Actor John Way on finding his ‘Sweet Sunshine’
We’re always looking for new acting talent and we were pretty pumped to meet new John Way and learn about his new leading role in the movie Sweet Sunshine. John plays TJ Millhouse and sings in the movie — and on the soundtrack! The movie premiering in Phoenix, AZ on March 13, and will be available on streaming services from March 20.
John Way is a classically trained actor and has won several national awards for his work in Shakespeare productions. He now finds himself playing a variety of film roles from country singer (Sweet Sunshine) to cowboy (The Boardinghouse Reach, due out in 2021), and has guest-starred in the Amazon Prime series The Romanoffs.
John was born in London and raised in Tokyo and is now based in New York. He spent his high school years in Phoenix, the place he considers to be his American home.
He is a National YoungArts award winner, and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon. He is also certified by the Royal Academy of Dance, and has singing awards from Classical Singer magazine competitions.
When he’s not treading the boards John likes to spend his free time training in the ring. He’s a fan of Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and Mixed Martial-Arts (MMA). He never met a critter he didn’t love, and has written a series of children’s adventure stories based on a universe run by dogs.
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We were thrilled to sit down with this emerging actor John Way and talk about how he finds his Sweet Sunshine.
Tell us about your history as an actor. How did you start your journey?
Absolutely! Born in England, raised in Japan, and finished middle school and high school in The United States. Though being a third/fourth culture kid was not always easy, I am lucky to have had formative experiences in a variety of places called home. This gave me a perspective on the world. Acting was a huge part of finding friends. There was always a new school, new language, and new friends.
I was always in my head drawing cartoons or playing out stories with the little dogs that came in the McDonalds Happy Meal; I was at home telling stories. Looking back on it, that was theater. I could never shake the feeling I had as a kid after seeing a film or a local play.
There was a magic the performers created that allowed not only them, but the audience, to see, hear, feel, and experience a life that was not their own. A world of imagination. I believe performance is the most comprehensive teaching tool we have. I knew from my early teens that if I could be one of those performers, on that stage or screen, telling stories, that it would be the greatest honor of my life.
Who are your current influences?
I really love the comedy style of Silicon Valley. John Krasinski has also always been a bit of an idol to me; I have been a fan of his since The Office. I love Stephen King’s books and movie adaptations. I am always looking for good content both in the network and indie worlds.
There is a great animated French film that won Cannes currently on Netflix called, I Lost my Body. Take a look to see what good animation can do for a story!
What five TV shows do you think everyone should watch this year?
The Outsider, Russian Doll, Watchmen, Cobra Kai, and some episodes of Black Mirror.
Cat or dog?
If I had to choose – dogs. Traditionally I am a dog person, but very recently I have had a lot of great cat experiences. Cats can be multiple personality critters. So, it’s a mixed bag.
What was the one movie you saw that made you want to go into film?
The Shawshank Redemption. I love the way the character Andy Defraine tracks over a long period of time. Tim Robbins does a great job. The change in every character over the course of the time is spectacular! After seeing it, I wanted to take part in telling great stories, especially ones that examine human behavior.
How was working on Sweet Sunshine? What did you learn from the experience?
It was a great experience. We had a tight-knit team, and everyone was super engaged in the project. What did I learn? That movie-making does not have to happen on a grand scale. In terms of acting, economy of motion – make every movement count. In terms of team building, keep in the company of good people.
These relationships will live beyond the shoot for as long as there is an audience. Be a good person. See the best in others. We were shooting during the summer in Arizona and it unexpectedly snowed. The solar panels got covered and the power died; it was mythic. We were in tight quarters and there was stress from delays.
And what could we do? Bond. Play guitar. Sing songs. Work together to make it a really solidifying time that improved our performance. The Sweet Sunshine cast and crew will always be friends for life. I learned the culture of a film behind the camera is very important, and helps determine the quality of the film.
It seems as though acting has always been a part of your life, how did you transition from Shakespeare to film?
Every art form has its roots in something that came before it. Singing is opera; for dance, it’s ballet. Learning the classics of a fundamental art form can really ground your performance. Shakespearean training made acting in front of the camera feel more fluid. Memorizing Shakespeare’s text is like memorizing poetry in an older version of the language. This training made script memorization much easier and much more fun!
How did you customize your character in Sweet Sunshine?
When I start any project, I always ask, “What things in my life would need to change for me to be this person?” For TJ, it was remarkably little. There is a lot of me in the character of TJ. As long as I remained true to the story of his life and his relationships with other characters, everything else just fell into place.
What music inspires you to create?
During filming, I listened to the hip-hop artist Nujabes. Of course, “Old Town Road” was played on set many times to get us in the country mood!
Talk us through your creative process.
For me it’s all about relationships. I start by keeping track of the relationship arc my character has with the other characters; think of it as a roadmap. Then, when I look to the specific scene and what’s happening at that moment, everything just falls into place.
What tips do you have for those looking to pursue a career in acting?
Get engaged! Most places will have a local theater. Go out and audition! I am always looking for opportunities and ways to keep my acting instincts warm. Acting is a weird thing but the more you do it, the more comfortable it gets.
What part of performing do you geek out about the most?
I love text work. When I get the script, I immediately go to town working with the breakdowns of scenes. I never want to be inside my head when I am shooting a scene. If I do all that homework before, when I get to the set, I can just throw it all away and play.
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The original Blade Runner. It was not only iconic for its time but set out the basis for the cyberpunk genre to follow. It is timeless.
What’s your next project?
I just finished filming a movie called The Boardinghouse Reach. It is a fascinating movie which not only explores the diversity of the Americana West, but also space and time. The cast is a diverse and well-known group of actors and I was super lucky to be part of the team. It has some crazy animation and I can’t wait to see what happens to the film in post-production. Keep an eye out for it in 2021!
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I have and I do! When finding mentors, it really is about exposure and volume. You need to meet enough people to know what you like and what you don’t. It is also important to work with them long enough to know if you are a good fit with each other; it’s worth the investment of time. You can look in the mirror and do self-tapes, but I greatly benefited from outside perspective and someone I can count on.
What has been your biggest failure?
There was a time when I forgot why I even liked performing. My biggest failure was probably allowing myself to stay in spaces which didn’t make me feel my best. I can’t afford to stay in those places for too long; I must keep moving and looking for the next thing. At the end of every performance I tell myself, “My best performance is yet to come.”
Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
I want you to have a good time! Sweet Sunshine is about family, love, and music. If you leave singing a song or humming a tune, that means the mission has been accomplished.
What has been your biggest success?
My biggest success so far is being surrounded by good people, and everyday being able to do something that I love. No matter the scale, I think those things are important and will ultimately lead you to a happy life.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
Hopefully! But until then you can see me in The Romanoffs on Amazon Prime.
What’s your five-year plan?
I have two movies in the works and would like to do some more television. Beyond that, I would like to get more involved in the creative side of films, perhaps by producing some independent movies.
What indie filmmakers should be on our radar?
Craig McMahon (the director of Sweet Sunshine) is really starting to gain a wide audience. And keep an eye out for Geoff Marslett. He has already been recognized but is ready to go to the next level. He is a fantastic director and incredible visionary. Also, anything that Dan Janvey produces. His new production of Wendy is special.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
I must bring it back to The Shawshank Redemption. It combined such a strong story with great actors. No special effects; just great relationships. I learned that a good film has a strong story, and all the special effects in the world can’t change that.
Who would compose the soundtrack of your life?
Wow! In a nod to classic rock, I would pick The Who. They did some great concept albums that dealt with pretty wild characters.