Having first met Johnny Ghorbani while directing a show at Studio 58, he struck me as a tough but fair person, eager to explore the world of acting.
Already working as a professional boxer, he found the world of performing arts calling to him. Unlike some of his classmates though, after graduation he focused his energies on television and film, rather than the stage.
Fast forward a few years and Ghorbani now finds himself not only performing on stage in John Patrick Shanley’s gritty Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, he is also the show’s producer.
In reflecting back at his time since graduating from acting school, Ghorbani wanted to avoid the mistakes of others by not rushing into the workforce. Despite his cautious approach he still wishes he had taken more time.
“I should have taken my time to process the long journey that is Studio 58,” he says. “I left that place with a feeling of exhaustion and I was really trying to get back to life, enjoying life and seeing friends and family. Getting the things that make me, me, before I could go into the field as a professional.”
For Ghorbani, it was important to make it a priority to have a good work-life balance.
“Acting is not the most important job in the world, it really isn’t” he says. “There are bigger contributions one can make if they are thinking of the bigger picture when it comes to life. Acting is an opportunity to tell a story that I believe can affect change or to remind ourselves the complications of life.”
As a boxer, Ghorbani sees some transferable skills to the stage, with both requiring preparation and training. He also views his coach as his director, and vice-versa.
“I need a good corner man to see the things I may not see, because the stage is a fight and I’m in it” he says. “Sometimes I need to make adjustments and that is why it is so important to work with people you really trust, or else you can never reach your true potential.”
After graduating, Ghorbani studied with other teachers, getting their perspective on the craft. One such teacher was Ben Ratner who gave him a scene from Danny and the Deep Blue Sea to work on.
The experience resonated with him, and sometime later he talked with actor Jay Brazeau, who had played Danny decades earlier. The idea formed that Brazeau should direct a new production with Johnny in the lead.
“I made it clear to [Jay] that I was not going to attempt what I played before, but that I was also not going to play his version of Danny,” he says. “[Besides], I was going down a similar path in my personal life, similar to Danny’s, from the age of fifteen.”
As expected of such a dramatic work, the rehearsal room proved electric, with debates and differences of opinions. Ultimately though everyone worked towards the same goal, to make a great show.
“I respect Jay as an artist and I will definitely take a lot with me when it is all said and done,” he says. “He was that generation’s Danny. I am this generation’s Danny. I do this for my community and friends, the people who really know me well.”
The process of working on Danny and the Deep Blue Sea so reinvigorated Ghorbani he is now meeting with other actors and producers about future projects. True to form though, he doesn’t plan to rush into anything.
“I think it will be time to make serious changes in my personal life before I can return to film and television,” he says. “But the stage will always call me. It is, after all, how I was trained, and I don’t want to become rusty. Acting is a muscle and nobody wants their muscles to atrophy.”
Forming the Athletes of Soul production company with Warren Abbott, Keilani Rose and Giacomo Baessato who he had met while in school, they are all hungry to create and explore.
“I chose the A-team I trust and people who are good at their own unique gifts,” he says. “We are already in talks with other actors who want to join and make new things down the road. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea was the debut, and if I am going start the Athletes of Soul, then I have to go up to bat first.”
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea continues at Studio 16 (1555 W 7th Ave, Vancouver) until October 7. Tickets are available at theatrewire.com.