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The Merchant of Venice - Broadway

Al Pacino stars on Broadway in Shakespeare's classic.

Isaiah Johnson on Pacino-Worship and the Marvel of Merchant

Isaiah Johnson on Pacino-Worship and the Marvel of Merchant
Isaiah Johnson photographed by Jenny Anderson for at The Blind Barber
'I’m a southern boy with northern refinement.'

Age and hometown: 29; Anchorage, Alaska.

Current Role: Bringing a dollop of melodrama to the hit Broadway revival of The Merchant of Venice as Portia’s overenthusiatic suitor the Prince of Morocco.

An Auspicious Beginning: Though Johnson is making his Broadway debut in a Shakespearean classic, he started his career doing classics of a different sort. “My first play was Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” he says. “I was six and I played Papa Bear. I’ve played older ever since.” His musician parents inspired him to perform as a youngster, and a mother on active military duty inspired the wanderlust that would eventually lead him to New York. Johnson spent the first four years of his life in Seoul, South Korea (“Asian food is my first acquired taste”), then his family spent five years in Louisiana before settling in Alaska. “I’d say I’m a southern boy with northern refinement,” he says with a laugh, “though I’m pretty sure southerners won’t like that.”

Merchant Comes A-Calling: Fresh out of NYU’s graduate acting program, Johnson was considered for the Shakespeare in the Park production of Merchant, but his Equity status rendered him ineligible. The Broadway production was another story. “I sent in an audition tape at 3AM, after a couple of drinks,” Johnson says. “I hope [director] Dan Sullivan saw it; I’m sure it’s hilarious.” When he learned he had the part, Johnson had a tough decision to make. “I had gotten a part in a movie with Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski,” he says. “They even wrote a role for me, but I turned it down to do Merchant. There will always be movies, but the opportunity to do Shakespeare on Broadway? There’s no comparison.”

Broadway With the Big Dogs: Not only is Johnson doing Shakespeare on Broadway right out of the gate, he’s appearing in a show that stars Al Pacino. “I’m not gonna lie: The first day of rehearsal, I was a total tourist. I took a picture of my binder, I took a picture of like, Al’s feet walking by. I was that guy,” he says with a laugh. “I was giddy and excited. I was on a stage with Al Pacino and I had no idea how I got there.” His giddiness proved to be well-founded. “After the first read through I knew it was going to be a great show,” he remembers. “Everyone else probably already knew, since they had done it before, but I was blown away.”

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