- Jake Johnson is the voice of Peter Parker in the Sony animated movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
- He spoke to Business Insider about the fear he had for over a year while working on the movie that he would be replaced by a bigger-name actor.
- He recounted the moment he had with a group of kids when it hit him that he would now be known as an actor who played Spider-Man.
- And Johnson talked about some of the funny ideas he had for his memorable Lowery character from “Jurassic World” if he returned for the sequel.
Jake Johnson is not a household name – yet – which may explain why he was so nervous that Sony would come to its senses and replace him as Peter Parker in its ambitious animated Spider-Man movie.
Thank goodness that never happened.
The hype for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (in theatres Friday) is building, with critical acclaim and Oscar buzz. And you can trace a lot of it back to Johnson’s self-deprecating, past-his-prime portrayal of Peter Parker. It’s a side we’ve never seen of the legendary character, despite the countless versions of Parker that have been done in live-action movies and cartoons.
And Johnson couldn’t be a better fit to do it. Known for his laid-back comedic style on the TV show “New Girl,” and movies like “Let’s Be Cops,” “Tag,” and “Jurassic World,” Johnson’s voice and style matched perfectly with the overweight, sweatpants-wearing Parker who mentors the newest Spider-Man, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), in the movie.
Business Insider chatted with Johnson about the negative voiceover experience he had on another project that made him so paranoid he was going to lose the Peter Parker job, why it took over two years to voice the character, the touching moment with kids that made him realise he’s now part of the Marvel universe, and if we’ll see his Lowery character in “Jurassic World 3.”
Jason Guerrasio: Peter Parker being out of shape, dealing with a breakup with Mary Jane, and wearing sweatpants, was all that fleshed out in the script when you got it or did those things evolve over time?
Jake Johnson: You know, it was kind of there, to be honest. The original vision from [producers] Chris Miller and Phil Lord from the start was their version of Peter. When I was brought on board I put my own spin on it and tried to make it be my own, but the core of who he is was really there on the page.
Guerrasio: And I would imagine that was an exciting challenge to take on because we’ve never seen this character this way before.
Johnson: Absolutely. It was really exciting for me. Everything about this version of Peter I found neat. I’ve never imagined a superhero past his prime that wasn’t in a comedy about superheroes. I also really liked that as the movie goes on you see that Peter Parker’s still got it.
Guerrasio: You’ve been involved with this movie for two and a half years. For voiceover work that’s kind of uncharted territory. Generally for stars, voiceover work is a fun quick job. You come in, do your work for a few weeks to a month, and get out. Did you know this would involve that kind of commitment?
Johnson: Honestly, knowing Chris and Phil and having worked with them before briefly, they are guys who never stop working. I remember I did a scene with them in “21 Jump Street” and we must have improvised that scene for countless hours. So I knew they are guys who are going to explore an idea and a joke from every which way. And if you look at our directors Peter [Ramsey], Bobby [Persichetti], and Rodney [Rothman], every one of them was an Alpha dog. So I thought we have five very strong voices and our producer, Christina [Steinberg], who was always there. I felt, “We’re going to get dirty on this one.” And we did. But as an actor I was shocked at how much joy I got. It felt like pure acting to me that I didn’t expect.
Guerrasio: But two and a half years, there have to be lines you’ve said so many times for this movie that you never want to say again the rest of your life.
Johnson: [laughs] It wasn’t like I was recording it every day for two-plus years. I always had a chunk of time in between. I mean, and I’m not saying this as some promotional line, I really loved playing Peter Parker. I was always excited to get back into it. The monologue, “My name is Peter B. Parker and I was bit by a radioactive spider,” I did that monologue probably 35 to 40 different times. I would come back and they would say, “Hey, we made a little tweak, we’re doing the monologue again,” and I would just be like, here we go.
Guerrasio: And is it true that when you got the role Sony wouldn’t let you announce it for like a year and a half?
Guerrasio: What was holding that secret like?
Johnson: That was tricky because I was really excited about it. And when I got the gig I started recording soon after so I knew about the Spider-Verse and Miles and the creation of all these characters and the team that the Spider-Verse was creating. I knew this thing was going to be special. So it was hard not to talk about it.
Guerrasio: But as an actor, for that year-plus you had to been thinking, “These guys can cut me at any time and get someone new for this and no one would know.” Was that swirling through your head?
