to do, and I get really scrappy about it! (laughs)
Some things did change for the better when I moved my life to Canada. I didn’t have to worry about turning 35!
I got out of LA and was able to grow old gracefully. In LA there is so much pressure for women to alter their appearance to appear unnaturally younger.
That said, you haven’t run away from your past as the Pink Power Ranger.
In the mid ‘90s, there were a few years there when I wasn’t so much denying I was ever on the show, but I was not really wanting to talk about it either. After moving to Canada and doing Flashpoint, somewhere along the way I said, "This is my path. This is where I came from."
The big change came when I embraced social media, and starting doing Indiegogo to raise funding for movie projects.
I realized all the support I had through people who knew the Power Rangers over the last 20 years before that. In embracing them, I’ve met so many wonderful people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
And now there’s going to be a big new Power Rangers movie next year, so the whole thing’s cool again! (laughs)
Your music career is sort of on hiatus?
Yeah it is. I’m getting focused on this second feature. I’ve not sat down at piano or picked up a guitar in a while. My last album was in 2013, and I did that knowing it would be a while before I did another album. I wanted to do that one album before I really ventured into filmmaking.