Recently, I had the incredible experience of traveling to New Zealand, where I got an exclusive interview with Emmett Skilton (Axl Johnson in The Almighty Johnsons).
He turned out to be such a down to Earth guy, despite having played a god on television.
We discussed some Almighty Johnsons behind-the-scenes facts most people wouldn’t know, his directorial debut with Auckward Love which stars & is co-written by his fiancé Holly Shervey. Finally, I asked Emmett Skilton about the future of his career which include an AMC TV series, a Chinese movie called The Wonder (3D) and a second season of Auckward Love, which is looking to expand it’s story!
The interview is just under 25 minutes, so I’ve transcribed Emmett’s answers below for anyone that’s interested in specific answers. When I say specific, it’s an understatement – Emmett Skilton was kind enough to go into thorough detail with every answer!
EXCLUSIVE – Emmett Skilton Interview on The Almighty Johnsons, Auckward Love season 2 & the future:
Jay: Welcome to The Second Take, I’m your host Jay & today we have a very special guest: New Zealand’s own Almighty Johnsons star & director of the web series: Auckward Love Emmett Skiton.
Jay: Love the Almighty Johnsons.
Emmett: Thank you.
J: Could you explain for anyone that hasn’t seen it, what ‘The Almighty Johnsons’ is?
E: Sure, so Johnson’s is a comedy-drama mixed with sci-fi show that came out in New Zealand about four brothers & their grandfather and their quest to fulfill this family prophecy. Now in most New Zealand shows, a family prophecy would be to rob a bank or to try and to get that job. Whereas for this one, their family secret is that they are all Norse Gods & the family prophecy is for my character Odin to find another character Frigg… and get married & then get full powers. So it’s this really wacky show where you are thrown straight into the seat of my character’s experiences of having these real awesome powers that are a little bit shitty. And knowing that they can be a little better. So he seeks help, he’s trying to find this path or that path. To put it simply it’s a coming of age story about a boy turning into a man. And our written Jams Griffin just chose that Norse Gods might be the way to do that.
J: How much of the full did story you know when you signed on for the pilot?
E: For me it was very little. When I signed on I knew the general story & I knew my character & some of the relationship with the brothers but in terms of the story they, as writers they have a clear idea of where they’re heading. But there’s only sort of 2-4 scripts written at any one time when you launch a show and then they carry on being written. From that first episode I knew I was going get naked in a forest. I knew that some of my brothers in the show, like Dean O’Gorman was going to be naked under a table, I knew that another brother was going to be having sex somewhere random on the beach. So in terms of the story I only knew what was in the script and what the writers had told me so it was this strange world for my character not knowing what was going on, but also for me it kind of worked that I didn’t know hugely that I didn’t know what was going on. I was one of the last ones to sign on. Me & the grandfather Ben Barrington were two of the last to sign on, so others had been part of the process for a long time. Tim Balme was part of the writing group – who played Mike. And the other two brothers had been in there since the beginning: Jarred Turner & Dean O’Gorman. They had been part of the developing the first reads for the network. So they had kind of had a much better idea – Just go with it.
J: You said there were only about 4 episodes planned in advance, were there any major changes people wouldn’t know about?
E: Between seasons is when the changes really really happen. They do have a clear idea about where their going with each episode even though the specifics aren’t written out. But when it comes to season 2 and season 3 for example, we did sit downs with the writers & they would ask about our character & where we’d go & what we’d do. So I guess if they were writing season 2 while we were just starting to shoot season 1 it would be a very very different. Because by season 2 they really knew our characters and knew what would be the funniest or what would be best for storyline. And there was a Māori – which you which you probably know all about being here – there was a Māori aspect in there for three episodes in
the end of season 2 which they found didn’t really work. So when you would normally have started the season where you left off, they were kind of nowhere to be seen. It was easier to jump forward in time to carry on, than it was to continue that storyline and have it taper off. So you know there’s little changes like that that the writers are sort of conscious of.
J: It felt like from the beginning that Gaia was meant to be The Frigg, but then she strayed away and then she came back so when it happened I was very excited – I guessed it from it from the beginning!
