Lake Norman & Mooresville

Child actor thinks of 'Army Wives' role as a hobby

Davidson resident Jake Johnson runs around a backyard, alternately dousing others with his squirt gun and getting soaked by enemy fire. He's just like any other young boy, screaming, laughing, having fun with friends. There's just one difference.

"Cut!"

A director stands, and ends the scene that's being shot for the Lifetime series "Army Wives." Here, he is not Jake Johnson, but Lucas Moran. And there's a problem.

It looks as though Jake has blood dripping down his face.

But it's not blood. It's red hair dye used to make Jake look more like his TV parents and sibling.

Just another day in the life of a child actor.

Jake, now 11, began acting about six years ago, when he went to an open audition for the Will Ferrell movie "Talladega Nights." He was cast as the 5-year-old Ricky Bobby character, and had a great time on the set. He followed that up with several commercials and an episode of "One Tree Hill," and felt like he was "getting the hang of how everything goes," when he decided to audition for the pilot episode of "Army Wives."

He and his mother, Emily, traveled to Charleston for the audition, where 6-year-old Jake had a tough line to try out with: "Dad got the Ferrari of plasma screen TV's!" He nailed it, and after a callback, was cast as the son of Pamela and Chase Moran, played by Brigid Brannagh and Jeremy Davidson.

At the time, the Johnsons had no idea what might happen next. The series may not be picked up, or they may recast the child actors. Little did they know then that "Army Wives" would become Lifetime's highest rated series in history.

Fast forward to today, and Jake is currently shooting his fourth season. The process has presented logistical challenges, since the series is shot in Charleston and the Johnson family lives in River Run.

"We usually head down after school to be up the next day at 5 and start shooting," said Jake. "Sometimes I'm shooting for a day, sometimes four days."

"It was hard to get used to the first season, but now we have a pretty good system worked out," his mother said.

Though he had some butterflies in the beginning, Jake is usually comfortable in front of the camera, with one exception. "There was a scene where I had to burp at the dinner table - and I don't know how to burp," he recalls. "I was really nervous, so I went on You Tube to learn. I practiced every day, and did it the day of filming - and then they cut the scene!"

In addition to belching, Jake has learned other things as well. "There's so much waiting, you have to learn how to be really patient. You do a lot of waiting on the set, and then you shoot the same scene over and over, from all different angles."

Not that he minds. He's befriended much of the cast and crew, got to sit in the director's chair, and met all kinds of new people.

Though he thinks he'd like to carry on acting, he's content, for now, to treat it as a hobby. In every other aspect, the Woodlawn School student is just like other 11-year-olds, playing soccer, piano, drums and running cross country.

He just has head shots.

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