Becoming a digital force to be reckoned with herself, Ernestine Johnson, the girl you’ve surely seen before, you just may not know her name, is a talent deserving of so much praise. She stars in the new comedy, Digital Lives Matter, and we got the chance to catch up with this performer. Ernestine is no stranger to the business, she has actually been working it for years and with a skillset that separates her from anyone else, she has allotted herself a vision that will take her straight to the top.
This film was created partly for a comedy group, to have a story around them and I was fortunate enough to get the role of Erica who’s kind of like a sidekick in the movie and then a surprise romance, I don’t want to give too much away, so I’m just really fortunate to get the role and it’s a really really funny movie.
Having seen the trailer, the movie looks hilarious and having to be comedic was definitely a different experience for Johnson.
I’m actually a very serious actress so for me to be in a movie with all comedians, I mean literally everyone in the film is a comedian. They all do standup, they’re all famous for their skits they do online, and was the one, this serious trained actor so for me to be in a scene with DC and Emmanuel, when this is all they do, it was fun! It was different for me, and kind of challenging at times, because their improve kings.
Her experience in the film is no doubt learning one, having worked the highly acclaimed actress, Terri J. Vaughn.
I definitely learned a lot, her being an actress and now stepping into the directing game, this being her directorial debut, I was fortunate enough to be in the film that was her directorial debut and I don’t even think it was hard for her. She just stepped into that role and it just came natural. I know it was a learning experience for her, we were all learning along the way, and she’s a queen of comedy herself, so she knows comedy. She knows how to raise the stakes so it was really fun, taking direction from her.
I don’t know if an actor ever really gets a big break. Every role I get, every time I get to perform poetry, its all a big break, its all a part of my journey. I’m fortunate for every single job I get. I think the biggest thing for me, so far, as far as the exposure maybe, was the Arsenio Hall show because it got so many millions of views on the internet and that started to get my name buzzing, but all of it is a stepping stone a part of the journey, and every single job you get is a break.
There is no denying the fact that poetry has been a huge gateway for Ernestine Johnson. In many ways it opened the door for the world to see her as an artist, and as actress so it’s definitely a role in her life that she holds extremely close to her.
My poetry, I’d say, is me. That’s the true essence of me, anything you hear me spit, anything you hear me speak, are my words, I wrote them, my feelings. It’s fake when you’re acting and you’re playing someone else’s character but it’s a different type of energy when you write your own words and you’re able to perform them it’s a whole different energy. I use the poetry and I use the videos to keep my name buzzing. It’s 2016. Everyone wants to act, everybody is an actor and that’s great, but when you walk into an audition room, you’re just another actress sometimes. So, I’m like what else can I do to separate me so that when I walk into an audition its not that she’s just another actress, we know that girl, its we saw her face somewhere. I use that to get my face card out there. Its not necessarily all about your talent in this industry anymore, its about your face card, what does your face mean? How many followers do you have? What kind of followers do you have? What do you bring to my project? What do you bring to my movie? So when I saw the impact of the Arsenio Hall show, and how it went viral, I said, ok, that’s my natural God given gift, let me use that gift. Now every poem I write I am going to shoot a video for it, because no one else does that. And now my name is circulating and when I walk into these auditions they’re like oh hey we saw your video, or you’re the one who went viral. It is definitely strategic, as well as it is passionate.
What’s most fascinating is the fact that in 2016 we have poet that is going completely viral and achieving profound success. That’s not something you see everyday in an era surrounded by social media.
You think of poetry and the first name you think of is Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and those are great people who I look up to, but in this generation poetry is like a dead art, so I’m like hey, this is what I’m good at, I’m going to bring it back.
I’ve always wondered how easy it is to transition into a superstar, how you go from being known by few to becoming a digital platform with people following you and recognizing your work.
It’s been cool. Sometimes you forget that people know you from social media that they follow you and they know you. So sometimes when I’m out and people will come up and I’m looking like at them like do I know this person? And there like oh no I follow you, and I’m like oh yeah, I have a follower, this is awesome, nice to meet you.
The illusion, no doubt is that stars are made overnight. But that’s incredibly flawed. Most people spend so many years working and perfecting their craft before any doors to recognition are opened, and Johnson’s experience is not very different. She’s been navigating through show business for most of her life.