E: Good! Well that’s the beauty of writing, isn’t it? And knowing how your audience is responding, I think that was always it. The way a traditional story is it’s always what you least expected / right under your nose. And for Axl, not the smartest cookie at all, there was that frustration for the audience but also that satisfaction when it came to be true. I think. And in terms of writing side of things, the longer you can hold the audience’s curiosity about that situation, the better. I had the same feeling that it was her all along. And then that person comes in & that person comes in. I remember reading the episode 3 of season 1, maybe, where there’s the costume party & turns out to be all these people. There’s a bunch of Friggs & a there’s a bunch of Thors or whatever it is. When I was reading that, I went “Holy shit, has he already found her? What the hell?” so I was actually in the audiences seat. As I was reading it going “Oh man, wow we got here very very fast.” But of course James Griffin will switch it on you.
J: Which episode was your favourite to film?
E: Favourite to film? Season 3, which I’m not sure know went on Netflix.
J: Yeah it is.
E: Oh it did. Season 3, probably episode 7 was my favourite to shoot. It’s where we go to Whangamomona. I find Thor again, and he’s got his problem & he’s got his various issues. For those who haven’t watched it, I won’t go into too much detail. It was just a pleasure to shoot & it really felt like we’d gone somewhere else. We were shooting sort of 40 minutes out of the city but it really felt like we were somewhere else. And as an actor, there was so much time taken with that stuff you know. It was pretty themes, with some of that stuff and it felt really connected a lot of the stuff. There was still there comedy but there was a lot more drama involved. Which I found a lot of pleasure in.
J: that’s good, I like that episode a lot. Especially, the ending, I won’t say too much but the singing aspect.
E: Good! He’s actually a fantastic singer, he’s an Elvis impersonator.
J: Really? That’s great. With the success it’s had overseas, are you ever hopefully for another season or maybe a movie or something?
E: Yeah, I know that we’re all on board if it was to happen. And I know that James, our creator, will come to the party in a heartbeat if he got to write more. For me as an actor, there’s a lot of frustrated people about it, you know, audience & actors & crew, but for me, I was very satisfied. I felt that Axl, personally had gone from where he was at the beginning to where he always plans – where you always wanted him to get. Which is in charge of his own destiny and being there in the end, I was very satisfied. But in a heartbeat I would. I don’t know what would happen for season 4, but a film or a tele feature or a Christmas special would be a joy. We did do the web series: Gods Among Us, which was a really fun insight into Zeb’s point of view. Which was my roommate, if you haven’t seen it yet. And that was a fun time to shoot.
J: Was that during season 3?
E: It wa just after season 3. Yeah, I can’t remember if season 3 had even aired yet, but it was after shooting season 3.
J: I liked that a lot. I liked the chemistry between you & Zeb. And for those of you who have watched the pilot episode at this point. As soon as he finds out you are a god, he’s just goes with it.
E: He’s stoked. That was another favourite episode: Season 1 episode 5, where the drugs come into our possession, without going into too much detail again. Because of that buddy. We were in pretty much every freaking scene & it was just like the whole right, down, left right of what a relationship between buddies can be. Glorious to the point where I have to pick him up furious, where he’s had his clothes stolen. It was good fun.
J: Do you ever hope to see the Norse point of view with everyone with their full powers?
E: That would be great. I think that in order for The Almighty Johnsons to go to a place of full powers, requires full budget. In New Zealand, there’s not particularly not that kind of budget that supports a special effect aspect. And unfortunately the way, I mean depending on the way you look at it, we have it in our minds, thanks to movies & things of what happens when people have full powers. What happens when Stark Enterprises has this giant robot & it fucking destroys the planet. You know this kind of stuff – or smashes down buildings & stuff. So in order for that to be still in a believable realm, James kept our powers at bay & he kept the possibilities at bay. And in doing so, became one of the great aspects of his comedy. In fact it was a little bit shit. Well their powers were a little bit shit. So I would love to see that aspect, I would love to see what it’s like. They were throwing around the idea that the the way the finale would end, wasn’t gonna be in the forest like it was. It was gonna be more, we were gonna be on a beach & there was going to be aspects of weather being controlled by one of the gods back in Asgaard. And then there going to be immediately that relationship between humans getting punished by gods in Asgaard, for whatever we did & didn’t do. So immediately there you have ok, some powers are brewing something pretty major & you have that conflict that would continue onto season 4 if we were to get one. So I know that they intended to bring that power in. But it just yeah, unfortunately money & time & people’s interests shift.
J: Let’s make a bit of a transition into Auckward Love, for people that don’t know, could you give a quick summary?
