During our phone call, I got to learn more about the man behind Scorsese, the talented and charismatic actor of FOX’s action dramedy “Lethal Weapon”, Johnathan Fernandez.
In the show, Fernandez plays ‘Scorsese,’ the dry-toned cinephile medical examiner for the LAPD. Given the nickname Scorsese after his peers learned that he attended film school, he is an integral piece of the crime solving team that Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) and Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford) turn to when they need some forensic help. A Penn State graduate and Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) alumni, Johnathan is proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment landscape. In addition to his extensive credits related to the UCB, his resume includes appearances from HBO’s “Girls,” CBS’ “Bull,” TruTV’s “Adam Ruins Everything,” TV Land’s “Younger” among others. It was truly interesting to sit down and talk more to the man behind this character.
So, let’s talk about your role on “Lethal Weapon”. It’s a film franchise turned television series, so how does that make you feel? Is this experience a very surreal moment for you?
Yeah, it’s pretty insane because I was a tremendous fan of all the movies, one through four. They’re great, especially the first one, I know very well–I’ve seen it about 10,000 times. I don’t know what I would have told myself, you know 10 or 15 years ago, when I was younger that I would have been apart of the television series. My mind would have just completely exploded and it’s the biggest shoes to fill and I know if I was a regular consumer and not part of the show I would have been like “Alright, show me what you guys got!” but it’s probably not gonna be my favorite show in the world, but I was proven wrong from the get go. When I first read the script, Matt Miller really wrote an amazing script for the pilot. And seeing that Damon [Wayans] was involved, obviously he’s a comic icon and I’ve always been a fan of his, and Clayne [Crawford] I was a big fan of him on Rectify and I couldn’t believe he was apart of it either and not to mention the rest of the cast like just to be able to be in a show with Keesha Sharp, Kevin Rahm, and Michelle Mitchenor was just insane right away. And it was really cool to just see it all come together especially once we first watched the pilot, I was like “Wow, this is actually super legit!” and I think people are really gonna like it so I was very proud to be apart of it.
Do you see parts of yourself in the character you play?
Yeah, this is a conversation I’ve had a lot of times with a lot of different actors. And, I think when you sink your teeth into a role, you’re always trying to find the crowbar separation between yourself and the character because it definitely works itself out where the characters you play is like an alternate universe version of yourself because that’s the way you can tell the most truth. If you can relate to the character yourself, seeing the world that you know, but through the lens of the character so you’re making decision the way your character would, but they’re not very different than your own–it’s just that I for instance didn’t go to medical school, but if I had, this is probably be what I would be like. Especially because he has very similar interest through what I have. Like, I’m a big cinephile and I love nerd stuff and comic books and I’m assuming he also watches anime. And, all those things put together, it’s like he is me and also he and I are not at all the same. It’s weird. It’s like I’m on both sides of the spectrum.
How has being on the show impacted your life?
It’s been really interesting because it feels like everything has changed and at the same time nothing has changed. And I think part of it is that people project onto you. You know family members or whoever, they expect a certain change to come from you, but it’s like well that doesn’t have to be like that, you don’t have to all of sudden start acting like the complete opposite of what you have been like a week or months before you started doing this kind of work. You know it’s hard to say because you initially are working towards this one goal and it’s very jarring to reach that goal and realize you have to recalibrate and make a new one because now that you realized it you’re like: “Oh. Okay, cool. I wanted to be a series regular on television, but now that I’m here what do I wanna do with that” and what’s been cool about “Lethal Weapon” is that everyone works hard on that show and you can tell when you watch it. And, to be able to proud of something like that and to be able to tell people to watch it, it’s really cool and it obviously opens up other doors. I’ve been able to meet so many people that are very fascinating and go to events because of this show and also be on other shows because of this too, so it’s just like interesting to see how that affects your resume in a very positive way. And also that allows me to do more philanthropy because the fact of the matter is that people wanna care more about certain charities or certain vocations because celebrities are involved and it’s really cool to be able to use that for good to where its like: “Hey! Check it out. I’m doing this thing to save the dog and cats of this world or helping veterans or helping to try to instill human rights” and if you guys are doing this because you really like “Lethal Weapon”, then great, I would absolutely use that for good. So, it’s been really great to see the positive influence from the show. But, at the same time, me and my wife we are hanging out more now than ever before. We have a pretty different schedule from what we had in New York and it’s nice to be able to be with her as much as possible. She’s along with me on this ride and doing her own thing, she a floral designer, and it’s cool to be doing those thing, so that hasn’t changed. Like were not party animals, we don’t go to bars, we don’t drink really. We work out a ton together, and we like eating food, and trying out new foods, and eating a tons of ice cream and we’ve been doing all those things before “Lethal Weapon” also. I think it’s also interesting to see what has changed and what hasn’t.
