TORONTO – She’s won a Gemini Award, released several albums and been on a slew of series, but when Alexz Johnson signed on to play a Los Angeles musician on the digital drama “Blue,” she felt like she was back at square one.
“On Venice Beach, there’s an episode where I’m performing a cover song … and they plugged my amp in and they just had me play on the street,” said the British Columbia native. “They hid the cameras so people couldn’t see that it’s a film set, so I had to just pretend that I was busking.”
“I was hoping a friend wouldn’t walk by or something and go, ‘Alex, wow, things aren’t going well!’” she added with a laugh.
The singer-songwriter-actress rose to fame playing a teenaged music competition winner on the Canadian series “Instant Star” that ran from 2004-08. She earned three Gemini nominations for the part, winning one.
She joined “Blue” for its third season, which recently started streaming along with the first two seasons on CTV EXTEND at CTV.ca and on the CTV GO app.
Her hippy character is dating the sister of Blue (Julia Stiles), a single mom who secretly works as an upscale escort. The sister is played by Stiles’ real-life sibling, Jane O’Hara.
“It’s the first bi(sexual) character I’ve played, and I took that pretty seriously,” said Johnson, 27, by phone from Vancouver. “She’s definitely got some issues. There’s stuff about her that we don’t really know.”
The enigmatic nature of her character leaves a lot to be explored, and Johnson is hoping to return next season.
“It’s just fun playing a character that’s so different from anything I’ve played and also just so different from me,” she said. “It was really challenging and I wanted it to be super authentic.
“It’s kind of scary sometimes going to unknown territory, and there’s a responsibility working with such amazing actors that I really took it on and it was a blast.”
“Blue” is from Emmy-nominated director and screenwriter Rodrigo Garcia, who helmed the 2011 film “Albert Nobbs” and developed the HBO drama “In Treatment.”
Johnson, who calls herself “a musician first and foremost,” said she got the part after Garcia saw her perform with a band in Los Angeles and met with her for coffee to ask her to be on the show.
She relished the chance to contribute songs to the soundtrack, like she did on “Instant Star.”
The short shoot also fit in well with her touring schedule, and she was intrigued by the idea of working in what she calls “the new wave of TV.”
Being in the burgeoning world of web TV and taking on a very different character are but a couple of the fresh starts Johnson has had lately.
Now living in Brooklyn, she’s found support amongst other musicians, the “broke, talented people who are willing to do favours,” she said with a laugh.
Johnson also recently signed with United Talent Agency and is putting the finishing touches on a new album she hopes to release this fall.
She describes it as “kind of like folk-soul, definitely some pop elements, but just a more independent feel.”
“My influences are much more throwback, Fleetwood Mac and Annie Lennox and Kate Bush and stuff like that,” said Johnson.
“So it’s quite eclectic, I hope, but very different than anything I’ve played from ‘Instant Star.’”
Johnson pledge-funded the album and raised enough money to record at New York’s Avatar Studios with producer David Kahne, who’s worked with artists including Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and Lana Del Rey.
“I’m super proud of it,” said Johnson, noting she and her management team are trying to figure out the best way to distribute the album.
“I feel like signing a major deal, which I’ve done in the past, isn’t really the be all and end all anymore. I feel like it’s more about having control and building a fanbase authentically. So for me it’s just touring, playing. It’s just going to take time, and I’m totally fine with that.”