'Nashville' Actor Nabs Key Role in 'Alita: Battle Angel' (Exclusive)

Keean Johnson - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Collin Stark
Keean Johnson has joined the James Cameron sci-fi film in the highly coveted part opposite Rosa Salazar.

After an intense search, Fox has found the love interest for Alita: Battle Angel, James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of the popular manga graphic novels.

Keean Johnson, best known for his work on ABC’s Nashville, has nabbed the highly coveted part opposite Rosa Salazar, the actress who is playing the titular character in 20tth Century Fox’s big-budget sci-fi project.

Christoph Waltz, Jackie Earl Haley and Ed Skrein are already on the call sheet. Rodriguez is directing and Cameron producing with his partner Jon Landau.

Set in the 26th century, Alita tells of a female cyborg (Salazar) that is discovered in a scrap yard by a scientist. With no memory of her previous life except her deadly martial-arts training, the woman becomes a bounty hunter, tracking down criminals.

Johnson will play Hugo, a young man who teaches Alita how to play a gladiator-style game called Motorball but who also has a secret side job stealing robot parts.

The studio did at least two rounds of testing for the part, all of them taking place in Rodriguez’s studio facility in Austin. Among those who tested were Tut star Avan Jogia, Douglas Booth (Jupiter Ascending), Jack Lowden (who will be seen in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming war drama Dunkirk), and Noah Silver, one of the stars of TVs Tyrant.

In the end, the filmmakers and studio went with a route that called for an “ethnically ambiguous” actor and the fresh-faced Johnson fit the bill.

Johnson, who also had stint on the Freeform show The Fosters, is repped by Innovative Artists, Impression Entertainment and Sloane Offer.