E: Totally! Totally. Auckward Love is a web series that I’ve co-created & directed. It is about a girl who is heart broken, by none other than Dean O’Gorman (Anders/Bragi from The Almighty Johnsons), and now she is on the journey with her three best friends to find love again. And it’s tagline is “Finding love, one awkward date at a time”. We go a little bit further & use language that may not be allowed on the network television & themes that may not be allowed on the network television. So we really take the ball & run with it, in terms of what we’d like to see. And what we see is there being a hole in the industry. And it’s been received really well. It’s on one of our major networks online divisions. Which is sort of where they’re heading at the moment. Which is called TVNZonDemand (Watch the full series here). And if it’s finding a really good group of people watching it there, a good fan base. Were about to embark on season 2. So where in the first season we were following one character and what it’s like to go and get a wax or what it’s like to give someone an awful sexual experience without going into detail. And season 2 we’re taking it out of the house, were going further. We’re following all four girls and what it’s like for them. We’re following their careers, we’re following the sexual exploits, their parties and a few other surprises, which I’m still developing right now.
J: I like that your fiancé’s in it, congratulations by the way.
E: Thank you very much, thank you.
J: I was watching the show, and then I go “ok so there’s some Almighty Johnsons cameos in there” that’s great.
E: Well the beautiful thing about the boys in Johnsons, is they were like “Yeah fuck, I’ll come along & have some fun!” You know, the whole thing is, my fiancé Holly (Shervey), they’re her stories. Which is horrible to think, but they’re a little bit glorified. So it’s really made from us. And put out into the world for the judgement to come.
J: How do you feel taking on the position of director?
E: I think, being an actor, in a way, prepares you – has prepared me for being a director. I not only understand on set, but I also understand acting well enough that I can, as a director, speak to the actors in a very personal way that gets the performance that we need. So understanding it from both points of view really feeds in and when I was doing Almighty Johnsons & any jobs that I do, I’m constantly asking questions, from anyone in the crew because I wanna know more. It’s not that I wanna do their job, but by knowing what their doing, I might be able to make their job a bit easier, when I do my job. You know if a person’s trying to set up a light & they need me to stand there, but maybe they’re not saying it. If I’m asking questions & having a conversation about it, I’m not going to step out of the light, because I know what they’re doing. So it’s just kind of about creating that team effort and I’m just fucking curious! All the time. That’s definitely fit into being a director. It’s also very satisfying being a director, because as an actor, you perform & then you leave it there. But as a director or producer, which is what I’m doing, both of those things, not only do I get to be part of the writing & all the way through to the performance on the day, but I also get to go into the editing suite & continue to tell the story the best I can. It’s funny we, I think as actors, we often consider, well some, I guess, can’t speak for everyone. But some consider the performance to be everything. But it’s amazing seeing the other side of things and how much the editing makes a difference, how much sound makes a difference, how much good sound makes a difference. Then you know, music and sound effects, we got a fantastic team, a guy called Enny Benzonelli, who has actually worked for TVNZ, he was our editor & he’s got a great comedy about him. He’s a European, who has been over in New Zealand, loving film & creating film and was a joy to work with. He loved jumping on board. And this fantastic foley artist actually, she’s also a sound designer, but a foley artist by trade I guess you call it, called Amy Barber. Who, you know like in the first episode of Auckward Love, the amount of sound she put in there that we never had paper crumbling, water dripping, things like that. You just don’t realize how much the world has been brought to life, until someone’s done that. You know. Nina Wells, our DP, our camera operator was just superb. I think being a female, she also had found a lot of joy in what she was watching. So, she’d almost get in the action, rather than any kind of outside views. She’d be capturing just the right moments and roll the camera just a little longer than she needed to, to get little bits & pieces of reactions. Things like that.
J: In terms of production cost & time, what’s the difference between Almighty Johnsons & Auckward Love?
