'The Mummy': Jake Johnson on Becoming "Tom Cruise's Sidekick" and Stumbling Into Blockbusters

Johnson says there wasn't even a script for the movie when he came onboard: "As a kid who was raised in the '80s, the idea of doing an action-adventure with Tom Cruise was so great, I was like, 'Sign me up!'"
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Tom Cruise (left) and Jake Johnson in 'The Mummy'

Jake Johnson, the actor known for his role in Joe Swanberg films and on Fox sitcom New Girl, has forged a new path for himself as the comic relief in big-budget summer blockbusters. And since that means acting alongside one of his screen idols, he's not complaining. 

Now starring in Universal's The Mummy with Tom Cruise, Johnson has found himself in his second larger-than-life action franchise, following 2015's Jurassic World, in which he played a control room employee alongside Lauren Lapkus. The duo provided one of the most memorable scenes of the film when he went in for the big token action-movie kiss that doesn't quite materialize

Johnson is now back in another action flick that also happens to be part of a franchise (a whole universe, in fact), stepping into the role of Chris Vail, Nick Morton's (Cruise) business partner and sidekick. 

Though he was never really aware of the Mummy movies growing up, Johnson says when approached by director Alex Kurtzman for this part, he jumped at the chance in order to work with Cruise. There wasn't even a script at the time: "I just loved the idea of being in an action-adventure with Tom Cruise."

Even the grueling training for their action scenes was worth it for Johnson, who describes it as intimidating but rewarding because of Cruise's "positive energy." "I felt like I was like 10 years old and I had an awesome coach," he said.

Johnson, who also stars in Win It All, currently on Netflix, spoke with Heat Vision about working (and training) with Cruise, going from indie to blockbuster and back again and his non-strategy for navigating Hollywood: "I figured out a few years ago that the way to find happiness in this business is to form zero game plan."

Why did you want to be involved with The Mummy? Were you a fan of the Mummy movies before this?

The mummy aspect and the monster universe aspect had little effect on me. It’s not something I was huge fan of. When Alex Kurtzman pitched me the idea, there was no script for me to read, I just loved the idea of being in an action-adventure with Tom Cruise. He told me the majority of my stuff would be doing a kind of a war pic with Tom, and as a kid who was raised in the ‘80s, the idea of doing an action-adventure with Tom Cruise was so great, I was like, "Sign me up!" I’ve read all the press about him, he’s legendary with how he does action, he’s becoming a bigger-than-life character. I just wanted to do scenes with him.

Being so larger than life, how quickly did you get used to being on set with Cruise? 

It’s weirder to think about than it is to live through, actually. Once you’re away from screaming fans, once the doors closed and you’re alone, he’s actually just a funny, charming guy, so it’s only weird when you leave the privacy of the zone you’re in and you walk outside and people are freaking out around this man.

We also trained together, so we spent the summer in England and he and I worked out multiple times per week. It was really intimidating to start, but he’s a really encouraging guy, he’s such a positive energy-type guy, so when I'm doing squats and Tom Cruise is screaming about how good I’m doing, I felt like I was like 10 years old and I had an awesome coach. He was like, "You’re doing great," and I was like, "I guess I am!" 

What was it like on set for those action scenes? 

It was an absolute adrenaline rush. It was a battle of going against your instincts, really. It wasn’t my nature, I’m not an adrenaline junkie. Getting blown up and jumping off roofs in Africa isn't me. But it was a really great opportunity to do something different than I usually do. In the world of Hollywood that I’m in, the characters I’m offered are pretty similar, so the opportunity to do something that felt different was exciting. 

It was honestly the connection with Tom that made it work for me. Everything I did in the action is all with Tom, and I was never doing something alone, I never jumped off a building when Tom wasn’t on set. Tom was the one in my ear, he was the one talking me through the shots. We did stunts one morning and I was standing around with members of the crew, and Tom said, "Doing stunts is such an adrenaline rush you work yourself in a frenzy to work yourself up to do something like this," and he recommended saving my strength before those kinds of scenes. He guided me through them all. I wouldn’t have a lot of interest in doing an action movie without Tom Cruise — he’s the perfect guy to do this next to.

You were in a similar sort of position on Jurassic World, being a comic relief-type character in a blockbuster action flick. What do you think about your new role as the indie comedian in the summer blockbuster?

Honestly I feel so fortunate, I loved experiencing what these big blockbusters are all about. The way I’ve been cast in things has been less about my massive fan base (laughs) and more being picked by directors. I never want to be somebody who’s forced on a director, I never want to be not part of that person’s vision. But both [Jurassic World helmer] Colin Trevorrow and Kurtzman wanted me for the parts, and the size and scope of the project is not what pulls me in, it’s the people involved. If Tom Cruise wanted to do an indie, I'd be there, too.

With TV's New Girl, films like Win It All and Joshy, then big-budget blockbusters, how has all of that been shaping your career — do you enjoy the back and forth?

I’ll always do the indies — I love doing smaller indies where I have more control of the content. I just did Win It All with Joe Swanberg and I’m able to control what it becomes more. I can be part of the conversations in a more impactful way. In the bigger studio movies, they’re not asking Tom Cruise’s sidekick of what he thinks of the second act — understandably.

What about your future in Universal's Dark Universe? Is there any chance you could pop up again?

I would love to! Personally I loved shooting The Mummy — it was an awesome experience, but I don’t have any say on it, so if they want me back, then it could be fun and I would love to do it, but I have no idea really. I figured out a few years ago that the way to find happiness in this business is to form zero game plan. A lot of people have very strict plans and some have worked and some haven’t. I’m doing mine more like The Grateful Dead (laughs) — "long strange trip," you know? What a long strange trip this has been. And what I mean by that is I have no idea what’s next and I have no secret game plan. I don’t believe in the book The Secret. And I’m not manifesting anything. I truly have no plan in that I know I’m doing a movie this summer and I have more New Girl, then after that, I don’t know what’s next. And if nothing of interest pops up, I’ll find something else to do. For me, this business has been a people business, and I want it always to be that way.