I don’t think you ever really learn the solution or the answer, I think it’s all just a freaking journey and you learn as you go. People think it comes overnight but I’ve been doing this since I was 10 years old, I had my first agent when I was 10 and I can remember being an extra in 1997 on The Parenthood and being on set of 7th Heaven with Jessica Biel, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I remember when I did the Arsenio Hall show it was so exciting and there was another poet who did the show before me and hit stuff went so viral. He did this amazing piece about custody of his son, so I remember I thought oh yeah I’m going to do the show and I’m going to go viral and all these amazing doors are going to open up. I’m going to poetry and going to do movies and my phone is going to be ringing off the hook. I did the Arsenio Hall show and nobody saw it and it sat, I took the footage, I put it on my YouTube page and that video sat at 11,000 views for a whole year. Literally 365 days. I was bummed out thinking God that other poet went viral, who come mine isn’t? How come people aren’t calling me? And this piece was powerful. I was kind of just in my head and discouraged, that whole year I kid you not it sat at 11,000 views and that was in April of 2014. A whole year later, April 2015, I’m in the Bahamas and my phone is just going off the hook. Tweets, Instagram, Emails, phone calls, I’m like what the heck is going on. I open up my phone and its like Average Black Girl 500,000 views, 600,000 views, one million, 2.5 million views, and watching the numbers go up, 5 million, and I’m like whoa, what the heck happened. And there was a website that posted it, upworthy.com and it went viral, I tell this story because it goes to show me God doesn’t work on your time, he wasn’t ready for it to go viral because you wanted it to, you weren’t ready for it. Now, I’m ready. I’ve got all these acting classes under my belt, and all these connections I’ve made and signed with a new agent, so now you’re viral and now you’re ready and its on My time and not yours. I had to learn that lesson. It’s never ending, it’s always a lesson; every ounce of it is part of the journey.
I didn’t do nothing different. You just have to understand that there are no shortcuts, and put in the work.
Recently, the look of Ernestine Johnson has changed, a beautiful, she decided to cut off all her hair and go the natural route.
I’ve been battling cutting my hair for two years, and about a year ago I was sitting in LAX waiting for a flight, and I just counted the weaves around me, and I swear I counted about twenty thousand dollars worth of weave. And it just didn’t sit right with my spirit and I said God we spend all this money on weave but we don’t own anything, but we will spend our last to buy this hair. I felt yucky that we spend all this money to look like somebody else, so I almost cut it then, but I got scared. Then a few months pass and I kept thinking about it and I’m big on working out, but you cant even workout because if you got an audition Tuesday and got to get your hair down Wednesday you gotta keep it cool until Friday to go to another audition and try and workout again Saturday. I was just tired of it, so I cut my hair off to let people know you’re beautiful with your natural hair short hair, long hair, whatever, you can be beautiful exactly how God made you.
It’s easy to admire her brilliance. The level of focus and intent she has on contributing to society and finding ways to hold herself accountable to be greater.
I’m not anti anybody, I’m just pro our people, and our people don’t invest, we don’t really think past the next week, or year, or five years, for the most part. And its not for lack of intelligence it’s a lack of information. A lot of the information out there is not put in or community. I went to an investment course and I was the only chocolate drop in there and I said wow, our people don’t even know about this class, this free class that’s right here about investing and we don’t even know about it, its not marketed to us.
Starting her own business, she definitely has a plan for herself that she is committing to working in effort to make all her dream sustainable
My goal next is to book a series regular on a show, I just wrapped an episode on a show, Shots Fired, that comes out next year with Sanaa Lathan, its going to be a very powerful show. I’m ready to just be working and never stop. I don’t wait, I create so I’ll definitely be in somebodies studio creating my own stuff.
In short, Ernestine Johnson is nothing short of amazing. She beams with brilliance. Her candor is honest and genuine as it is real, and connected to something deeper within her. In her car you’ll find her listening to Michael Jackson and when it comes to television POWER is the one show she watches religiously, each and every week, she actually has already claimed that she is no doubt booking season four so just wait and stay tuned for that. I think she has the perfect formula for success and her drive and intent to grow and learn will sustain her. It’s surprising to note that she still believes in hard copy CD’s, if you see her at an open mic or poetry jam, you wont find her with any iPod or iPad in hand, because she’s never owned one. Still connected to the world around her, she jots her words on paper and has a journal in hand. Digital Lives Matter may be her first lead role in a film, but this is still just only the beginning for what this talent is on the brink of. We cannot wait to see where this journey takes her next.
Written By: Keith Collins