Amy Jo Johnson talks Tammy’s Always Dying at TIFF

Actress-turned-filmmaker Amy Jo Johnson spoke about her newest film, Tammy’s Always Dying, set to premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival.

This interview took place last week–two days after National Power Rangers Day and the anniversary of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers premiere.

Amy Jo Johnson
Amy Jo Johnson

It’s nice to talk to you again and happy belated National Power Rangers Day!

Amy Jo Johnson: Is it really?

It was on Wednesday.

Amy Jo Johnson: Oh, I had no idea.

I didn’t realize it was a thing until I saw it trending on Twitter.

Amy Jo Johnson: Alright. Well, thanks.

Congrats on Tammy’s Always Dying being selected to premiere in Toronto.  How honored are you to premiere the film at TIFF?

Amy Jo Johnson: Oh my G-d.  I’m beside myself.  I am so excited for next week.  It’s the premiere and yeah,  it’s a really big deal for me.  I’m really excited about it.

Was there anything in particular that struck you when you initially read Joanne Sarazen’s screenplay?

Amy Jo Johnson: Oh, yeah. I went to a reading of it two years ago at the Canadian Film Centre.  That’s where I went there for the Directors Lab and that’s where I met Joanne.  I first heard it in a live reading of it with actors.  I was blown away.  I thought it was so sad, so funny, and absurd.  Immediately after, I walked outside and I just sobbed in Joanne’s arms.  It just touched me on such a core level for so many personal reasons as well.  My mother passed away of cancer almost 20 years ago and then also my father is a non functioning alcoholic. He’s a lot like the character of Tammy in a lot of ways. It just it just struck me and touched me so deeply on the on a really core level.

Was there a point when you realized that you had to direct the film?

Amy Jo Johnson: Oh, right then and there.  I sort of waited a couple months.  I wrote Joanne afterwards and I was like, I’m so in love with your script.  It wasn’t until after we graduated from the program that I reached out to her and asked her if I could direct it.

Jessica Adams, who produced the movie and we had produced The Space Between together, fell in love with the script, too. So we asked in January and it took Joanne a month to sort of make up her mind and let us know that I could direct it. It all happened rather quickly. We raised all the money within the year and shot it last November, and here we are two years later going to TIFF.  It’s all quite exciting.

How did the casting come together?

Amy Jo Johnson: Once we got Felicity Huffman—she read the script and fell in love that. Jessica and I flew to New York and met with her.  Once she came on board, sort of everything started to come into place.  That’s where I found Anastasia.  Anastasia sent in a self-tape for Cathy and as soon as I saw her tape, I knew that she was the right Cathy.  Having Felicity come on board was pretty incredible.

Can you talk about shooting in Hamilton and depicting it in the way we see it on screen?

Amy Jo Johnson: Yeah.  I found that bridge online.  I was sort of looking at a database of bridges in Ontario.  I saw that bridge, hopped in my car, and drove to Hamilton.  I find the bridge is almost like another character within the movie itself. I just love that bridge.  The train tracks and that big red factory behind it—that neighborhood right there was such a Tammy neighborhood.  I find Hamilton quite beautiful in such a–it just has this raw aesthetic to it that it was so conducive for the film.  It just really fit beautifully.  I love shooting in Hamilton.  I think it’s such a cool city.

What would you say was the biggest challenge in shooting?

Amy Jo Johnson: For me, the whole endeavor was probably the biggest challenge of my entire life. I was very, very nervous and intimidated.  One, working with Felicity—the caliber of actress she was.  Shooting the movie that was five times the budget of my first tiny little film I did.  Just so much of it was so daunting to me.  I really made sure to surround myself with some really key creative people who are really incredible like Marian Wihak, who is the production designer, and Daniel Grant, who is the DP.  They had so much to offer the film and I sort of just worked my way through my own fears.  To answer the question probably my own fear was the most challenging.

Michael Cram in The Space Between
Michael Cram in The Space Between.

We’ve spoken before while doing press for your first feature, The Space Between.  What was the biggest thing you learned from that experience and brought it to this production?

Amy Jo Johnson: I learned so much from both, obviously.  Shooting my first feature with The Space Between—the learning curve was huge because I had never gone through the process before—which definitely was incredibly helpful for going through Tammy because then I’d gone through it before.  With The Space Between, I surrounded myself—especially within the cast—with friends.  Most of the cast of The Space Between were people I had worked with before on Flashpoint.  It was so helpful just to have that support and love. Shooting Tammy was a whole new experience with working with Felicity Huffman, Clark Johnson, who had directed me before in Flashpoint, Lauren Holly, and Anastasia even.  So that was a whole new challenge of working with actors that weren’t actually my friends yet but anyway, I’m really going backwards on your question.  The scariest thing for anything is when you don’t know what’s going to happen but because I had gone through the entire process of creating a film with The Space Between, it took some of the pressure and some of the nerves away because I knew what was to come.

As I was perusing IMDB, I noticed The Has Been listed and then watched the teaser.  As someone who attends various comic cons in Chicago (where we met briefly in March), this series seems like something I would watch.  What else can you tell us about this project and when or where can we watch it?

Amy Jo Johnson: Wow. Okay, so that was an idea I had a couple of years ago.  I created that teaser.  I actually have the episode of that teaser finished.  I’ll probably put it online.  I realized within that process that I didn’t love the whole idea of the project.  I wasn’t in love with it so if I’m going to spend a year to three years of my life creating a series and a project, I want to absolutely love it and believe in it. There were aspects to The Has Been that I just felt like, Do I really want to make fun of myself for the next five years? Not really.  So that project is on hold.  I might go back to it and rediscover it and reinvent it in a way that actually feels better and has something I want to say.

Similarly to that, what is the strangest question that you tend to get while attending comic cons?

Amy Jo Johnson: I don’t know.  Nothing is really coming to mind but one thing I do enjoy about the comic cons is just meeting people who were so affected by the Power Rangers 25 years ago and some of the stories that people tell me are just so amazing.  I feel like I have this free karma in a way of—because I had no idea how much Power Rangers and my character on that show was affecting these kids in a positive way. It’s really nice to see that and hear stories of how the show affected them.

I got to meet four different Power Rangers back in March because you were there. David Yost, Walter E. Jones, and Austin St. John were also there.

Amy Jo Johnson: Oh, fun.  I’m going to see David next week.  I love David.  He’s coming in for the Tammy premiere. I’m so excited.

Thank you again and have a great premiere on Thursday night!

Amy Jo Johnson: Thank you!

Tammy’s Always Dying holds its world premiere on September 5, 2019 during the Toronto International Film Festival.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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