FEATURED RLS STUDENTS
Artist(s) of the Month Interview – Shane Johnson and Keili Lefkovitz
Shane Johnson and Keili Lefkovitz are our featured RLS actors this month. They are artists who have created substantial careers while building a solid ten-year marriage and raising their two sons. Both Keili & Shane work in film, television, web, and theatre, as well as voiceover. Shane recently wrapped his second season as Cooper Saxe on the gritty crime drama, Power, on Starz. Prior to Power, audiences have seen him guest star on some of the top TV series, such as Criminal Minds, Castle, and NCIS. His latest film credits include Hot Guys with Guns (written, directed, and produced by fellow RLS artist, Doug Spearman) and the title role in The Possession of Michael King. When not in front of the camera, Shane writes, produces and animates.
Keili was featured opposite Mark Wahlberg in Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. She’s currently acting in Doug Spearman’s second feature, From Zero to I Love You, alongside Richard Lawson. Other credits include Hot Guys with Guns, Stevie TV, and Malibu’s Most Wanted. Keili has a number of producing projects currently in development.
So just as an overview, both of you are working across multiple mediums as actors, producers, writers, creators – from stage to TV to film to voiceover to animation. And on top of juggling two substantial careers, you have the challenges of a marriage as well as parenting two feisty young boys. Would you address these challenges and how you navigate all of the above?
KL: Does vodka, soda and lime count as a way to navigate these challenges? Let me start by saying that we are in great communication with each other throughout the day and then before we go to bed at night we try to talk about the following day and the things that are upcoming. So, it’s like hanging in the universe, and we know what to expect of each other and it’s the bartering of who’s going to do what, when. So when it comes to the children, certainly when Shane’s in New York [shooting Power] – he’s very supportive – but it’s pretty much me running interference. And when he’s back for visits, he picks up the ball very nicely.
SJ: And I would just say that the thing that is challenging, and that we’ve done fairly successfully, is to have everything moving. And what I mean by this is, we’re parents first and we’re a couple first/second. And then after that, we are artists. And then those careers have multiple things happening – like you said, we’re writing, we’re producing, we’re acting, voiceover stuff – all of that. So, it’s just kind of like keeping all the plates spinning. And sometimes Keili has more plates spinning, and my job is to be there to support her so she can continue the balancing act, and vice versa. So, you know, as our careers expand and our family expands, we have to become more and more—
KL: —a team.
SJ: Definitely a team, but you also have to be more and more professional. It’s easier to sort of just get by, by the seat of your pants, when you’re young and you don’t need as much, and your world is more loosey-goosey. So as we expand, we just have to be more on point and more professional.
KL: The other thing is we make great efforts with our children in terms of everyone being a part of everything. So, we’re really involved with their school, whether it’s “room mom” or being a part of several committees there, as we both are. And then when it comes to our careers, they were part of the film we were shooting this past week. The kids were on set, they were in the movie. We told them a couple of times, “We’re getting ready to shoot; we’ll be there in a minute.” But we never had to tell them to be quiet; we never had to tell them, “You can’t walk right there.” They have been around several sets that we’ve shot on. We’ve put them in a few things that we’ve done and we tell them exactly what we do. They come to class. Our community in Richard’s class is extremely involved and supportive of our kids. Many of our sitters come right out of our class. So they know what mom and dad do. They learn more and more and are interested in what we do – and sometimes, they’re not. But since they have two artists as parents, they have to know it’s not a 9-to-5. It means, right now, daddy is working and we’ll go visit him on set when we can. They are aware of what we do as much as a five- and eight-year-old can. But I will tell you that they were so incredible this past weekend while we were shooting. They just did their thing or stayed out of the way or they were like, “Is our scene coming up? What do we need to do?” And when Doug Spearman said, “Action!”, they did it. It wasn’t like, “Let me explain this to you.” I was really impressed! And right after that, we took them to Target and got a gift! We have to act as a team, and when Shane and I started doing that, many of our challenges got greater, but so did our opportunities.
