Words by Mr Sanjiv Bhattacharya
Standing on a rooftop on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, the actor Mr Jake Johnson, 34, looks out over the hazy city and considers his options. "Here's what I'm thinking," he says. "I'll just stick with this TV show until the wheels fall off and start spending my summers in Hawaii," He laughs. "I've been talking to the wife about it!"
He's kidding but it might happen yet. The show he's talking about is New Girl, a hit comedy starring Ms Zooey Deschanel, which is about to head into its second season. Before it launched last year, few had heard of Mr Johnson. He was one of LA's many minor actors hustling their way into small roles here and there - there was a brief appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm, then Get Him to the Greek and 21 Jump Street. But now, he's booking leads. He's one of the leads in a small but perfectly formed movie opening soon, Safety Not Guaranteed, about a man who places a classified ad asking for a companion for time travel.
And while all this is happening, complete strangers are stopping him in the street. They know him as Nick Miller, the sensitive, earnest character of Ms Deschanel's three male roommates.
"I'm the relatable one, the Everyman," he says, in his raspy Chicago accent. "I guess I'm like Nick in some ways. There are times when he can be a bit of a dick, and I can relate to that. But it's because he just hasn't grown into who he's going to be yet, and it's uncomfortable. I feel the same way."
Our house was the kind where if an uncle was going to jail and had to go to court, he stayed with us
Mr Johnson's self-effacing manner stems in part from his Midwestern roots - they raise them differently in Chicago - but also his circuitous and often humbling route to success. Raised by a single mother, he grew up in a colourful home in the suburbs. "Our house was the kind where if an uncle was going to jail and had to go to court, he stayed with us. We had an open door policy." His dream of writing fiction took him to college in Iowa and then to New York, where he put on plays by night and worked jobs by day. But New York is a tough city to crack.
"The acting thing wasn't working out and I kinda hit zero," he says. "I lost my construction job so I thought, if I'm going to be broke, it's better to be broke in Chicago where I don't have to pay rent."
So he moved back home. The plan was to return to New York once he was back on his feet, but a woman changed his mind. "I was pretty serious about this girl in New York, and then I heard she was seeing another guy. And I didn't want to go back and bump into her on the subway with her new boyfriend. So in rebellion I moved to LA. That was 2004. I thought I would act in LA, do plays up in San Francisco and Seattle, and eventually make my way back to Chicago."
He points at the palm trees and the orange sunset. "But once I got here, I never left."
Mr Johnson starring alongside Ms Zooey Deschanel in New Girl
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED TRAILER