I did see that you have been in lots of different works throughout your career, what has been your favorite role to play?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to come from a comedy background through the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York. And I say that because when you do comedy, you do a lot of silly things, and wear a lot of silly costumes, and make a lot of silly faces and say things that are like “I hope this doesn’t haunt me forever” because I probably shouldn’t be saying this thing, and it’s been cool because that just has made a very concrete foundation for me in terms of where I think my strengths lie as well as what my limits are, if any. Trying to relate this back to television and film, it’s been clear that the comedy portion of things has really kind of steered the direction in going on the terms of bigger and better, so I’m always ready to do more and more and more. And, the role on “Girls” was one of those roles that were just like it was a super awkward situation for that character to find himself in because Jessa’s ex-girlfriend fakes her own death to get out of a relationship with Jessa and I was the husband of the now reformed ex-girlfriend, and it was only like a moment and I was like man I wish they could like in the script or future episodes explore that more because it’s like the most awkward situation ever so that was cool. And also you know just an appearance in “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them”, and being able to be in a film where I get to punch James McAvoy in the face and still be friends with him afterwards. And both of those things were before “Lethal Weapon”, but since then it’s been nice to do stuff where I can just spread my wings a little bit more. I did a film in the hiatus last year called “Can’t Have You” which has not come out yet, but during that movie I met a lot of people and we were out in Palm Springs for two weeks shooting this indie film and that was a lot of fun. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten that offer if I wasn’t on a show like “Lethal Weapon” and it kind of like just changed the landscape and I also got to do a guest star on the show “Bull” on CBs and *spoiler alert* I was the killer in the end, but yeah being on a show like this on FOX has just kind of elevated things in a really nice way.
I read that you got into comedy during your time at Penn State, how did that happen?
That was from a random email. I was in the college of communications at Penn State. And I received this email from this guy Jeff Cornbird saying that he was outstanded that an institution the size of Penn State did not have an improv troupe, and he wanted to start one up. And he was like we’ll start doing improv short form games like “Whose Line is it Anyways?”, so I showed up because I’ve always like like laughing, I really liked that show, and I liked making jokes and being funny in general. And we showed up and I’m friends with pretty much all these people to this day and that was like, I don’t know, like 15 years ago, I guess. And from then on, it became a big part of my life and where it’s like all I thought about. And when I moved to New York as soon as I graduated, I went straight to the Upright Citizens Brigade and started getting involved there taking sketch classes and improv classes and the first ever thing I booked was a Matt Walsh film. And he was one of the founding members of UCB and I was asked to do an impression of Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” for the short film he did and that was kinda what put me on that path of meeting all those people, all those improvisors, getting on a team called Stone Cold Fox shortly thereafter and we were together for 6 ½ to 7 years and those people are family and being able to do that and see them grow, and now so many of them are on television and in movies and it’s been so cool to grow up with them as this weird comedy graduating class because that foundation has just helped me out every single day I’m on any set, “Lethal Weapon” or any set.
It’s really cool that an email was able to jumpstart your career like that.
Yeah because otherwise I have been in school plays twice and I did a musical. I was an ensemble member of “Kiss Me, Kate” in high school. Otherwise though I never thought about getting into entertainment at all. Not even a little bit, so that email really did change because then it was like oh this something I’m exploring for the first time ever.
