Je’Caryous Johnson is the methodical mastermind behind popular stage plays like Things Your Man Won’t Do and Married but Single. His latest production, Two Can Play That Game is a hilarious adaption of the film featuring Vivica A. Fox’s reprisal of her lead role. Currently touring, the show is receiving rave reviews from audiences and critics.
Featuring a who’s who of Black Hollywood, Johnson’s productions have grossed close to $100M. As a meticulous genius of his craft, he insists on being involved in every aspect of his productions.”I gotta watch it and know how to do every facet of my business,” he says. “I’m probably the only person on the planet that writes, produces, promotes … props, design, sound — everything!”
Rolling out recently spoke with the Houston native about his current project, which classic film he’s adapting next, which R&B legend he will honor onstage and more.
Tell us about Two Can Play That Game. How do you decide which pieces you’re going to adapt to the stage?
Most of the time it’s the pieces that I personally like. Whether it’s a book or a movie, if I personally like them, then I already have a passion to go through the adaption process. It’s a very difficult process to try to go through to try to keep the integrity of what existed that people love and then create something fresh and new in a different medium, because it’s not the movie, it’s the stage play, so I have to capture all of those moments that you loved about the movie.Then I have to give you a storyline that can introduce some new ideas and new concepts while remaining true to the architect of what it was.
I operate my business on three different verticals. I have what’s called the classic series, which Two Can Play That Game is one of them and I have Set It Off coming up shortly. That’s also a movie that I’m adapting. And then I have my legacy series. My legacy series is the Luther Vandross story, the Destiny’s Child story, that’s coming up. And then I have my original series, which is like my Married but Single franchise, which is the first TV franchise coming.
How do you determine who will play the roles?
Well, it depends show by show. When I write the play, I think about who fits the character and who would deliver the roles the best, and that’s who I go after.
Why didn’t you bring Morris Chestnut back for Two Can Play That Game?
He wanted to do it, but he had a movie that basically was the exact same window of time, and because of that movie, he was unable to do it.
How is working with vets like Vivica and Carl[Payne], versus newer talent like Porsha Williams and Vivian Green?
With Vivian Green and Porsha Williams, though they don’t have any formal training, I would have to say that in their scenario, ignorance is bliss because there’s nothing to impede them from just taking direction and just trusting. And because of that, they’re brilliant … you can’t tell that they haven’t been acting for years because they’re holding their own against vets who have been acting for years … sometimes if I don’t know something, I don’t follow the rules. And when you don’t follow the rules, you’ll be amazed at how you’re able to open doors that folks told you weren’t supposed to open. They don’t know the rules, so all they know is to do what you’re directing them to do, and all they know is to just trust and be believable.
Is Vivica going to be in Set It Off?
No, I don’t think I’m going to have Vivica come back to back like that. I’m probably going to have Da Brat to play Queen Latifah’s role. People don’t know she was up for that role when they originally did the movie. I’m creating a musical out of it. Vivica doesn’t sing. But I think somebody like Brandy would be nice. And she is on the soundtrack, so I think she would be interesting. In the Luther Vandross story, a piece of me thinks that Reuben Studdard would be good.
How many play/films have you done?
I guess about 22 plays. I’ve done plays that folks don’t know about, like the Emmett Till story
way back in the day. The Emmett Till story was one of my first pieces.
Do you feel a responsibility to integrate what’s doing on in the world into your plays?
So I’m living Trump right now, I’m seeing racism come to life in ways that I’ve never seen. I’m seeing cops blatantly saying they’re going to kill people and blatantly choking people in public and killing them. I’m seeing all these things happen and I think I have something to say, but I’m going to say it in a very different way because I think I’m going to say it with Hispanics, I think I’m going to say it with Blacks, I’m going to say it with Middle Eastern people, since we blame them for all terrorist acts. I’m going to say it with some White folks, I’m going to say it with some Jews.
I keep asking myself what happens if I put everybody in the same place at one time. Somebody from 9/11, somebody from Hurricane Katrina, somebody from Iraq … just put them all in the same place, and then what if I put Trump’s daughter in that room at the same time. I’m going to pressurize the situation and make it so hot that tempers are going to explode and go off and we’re going to find out if the Katrina victims were less or more fortunate than a 9/11 person. And whether Melania [Trump] is above or below anyone else…I’m going to pressurize it in such a way that it’s just going to be real!