Johnson: Absolutely. That has happened to me many times in this business. I’m not going to name the names out of respect, but I’ve done entire voiceovers for movies. Movies that have a voiceover throughout it. I’ve laid down the tracks with the directors, and then I found out later they were using that as a temp track. So that’s part of the business. They hear the voice and something’s not right and it’s an easy fix. They have this rhythm and they are like, “Now let’s see if somebody else’s voice sounds better.”
Guerrasio: I mean, that must be such a punch in the gut.
Johnson: Oh my god, hey, a big part of this business is just getting punched in the gut. But on this, Sony started announcing other actors but they hadn’t announced me and I thought, “C’mon man, I was born at night but not last night. I know what’s happening here!” I thought for sure I was getting replaced by some huge name that’s in all the superhero movies. And then I got the call that they were announcing me and it was such a relief.
But in all seriousness, this isn’t spin, there are money jobs everywhere in this business but the reason I didn’t want to get cut out of this movie is because I really hope to keep playing Peter. I like it. I really want to see another script. I really want to know what happens to him and MJ. And I also don’t want to be in the writer’s meetings, I want to see the script.
Guerrasio: I mean, if anyone’s earned it I think it’s you. I think you can jump on the table and demand it.
Johnson: [laughs] Thank you, man.
Guerrasio: Shameik is so great in this, especially the scenes where Miles and Peter interact. Were you two able to record in the same room?
Johnson: We did, and it helped a lot. When I first started doing Peter alone in a room I would just read the lines as is and then when it would be Miles’ lines I just imagined Shameik would deliver it as a kid. So, like the line, “Sorry, kid, but it’s just not your time,” you imagine saying it to a little boy. There’s a little sweetness to the delivery. But with Shameik, who gave more confidence and a swagger with Miles, I didn’t feel I needed to sugar coat the lines. I could talk to him more like a peer. So the whole tone was now, “I’m sorry man, but you just don’t have it.” That turn from, “Hey, sorry kid,” to that didn’t happen until we were face to face and doing full scenes locking eyes.
Guerrasio: How about Nicolas Cage, who voices Spider-Man Noir in the movie? Did you get to be in the same room with him?
Johnson: That’s a heart breaker, but no. And, I asked, too. I said, “If there’s any chance,” and they said, “If we can pull strings we’ll get you to him.” But it didn’t happen. I really wanted to. But I got to record with Kathryn Hahn. She is Doc Ock, so we got to do that scene where she reveals herself as Doc Ock and we got to do our dialogue together and we improvised. The directors actually would just yell out, “Try this,” and would hand us written lines in the moment. It just felt like old-school acting. Just getting in there and doing it.
Guerrasio: Has it hit you yet that kids will be seeing this movie and you will be their first Peter Parker? You will be the one introducing them into this world.
Johnson: I’ve been really lucky with my career in that I’ve been working for the last decade, but I mostly make things for grown ups and old teens. This is the first time where in the schedule they have made time for me to do stuff like go to the Ronald McDonald House of the Children’s Hospital in LA and visit kids. They have no idea who I am, but when they are told I play Peter Parker they want the autograph to say “Peter Parker.”
Johnson: I can sit here and talk to these kids and all they want to talk about is their favourite characters in the movie. None of them are ever Peter. [laughs] But they all love Peter, they ask me to say lines from the movie in the voice, and I felt that was so cool. That’s when it kind of hit.
Guerrasio: How’s your Peter Parker signature?
Johnson: It’s tough, man, I just started doing it the other day.
Guerrasio: Last one, and we’re going to make a sharp right here, so indulge me. Will Colin Trevorrow make things right and bring your Lowery character back for “Jurassic World 3”?
Johnson: [laughs] I thought it was pretty sad that Lowery wasn’t in “Fallen Kingdom.” It was sad that Lauren Lapkus [who plays Vivian in “Jurassic World”] wasn’t there. I’m like, “How are you not going to see what happens with those two?” Now, Lowery was in an early draft of “Fallen Kingdom” and years ago there was a moment where [franchise screenwriter] Derek Connolly was pitching me some of the Lowery bits. We were talking about Lowery is a different guy because of what he went through in the first movie. Like he’s got a huge ponytail now. I pitched that he’s got sleeve tattoos.
Guerrasio: He’s been through the s–t.
Johnson: Yeah, you know, he’s seen some things. He is now a different guy. The trauma of seeing a dinosaur attack really messed him up. I thought we could have some fun. [laughs]
Guerrasio: So where do things stand now?
Johnson: If my number is called to bring Lowery out of retirement I will gladly grow the mustache and put the glasses on, and if it doesn’t happen, I wish the best for the franchise.
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