Aside from television and comedy, what have you been really into lately?
I’ve been watching a lot of “Death Note”. I’ve been watching a ton of that and just like really getting influence from that to finish all these pitches I have for various animations, so I’m slowly starting to work on these animations projects that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and thats been just because I’ve been really into “Death Note” and “Attack on Titans”–
I love that!
I know! And, I’m like in the middle of season two and I don’t want to finish it because it’s going to take forever for the next one to come out so I’m just slowly digesting it. And i’ve been learning Japanese also. I’ve always, always wanted to know that language and I never have. I do speak spanish but obviously it’s nothing like that. I’ve been slowly teaching myself or taking lessons on Japanese as well as wanting to consume more and more of it. I think I’m gonna just kinda keep having anime on in the background at all times so I can absorb as much as possible. And other than that, I have a short film that I just finished writing this week and I want to shoot that when “Lethal Weapon” goes on hiatus, and cast hopefully some friends and have a friend direct it. And it’s really great to feel that slow milestone because I’ve never written a short film and I finally achieved that.
I also heard that you ride motorcycles, how old were you got your first bike, and what was that like for you?
I was pretty old, I actually just posted a video of me riding a motorcycle on Instagram (@jthanprime) which is funny that you mentioned that because I usually don’t post that much about my motorcycle life. But yeah I had ridden my neighbor’s at home. He had a mini bike and I had ridden that a couple times. And, being from the Poconos, a slightly rural area of Pennsylvania, a lot of those people have dirt bikes or ATVs so I’ve kinda been around it but I never had the push to get one or ride one around because my parents weren’t into that and so it kinda just never seemed like a reality but I’ve always kinda wanted one. So years and years later when I became established in my career, I got a Vespa and I was like this is great and then two weeks later I was like I want a Harley because that was what I really wanted. And so that was like maybe four year ago and so the Vespa was cool, but the Harley was just a whole different story and I’m not a speed demon, I don’t like taking chances, I don’t like driving like a maniac, so you know I just kinda gravitated towards a Harley because it’s just like chilling on that bike. And as much as going fast is kinda cool, I prefer just going 55 mph cruising down the highway. It’s just like the best speed because things aren’t whizzing by too quick, and you have time to take in your surroundings, and you have a lot of time to make decision, and its nothing crazy, you’re just straight up chilling. And you know my next bike probably will be what they call a “grandpa bike”. Like one of those big bike with the monitors and people that are like old as hell are on them and the chairs are like office chairs and they have arm rests and everything. Like I am so down with those bikes because they’re like riding a winnebago for yourself and your partner. Like they’re so comfortable. And I don’t care how “uncool” they might be for someone younger but I just love it and there’s nothing like hanging out on two wheels like that. And, I’ve met a lot of cool people because of motorcycles. It’s been a very great icebreaker because people who are into bikes wanna talk about bikes, and so I’ve made a lot of friends being like “Yo! I heard you like bikes, is that true?” and they’re like “yeah!” and it’s like “do you wanna go ride?” and it’s like yeah and it feels like back when you’re in a playground and you’re a little kid and you don’t need to know much about a person to hang out with them for the entire afternoon in the sandpit and it’s exactly that same thing where you’re like hey you like this thing so do I, cool lets go do that thing. It’s been really eye opening in how friendly it makes you be with other people that have that common interest.
It’s really cool and interesting that there’s this whole underground biker culture.
Yeah, that’s how I became good friends with Tricia Helfer. Because I knew her and Katee Sackhoff were huge bike people and I was a big, big fan of “Battlestar Galactica” and so when I met her I was like “Yo! Bikes, right?” and she was like “Yeah! Bikes!” and I was like “Cool! Let’s go ride!” and yeah she’s become a good friend. And it’s just a really interesting thing. I’ve never thought of it as a subculture, I mean obviously it is but I’ve never thought about it that way so it’s interesting to see how many gaps are bridged because of that shared interests.
To see more of Johnathan Fernandez, tune into FOX’s “Lethal Weapon” on Tuesdays at 8/7c!