Chickasaw accepted into famed studio of acting
June 17, 2021
ADA, Okla. – Ezra Johnson is following the footsteps of some A-list, internationally famous actors with an eye toward his future.
The 24-year-old Chickasaw man – probably best known locally for his mixed martial arts prowess – has enrolled in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City. Among the school's graduates are Marlon Brando ("A Street Car Named Desire" and "The Godfather"), Robert De Niro ("Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver") and Mark Ruffalo ("The Kids Are Alright" and "The Avengers").
He is not relocating to the Big Apple, but is participating virtually. He will reenroll when the spring semester concludes.
"I made application to attend Stella Adler and was accepted," Johnson said. "The big surprise was tuition came due almost immediately."
He reached out to the Chickasaw Nation for financial assistance in attending Adler school, where top actors have enrolled since its founding in 1949.
"I am very grateful to the Chickasaw Nation for helping me realize this once-in-a-lifetime dream," Johnson said.
For those who downloaded the "AYA" fitness app, Johnson is narrator "William" who helps you get into or stay in good physical shape through walking. The AYA walking app is now available for download at no cost in the Apple App Store and with Google Play. AYA also synchronizes to Apple watches, Fitbits or other step tracking devices connected to Apple Health or Google Fit.
The voice-over gig is not his only one. He is also the voice of "Boy" in Chickasaw classical music composer Jerod Tate's "Spider Brings Fire" or "Cholhkanat Lowak Ishminti'" in Chickasaw, and voices "Nashoba" in a Chickasaw Nation children's web series.
The acting bug bit while he was a student at Byng High School.
He played roles in "Back to the '80s," "Our Leading Lady" and "By the Skin of Our Teeth" at Byng and took part in two productions with the Chickasaw Nation: "Bye Bye Birdie" directed by Chickasaw musician/composer Zac Garcia, and "South Pacific" directed by Natalie May, performing arts manager for the Chickasaw Nation Department of Culture and Humanities.
Since then, Johnson has branched out into films, portraying a funeral attendee in "Second Chances" with director Rick Walker; a football fan in "American Underdog" with director Andrew Erwin; and played a thief and served as a stuntman in "Changing Times" directed by Dr. Eugene Hawkins. In "Where's Vinny," he played "Dragon" and recently had a supporting role in "Skin Circuit" with director Marcus Pruitt.
He answered the call of the Chickasaw Nation again two years ago as an extra in "Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher." Filmed entirely in Oklahoma and directed by Nathan Frankowski, the movie tells the incredible story of Montford Johnson (no relation) who owned the largest cattle/ranching operation in Indian Territory.
In the passing lane
Working a full-time job, participating remotely in acting classes and planning a mixed marital arts match in Oklahoma City in late June, the aspiring Chickasaw actor has his schedule turned upside down.
"The first virtual learning sessions are geared for theatrical performances," Johnson said. "In June, the second round of live performance will be taught, such as blocking, learning lines, entering the stage and exiting the stage. It all is important. Every step. I am anxious to learn. The fall semester will focus on acting before a camera.
"When you think of Marlon Brando and all he accomplished, he basically transformed the skill of acting in the 1950s with 'A Street Car Named Desire.' Here is a tough guy who is human, experiences a range of emotions from anger to weeping, and brings the audience along his life's journey. I think he was the first actor to cry in a scene," Johnson explained about his favorite actor. "I have rented a lot of Brando movies and binge-watched them. To witness his transformation between 'A Street Car Named Desire' and 'The Godfather' is remarkable."
While Brando watched all his co-stars pick up Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress, he did not win Best Actor for "Streetcar." However, in a career spanning more than 60 years, Brando won Best Actor for "On the Waterfront" and "The Godfather."
"He could make a character come to life, and that is what I want to do as well," Johnson said. "If the director is willing, I will also bring a slightly different character to the stage for each performance."
Johnson purchased an acting method book penned by Adler and "could not put it down. I found myself rereading chapters to make certain I retained the training she offered," he said.
While Adler was a Broadway and film actress, she is remembered primarily for creating schools of method acting in New York City and Los Angeles. She died in 1992 but her schools continue.
In the fight
Johnson made a name for himself by participating in mixed martial arts locally. Since then, he has branched off into other areas of martial arts. On July 11, 2020, Johnson was bestowed an honor by the American Martial Arts Alliance (AMAA) as a "Who's Who Legends Award" winner.
Johnson's AMAA honor was a dream come true, because he met and trained with famed martial artist Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, a boxer, karate, judo, kickboxing and wrestling expert undefeated in a 20-year career. Wallace once held the world record when one of his kicks was clocked at 60 miles per hour during a kickboxing match; hence the name "Superfoot."
Wallace also is an actor, starring with famed marital arts moviemaker Chuck Norris in "A Force of One," along with others such as Elvis Presley, John Belushi, Jackie Chan and Michael Jai White.
"He is a legend," Johnson said of Wallace. "We've become good friends and I've traveled around the country attending his seminars and schools.
"Michael Jai White is an actor in demand. He and I met through martial arts and became friends. He encouraged me to start acting in movies and looking for a class to find the right technique for me," Johnson said of White, a mega-star in films "Blood and Bone" and "Never Back Down."
Johnson trains mixed martial arts enthusiasts in Ada each week while working full time and attending school.
He will take part in a mixed martial arts fight in Oklahoma City soon and is working hard to stay in shape for the contest.
"It is my debut fight with 'Rage in the Cage,' which is promoting the card," Johnson said. The contest will feature a trio of three-minute rounds where the 285-pound Johnson will fight a 315-pound opponent.
"I can kick to the legs, torso and head, and I can use my knees too," Johnson said. "Mixed martial arts is a combination of standing and grappling. If I throw a kick, and he catches my leg, he can take me to the floor." Punching is allowed, and both fighters will be equipped with mixed martial arts fighting gloves (thinner and lighter than boxing gloves) and a mouthpiece to protect them.
"The key is to be continually moving. It is a way of protecting yourself because if you do take some punishment, it is a glancing punch or kick. Moving keeps you from absorbing the full impact," he explained.
Johnson wants to combine both his loves – mixed martial arts and acting – into a career.
"I dream big, but I plan big, too," he said. "I work hard and will put everything I've got into an acting role or a MMA match. I am a Chickasaw warrior. Once my mind is made up, I will follow the dream as far as it takes me."