Mallori Johnson Was Obsessed With This Vampire Book Before Kindred
The actor also reflects her leading role in FX’s adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel.
During her last quarter at Julliard, Mallori Johnson was learning everything she could about auditioning — how to dress, how to study a scene, and how to interact with casting directors to anticipate what they want. But when the opportunity to try out for the role of Dana James in FX’s Kindred arrived, it was her love of Octavia E. Butler’s seminal sci-fi novel that gave her an edge in landing the role. “I kind of knew the fundamentals of who this character was,” Johnson tells Bustle. “And I just tried to apply it as best as I could.”
The 24-year-old actor’s mother first introduced her to Butler’s 2005 vampire novel Fledgling. “I thought it was so dope being able to see this young Black girl who was a vampire,” she says. “That was something that I was never really exposed to as a kid. Everything that I had read had a white narrative in the forefront. So, I was like, wait, I need more of this.” Johnson eventually picked up Butler’s 1979 classic, Kindred, and just a few years later, she nabbed her first TV leading role in the long-awaited adaptation.
In Kindred, Johnson plays Dana, a young Black woman living in 2016 who keeps getting abruptly transported to a plantation in the early 1800s. She soon learns her time-travel ability is tied to Rufus, the plantation owner’s son, leaving her with a heartbreaking duty: protect him so he can grow up to rape one of her enslaved ancestors and ensure her lineage.
Playing a character who withstands so much emotional and physical torment left Johnson astonished by her character’s strength. “She's really going through it in this story, especially bouncing between two different worlds in two different spaces in this extremely discordant, confusing, and uncertain way,” Johnson says. “Dana is just someone who's a pillar of strength to me.”
Despite the show’s often heavy subject matter, the cast did find small moments of levity on set. “I turned 24 on the set of Kindred, and there was just this moment where everyone was dancing. They brought me cupcakes; we were singing ‘Happy Birthday’ right in front of the lake,” Johnson recalls. “That was one of the only moments where I got to fully feel what I was doing, be present to this opportunity, and how joyful and grateful I was for the opportunity to be around all the wonderful artists that I had met on that set.”
Johnson hopes to return to set soon and is crossing her fingers that FX renews Kindred for Season 2. But until then, she is looking forward to people seeing her next role in Season 4 of the National Geographic series, Genius. “The character that I play is really cool. She's unlike anything that I have done before,” explains Johnson, who adds that the new season will be about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. “I won't say too much, but I'm very excited for people to see a different side of me.”
Below, learn more about Johnson in her Bustle Booth questionnaire.
In The Bustle Booth
What's your coffee order?
Dunkin Donuts, Large, Original Blend with a shot of espresso and a dash of almond milk.
What are the saved weather locations on your phone?
New York, ATL, San Diego
What’s your sign?
Favorite overused movie quote?
This isn't overused, but my favorite quote is Jim Carrey's line in The Grinch. "I'm an idiot," and the echo replies, "You're an idiot."
What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?
What’s one movie or TV show you're currently obsessed with?
Key & Peele
Who is your celeb idol?
If you had to be on a reality TV show, what would it be?
Love Island, just for the drama and to give relationship advice.
Go-to karaoke song?
“Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse
What’s something that’s inspiring you lately?
How happy my dog, Hero, always is, no matter what.
What is something you would want people to say about you?
That I'm a kind person.