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Photography by Ms Magdalena Wosinska | Styling by Ms Gaelle Paul
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

What's all this about you playing cards for a living when you first arrived?
That was my first job in LA, it's true. My buddy got me a job playing table games with this company's money. They had a system that you had to learn - and pass a test - then they had a big enough bankroll where they could just keep you gambling. It was crazy.
Sounds shady.
It was kinda like the Chinese mafia. It was a bunch of Chinese dudes and my buddy.
I'm seeing Ocean's Eleven - sharp suits and all that.
Nah. I wore a button-down shirt, that was as fancy as it got. I'm not really a fashion guy, unfortunately. I love my Levi's jeans. I did go through a period of wearing a bow tie and a cummerbund, though - I was working as a waiter!
Sounds as if you've had a few adventures in LA.
LA's a wild place. It's a really underrated city. And the adventure doesn't stop with the acting. The people out here are good at what they do. They really raise your game. In Chicago I could party a little harder, but out here, you got to keep your hat on, because people are going fast.
Your acting résumé has a lot of comedy on it. What is it with Chicago and comedy?
I know. All my heroes are from Chicago - Chris Farley, Bill Murray, John Belushi. I think it's because the Chicago improv culture is about being an ensemble. So you make yourself look good by making others look good.
At which point did you switch to acting? You started out as a writer.
In New York, I started having my plays produced, but I didn't like the direction that they went, so I started acting in them. And I got more credit for the acting than the writing.
Do you still write?
Absolutely. I've sold three different TV shows that I've developed at NBC, HBO and Fox - none of them were made into pilots, but still, I was paid to write them. And I just sold a movie idea, which Steve Carell is attached to, so hopefully we'll start shooting next year.
By the way, as time travel movies go, Safety Not Guaranteed is fantastic. But I have to ask, if you could go back?
I already know the answer. I wouldn't do it. Absolutely not. I'm one of those people who believes that once you change one thing, everything gets f***** with.
So what about the future then - what's next?
I'm shooting another small movie called The Pretty One. I would never have been offered this part if it wasn't for New Girl, I'm not kidding myself. And believe me, I didn't start getting paid as an actor till my late twenties, so there's no part of me that feels as if this is going to last forever. I just feel really fortunate.
What happened to spending the summer in Hawaii?
Ha ha! I have a big bark, but not much bite.

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