E: Whoa boy! Almighty Johnsons was taxepayer funded in New Zealand. That’s how our funding bodies work. You can get individual funding but, over the three seasons, it was probably 30 million dollars. Whereas you might get that for half a season in the states. So that’s taxpayer money. So how it works, you get a network behind you, then you apply for funding. The first season was what 10 episodes & I think we got 7 million or so for that. Then it changes per season. Whereas Auckward Love, we wanted to create something & we wanted to create something then & there. We hadn’t considered funding and we knew that we didn’t really need to because we had enough interest & enough of a really passionate team on board that we could go forward with our plans because people loved what they were doing, rather than doing it for the money. We did have a small amount of budget, we had $5,000 for the first season. Which was funded through Brand New films & our private investor Martin Cooper, who believed in the product enough to help us, but also interested in seeing where the future might go for us as makers & in a sense, it was a semi-personal investment and season 2 I’m looking to create a much more professional environment so we are seeking funding, we have got funding & we’re getting more. In a way so we can, I mean you have student films that pay $50 and lunch or something like that. I’ve actually gone a step further, actually gone a step further in making sure it’s as best as possible, we can create a professional environment, because what that does is, the bigger crew you have, the more you need everyone on side. And if it’s people taking their time they deserve money or care of some kind to take a bit of pressure off the fact that they just left their comfortable bed or their kids playing in the other room with the wife or the husband. So the fact that we can start to breed a sense of professional will only set us up in a great way for the future. ‘Cause we plan to make more & we’ve got films in mind. A network television series in mind. It’s just a good way to sort of progress the company & our own practices.
J: Do you mean that Auckward Love could turn into a movie?
E: Not necessarily Auckward Love turning into a movie. We do plan to make 3 seasons of it. Each one getting even more production value, more episodes, longer length. More places. ‘Cause I live in L.A. a lot of the time. I’ve got it lined up to shoot there when we have the budget. There’s a few more restrictions in L.A. but we have a few films, there’s a Thriller film in mind that’s based on one of our writers Jess Sayer’s plays. And we also have two TV series in mind, which are very early stages. So that’s hard to talk about.
J: What’s next for you in terms of movies & TV?
E: So straight after I shot Auckward Love I id a short film that about to go into festivals, I did an American TV series for AMC & a feature film that’s about to start in July, launch in China. So for the last few months between writing and developing Auckward Love 2, I’ve been doing ADR & in and out of the studio and working with the director on The Wonder 3D, that ones called, a Chinese film. So I’m happily busy with my own projects, both as a producer, director but also the acting side is also humming along. I’d imagine sometime during the middle of the year I’ll go overseas again & carry that momentum, while my editors working. And go with the flow yeah. It’s a funny industry in that, like anything you are essentially applying for jobs & you might get them. Whereas for New Zealand actors, you have a much smaller pool. So the fact that I’m creating my own work & the team are creating their own work, there’s something very satisfying about it. Bringing that attitude of not waiting for something to come, with I think is really important for creators. In the states you have, if people aren’t acting, they’re doing classes, whereas in New Zealand, if people aren’t doing acting, they’re doing their other job, in a sense. I see no reason why you’re other job couldn’t be creating acting. Creating opportunities for you & other actors.
J: The last little bit, I’m just going to do a bit of a Lightning round. Fast questions, fast answers.
E: Cool man.
J: So we’re going to start off easy: favourite type of beer?
E: Export. It’s what my dad drank. New Zealand brand.
J: Favourite movie of all time?
E: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Across The Universe.
J: If you could pick any role in any movie ever, doesn’t matter if it’s already happened, if they did a reboot or something, what would you choose?
E: Daniel Day Lewis – My Left Foot, not because I think I could do it better, but because it was incredible & would be an amazing challenge.
J: Batman V Superman?
E: Batman, man! I don’t know about this Superman thing. And I love Ben Affleck as well, his past superheroes I haven’t necessarily believed in. But yeah, Batman.
J: If you could be any of the superheroes, which would you be? In real life or in a movie.
E: If I could be a superhero in real life?! Shit. There’s something awesome about Night Crawler. I mean he’s an X-Men but –
J: But he can teleport. That’s pretty sweet.
E: Yeah & that’s it. Well he’s a bit weird & wouldn’t necessarily fit into public.
J: Would you like being blue all the time?
E: If I could teleport I wouldn’t give a shit!
J: There you go. Top 3 things people wouldn’t know about you?
E: Top 3 things? Hm I have a few tattoos. Ah, the early childhood centre that I went to when I was a kid, my mum works there & I ended up working there while I was in drama school 23 years later. I love kids, you learn a lot from them. And third thing, I’m a vegetarian.
J: So for people that haven’t been to New Zealand, what would you say are the Top 5 best things about New Zealand?
E: Top 5 best things? Relaxed attitude. You can go from the beach to the snow to the forest all in one day. The Maōri culture is definitely one of the top ones. Though not in a commercial sense. I think there’s a beautiful history in Maori culture and these places that you can go to that will give you a really critical insight into that. Rotorua is one of them. And… were there 5 things or 3 things?
J: Just do 3, that’s fine. Thanks for being on the show!
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