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Celebrity Interview: Actor and Bed & Breakfast Small Business Owner Bart Johnson

For longtime actor Bart Johnson, a little movie called High School Musical became the start of something new.

Virtually anyone with tween daughters should have October 24 highlighted on their calendar: the day that High School Musical 3: Senior Year is to be released in theaters.

Yes, the crazy popular musical is leaping from the Disney Channel onto the big screen, where millions of screaming pre-pubescents will watch Troy and Gabriella face the prospect of being separated from one another as they head off in different directions to college.

Bart Johnson will reprise his role from the first two films as Coach Jack Bolton, the father and coach of Troy Bolton, played by Zac Efron. Johnson, 37, lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Robyn Lively (the sister of Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively) and his 3 children, Baylen, Kate and Wyatt. In addition to acting, Johnson owns the Johnson Mill Bed & Breakfast in Midway, Utah, which Redbook magazine recently named “one of the 4 most romantic inns in the country.”

Johnson was about to embark on his directorial debut of a full-length feature film, The Run – a project based on his short film (which he wrote, directed and starred in) of the same name – when WHY caught up with him to chat about the release of HSM3.

Did you have any idea, any sense, that High School Musical would become such a global phenomenon?

Well, I like to tell people that I’m the only one that knew, because nobody knew, so someone's got to take credit for it (laughs).

No, it was a huge surprise for everybody. There were a couple of times during the first one where we thought, this is kind of unusual, this is not normal for a little movie. Everybody had done little movies, like this one was supposed to be, but there were a few kind of telling moments that were magical and big and had an epic feeling and that got you thinking that this is not normal, this could be big.

My daughter loves it.

That's my people. I want to say a special thanks to your daughter. I got a really nice residual check today. I'm really grateful for my people (laughs).

How did you get involved with HSM?

I've known [director, producer, choreographer] Kenny Ortega for years. My mom, who is a hair stylist, actually did hair for him on Newsies, so it kind of goes back a long way. [As a kid,] I hung out on the set of Newsies, and that was the first time I'd met Kenny. He’s been a friend of the family for years, and this movie came up that was going to shoot in Utah, and he called me one day and said, ‘Hey, listen, I'm doing this little movie – it’s just a tiny, little movie, there's no money and no one will probably see it – but come on up.’ I had a place in Utah, and he said, ‘I know you've got a place up here, and, if nothing else, we’ll have a really fun summer.’ I said, Absolutely. If Kenny tells me he’s interested in me for a part that he thinks I'm really great for, I'm going to do it anyway. Having it in Utah is kind of a nice bonus.

So I went on the audition at Universal Studios, and they put me on tape and the executives said no. They turned me down. They said I was too young for the part. I hadn't received a script, I didn't know anything about the project. I just went in and read for it, and Kenny Ortega fought for me… I had gone in with spiky hair, I was dressed wrong, but he fought for me and got me a screen test at Disney, and my mom had all these friends who were make-up artists, so they put gray in my hair and made me look older, and I wore more mature clothes, like a sports coat, to get rid of my youthful feel. And they bought it. So it was kind of a battle for a little while, and if it wasn't for Kenny Ortega fighting for me, I’d definitely not be a part of it.

I have to ask you this, or else my daughter will kill me. What was it like acting with Zac Efron?

Hey, again, she’s my people. We gotta answer her question!

Zac’s great. I love the guy. In the movies I'm not really dancing and singing – actually, I’m in one song this time, which was pretty awesome – but all my stuff is with Zac and usually alone, just the two of us, and it's usually really heavy stuff, the things that matter in life – lifelong decisions and relationships with your family, so I kind of feel like the luckiest guy in the show. Most of the actors, most of the lead kids, might have a word or two with Zac and that’s it. I get to have important work with an up-and-coming star, and I think he’s super talented. And he’s a really great guy, and we've become really good friends. We work out at the gym together in LA. We live right across from each other. I don’t really feel like the dad role, but I definitely feel like I have an older brother relationship with him a little bit, although he knows more about working out than I do. It’s really weird – I have been working out for, like, 20 years, and he's been working out for, like, 3. It's really funny.

Are your kids fans of the movies?

Well... my oldest is a boy, he's 5, and he calls it The Boring Movie. I catch him watching it sometimes, and I ask him why he’s watching it if it’s boring, and he says, ‘I just want to see how boring it is.’

Did you always want to be an actor?

I think so. I've been making movies since I was a little kid on video cameras – you know, two VCR players together and editing things, real old school. I grew up on the set of Mork & Mindy, The Brady Bunch and Charlie's Angels, because my mom was doing hair. So I was kind of exposed to all that stuff. I really liked the actors. Robin Williams was really cool to meet when I was kid. I remember him playing with me, as friendly and playful. Everyone was. They treat the hair and make-up people’s kids really well (laughs).

I had a good experience growing up with it, and later when I was hanging out on the Newsies set. It was in college when I realized that I could really do this, and I had opportunities come up, and I kind of jumped on them. So, yeah, it was always around, pretty close to me. When I was in my second year of college, I decided to go into it fulltime, and my mom for years would say, ‘I never thought I’d have kids in the business’ or ‘How did you kids end up in this rotten businsss?’ I’m, like, are you kidding me? I grew up in your trailer, on the set! How could I not?

Besides having an acting career, you’ve got a bed and breakfast too.

Yes, I don’t have much free time (laughs). I bought it two years ago. My family had it for about 10 years. It's this old flour mill, a great place, I love it, and they were struggling – it wasn’t really what my parents did. My dad’s a chiropractor, my mom’s a hairstylist for movies, and they just had this idea of opening a bed & breakfast. Basically, they quit their careers, so they could make eggs for people in the morning. It’s one of those fairytale stories, I guess, where they love people, they love the idea of it, and they love being home. They’re just not business people, though, so they didn’t really run it as a business. They ran it as a passion.

Basically two years ago, my dad was dying of cancer and my mom had to take care of him fulltime, so she couldn’t take care of it anymore, and they had to sell it. I thought about my family’s dream, passion and everything they worked for going away, so I stepped up and bought it from them. My mom is the head groundskeeper. She loves to put her hands in the soil. That's the one thing she asked me – she said, ‘Please let me be in charge of the grounds.’ She is, and it’s just beautiful all summer long.

Is there any talk of a High School Musical 4?

Everyone’s so hush-hush about it, but I try to weasel as much as I can out of them. From what I understand, it all depends on Number 3. If it does really bad, they would lose the talent attached, and if it’s huge, they’re talking about having 3, 4 and 5 in theaters and pretending the first two were never made.

I have a feeling it’s going to be huge.

All my bonuses kick in at $100 million, so I really hope so (laughs).

Categories: Celebrity Interviews