Paul Johansson as Nick Wolf on
TV's Highlander : The Raven
By Melinda Smith and Lyria Wollich
When the world of Highlander-dom thinks of Paul Johansson, it thinks of Nick Wolf from the show Highlander : The Raven. Though it only aired for one year, (running for
22 episodes in 1998-99 season) it left a lasting impression on fans. Paired along side Elizabeth Gracen, who made the transition from the Highlander Series that had just
ended it's six season long run the year before, Paul stepped in easily to his character, a Canadian police officer who, after losing his partner to a group of dirty cops
turns in his badge and begins a crusade against injustice with his new friend Amanda Montrose. Never mind that she's a thief - a very, very good one at that, and she also
happens to be immortal.
When asked about how he got started on the show Paul relates, "The producers approached me, the people doing the Highlander series--and they pitched the spin-off to
me. I think the reason that I decided to get involved was that I was a fan of the legacy, a fan of that type of Joseph Campbell journey; the hero thrown into the chaos and
mix. I like the idea of sword play but unfortunately, I was mostly destined to use my hand gun, being the cop, but eventually, I think, if the series would have gone on -
since they had decided to make him immortal at the very last episode; I think things would have changed dramatically after that."
According to both Paul and Elizabeth, The Raven was difficult to shoot and the long days and (mostly) nights were grueling for both cast and crew. To relieve the
tensions that built up, practical jokes were the thing of the day. "Yeah, you know, I think, I wasn't so sure of whoever pulled this prank on me, but continuously,
whenever I had something to drink in on the set - like, if I had a shot of whiskey or beer or I was drinking even a coffee - I don't know how or who it was, but it came
from Toronto all the way to Paris - every time I would take a sip of my drink someone had put drops of Tabasco sauce in it while they were shooting. It was this ongoing
joke that I was afraid to drink on that show because whenever I would take a sip - I'm obviously, I'm not going to be able to hide the fact that I've just swallowed a big
mouthful of Tabasco sauce. My eyes would water and I'd try and get my lines out. I mean, you could almost smell it, but they would hide it really well. One time, it wasn't
Tabasco sauce, one time it was garlic or something. They would always sour my drinks just to get a reaction out of me. But I never figured it out who it was."
Interestingly, however, Paul Johansson didn't get his start in acting. Before the six foot -three blond caught the acting bug he was on his way to playing professional
basketball and first acting job came as a bit of a surprise.
"How did I get started? A friend of mine went to an audition in Vancouver and he needed a ride so I drove him. While I was waiting in the lobby, he went in to his
audition and as he came out. He was the last person that they saw for the day and as they came out they saw me sitting in the lobby and asked me if I was "next"
and I said, 'No' and they said, 'Well, you know, why don't you come in, we'd like to meet you' and they gave me the job. It was for a movie called Matinee Massacres. I
don't know if it ever got released.
It was a horror film made in Vancouver in 1983."
Paul seemed to make the adjustment fairly well. "I enjoyed it. I was nervous, really nervous on the set. It was really strange but, it was just fun for me. I had no
aspirations of going much further but, as the years went on, I started to do more and more things. But finally, when I graduated from college, I was going to continue with
a professional basketball career and then I just said, 'Man, do the acting thing instead. Give it a shot at least.'."
Paul did just that and began to do more and more projects. To date he has done everything from Commercials (most notably as the Diet Coke Guy), to Television to Movies.
The list of what he has done just in the last two years since the end of Raven is very impressive. He's done several episodes in series, Andromeda being one just recently
and he's been very busy filming movies which are scheduled for release this year.
"This year I finished two two great projects I'm really proud of. One of them is called "John Q" which stars Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James
Woods, Ray Liota, Anne Heche - a terrific cast. I have a nice role in there. It's a lot of fun. I find him a very quirky, funny character - something I've never done
before; and because the film is such a heavy, dramatic project, a little bit of comedy will hopefully make you stand out. But, we'll see what happens with that one. That's
is scheduled for fall release and it is directed by Nick Casavettes and based on a novel written by James Kearns.- A New Line film.
Then I went straight from Toronto to Africa where I worked for three months on a project called "Berserker" - which the Highlander fans will love because it's
a sword based scenario; A group of Vikings are in the midst of a battle to run the Norse lands at the time. Thor calls upon Odin in order to win this battle and in doing so
he has to sacrifice his eldest son - which is me; and I become a minion of Odin's and I become basically immortal, in a sense, in as much as I'm soulless, because my soul
is now been forsaken to Odin. So, I now go on through time. It is very similar, living and dying. I can be killed but I'm reborn again - which is very interesting. Because
I rebel against Odin - I won't fall and become a pawn of his; he sends these men to kill me again and again. There's only several ways to kill us. It has a lot of battle
sequences. In the future you meet my character, his name is Barak."
So what was it like shooting Berserker? Paul explains; "I'm in, in an insane asylum for the criminally insane and strung up on chains in this room and as people
approach the room these infrared lights are triggered and the chains tighten and sort of pull at me and it's really bizarre and very difficult to shoot. But it's a very
interesting story. We shot it in Africa and it was a lot of work. We did eight weeks of nights so, uh, it was very difficult but I think we can have a great looking movie.
They built a replica, a real-sized long-ship for Vikings battles that we had and there are a lot of great battle sequences."
Another project we can look forward to is his "Glory Glory" (working title) which opens in London, July 15th.
But Paul Johansson is not just an accomplished athlete and actor, he also writes and directs. "I'll be doing something in the fall which is something I've written.
and I have to be honest - I know this might be disappointing to some people, but I think that, the writing/directing side of my life is much more fulfilling. There's a lot
more freedom. You wouldn't think so, but as an actor, you show up and somebody's designed your look and told you predominantly what type of scenario you're going to be
playing. They've given you your words. You work out with the director what you're going to be doing in terms of blocking in the shot and so the only freedom you have is in
the moment when you're acting and then, your emotions are your own and you can either manipulate them or let them happen as you see fit - as the characters wants and needs
sort of preclude you to accepting. So there's not that much freedom in acting. It's not that fulfilling. What is fulfilling is when you are - as they say, a very common
phrase in writing, "The God of your Universe" and as The God of your Universe, you get to determine people's fates and what realm you're going to write in, what
genre you're going to write in, how people sound, where they walk, what room they're in, what country they're in, what era they're in, you know, and when you direct it, you
have this incredible opportunity to convey this message to your keys, which are your Director of Photography, your actors, the wardrobe designer and set designer. Your
vision becomes materialized that moment when you first call action and people are saying your words - its stunning and humbling because you've, transformed into this new
world, this new realm of the creative process which is unbelievably rewarding. That's something that's difficult - once you've had that experience; to walk away from. You
want more and more."
So where does Paul Johansson see his future going? "Oh, I would never presume to have any privilege to knowing the future. I will tell you that I am a very
practical person and I'm certainly not one to just allow his fate to be determined by the Muses. I'm somebody who's going to be actively involved in where I'm going or not,
you know. It's going to be in my hands or it's probably not going to happen. I'm a self-determination person."
And Paul has a great philosophy about life. "I've always felt that you kind of write your own script as you go through life, by the things you do and don't do.
They're both just as important. In theory I'm aggressive. I aggressive in my career and I think its, uh, the only way to have any type of staying power in an industry that
is very unforgiving."
It is very clear the Paul Johansson has firmly taken up the reins of his life direction and is sailing into his future, calmly excepting the rough waters that may come,
but confident that both he and his future are in very good hands.
To learn more about Paul and his life, his work and his projects go to his official website at Paul Johansson Online.