*Midway through our interview, his dogs start barking in the background…
“Hold on just one second,” said Dan J. Johnson, lead actor in the new film “Safer At Home.”
And like we’ve all had to do a time or two during this pandemic, he left the Zoom screen for a moment to quiet down his at-home surroundings.
Upon his return, we both laughed, knowing how that short moment we just had, underscores the reality we’ve all been living in for the past year – needing to have a tad bit more understanding for each other and our new normal – WFH (working from home)!
“Triggering is a very apt word for it,” describing what it’s like starring in a movie that has a very real world and relevant connection to our current situation. “When I think about being at home, I’m trying to use this time as much as possible for growth, because I’m privileged enough to just be with my daughter and my wife,” he said.
Part of that growth, is expanding his own capacity for compassion and understanding of the human experience on a deeper level, and hoping others catch on.
Empathy. Plain and simple.
That’s all Johnson wants people to gain after watching this film, something you may not expect to get from a suspense-thriller.
“Empathy, it’s the one thing I hope people will start to work on more thoroughly, as say, wanting their coffee in the mornings. [Just] taking a step outside of their own shoes and into someone else’s,” he said.
The new thriller, directed by Will Wernick, takes place during the actual pandemic, with most of the film shown through the perceptive of a Zoom conference call among friends. In the film, Johnson’s character breaks the strict Los Angeles curfew and begins his journey on the run, after accidentally murdering his girlfriend. The film was shot during the Black Lives Matter movement protests, a time Johnson felt was important to highlight.
“While filming it was something I was hyper-aware of,” he said. So aware, he worked with Wernick to make sure the ending reflected the movement.
“It’s like giving the same chance to somebody who systemically has had a harder time, giving someone the same chance as someone who grew up in a white affluent background. That’s the thesis or part of the thesis for me when it comes to the black lives matter movement,” Johnson said.
Being that he’s biracial, mixed black and white, and too has had his own scary experience with being confronted by police as a 19 year old kid, almost arrested for a mistaken identity scenario, his passion for justice and compassion for these traumatic events experience by minority communities enabled him to connect even more with his character for this film.
“That to me is the only way…empathy is the only way unity will find a way,” he said.