Thank you for that. How long have you studied with Richard Lawson?
KL: I started with Richard in ’98.
SJ: Since ’99.
And in addition to continuing to deepen your craft as actors, what skills above and beyond acting, have you developed through Richard’s studio?
KL: Certainly producing, certainly leadership. He really reinforces certain sides of career administration – he puts the seeds in our heads.
SJ: I would agree with Keili. I would say leadership is definitely something. When you find yourself as the example, you rise to the occasion. When we recognize that people are looking to us to be the example of this, it sort of challenges you to up your game, which is kind of an interesting thing. Definitely, I feel that my writing, and our writing, has advanced since being with Richard, just because we’ve analyzed it more and developed skills. And I wouldn’t say that animation comes directly from the studio, but I feel I was open to tackling a new area due to Richard’s impetus. Because of Richards’s extensive multinational network, he was approached to throw his hat in the ring for this feature film as a writer. Now, none of us are “proven” writers yet – but we all have decades of experience and have written countless scripts for stage, the small screen, and the big screen. So, Richard thought of us (Keili and I) as potential candidates because he knows we write and produce but also that I recently taught myself how to animate. So, we met and it was a perfect fit. We all have kids, we love animation, and we know how to craft story. So, we put together a banging presentation complete with animation and sent it off to India. They were blown away by our passion and ability and the choice was clear, and we got the gig. Now the work starts…
KL: Yes, [and] the idea of the “slashes”. I’m an actor/director/writer/singer/voiceover artist/stage manager/mom/friend. You know all these things.
SJ: And if I look at my world and ask, “Well, what am I?” I see that I’m a producer, something that I wasn’t before.
KL: A business person.
SJ: Yeah, I think that one of the weaknesses of an artistic mind, is that the business side of things is not something that’s really palatable to an artist. You know our minds don’t work that way and so one of the things that Richard and career administration has instilled in us is that you can be an amazing artist, but if you don’t have the business side down, you’ll be an artist in your bedroom, and that will be about the extent of it. That has really helped us to branch out and take the artistic side and implement it into a career.
What is it like to be part of the community of artists that make up the studio?
KL: Honestly, it’s a great getaway and great support for us and as I mentioned before. Shane and I tend to be people who are doers. And usually when you’re doers, you’re not great at being receivers. And we get so much from the studio. Just in support with our children alone. There were times when he was in Brooklyn shooting Power and I was like, “How in hell am I going to get to this appointment?” – that I would get the day of. And I would scramble or Shane would scramble and Dan Warner would come over here and watch the kids. People would be like, “I’ll be there for you.” So that alone, the peace of mind I have knowing that this group of people truly has our backs, is something that I’ll never take for granted. And it’s great to be able to see people grow in this community and to root people on and see them evolve as artists. There’s nothing better than watching that.
What else can you tell us about Richard’s influence on you?
KL: Shane and I both have a goal of being in a position where we know what the next thing is coming along – we want to know what the next project is. We’re in a place where we feel like we’re spinning so many plates. But it’s a great thing. The more we do, the more we can handle, the more we’re creating. And the expansion is happening at a very fast rate. It’s not exactly where we want to be, not at all, but it’s where we expect to be and I would say Richard just keeps telling us to keep going. You know when Richard told the class to go watch Keep On Keepin’ On, that just [messed] me up for all time, in the best of ways. I realized, you know, you really can’t complain. You just have to have the best attitude and move forward – you do it anyway. You just do it anyway. And Richard is a great example of someone who dreams big and wants big and is a kid – and I love being around that energy.
Thank you. And finally, is there anything you’d like to say to prospective artists who are considering beginning a journey at the studio?
SJ: Yeah, I’d say look. If you’re inspired, if you’re curious, then go with that initial impulse and delve into this and check it out. It’s easy for time and other considerations to give you excuses to not pursue your dream and to not pursue what is going to help deliver your dream to you. And by not listening to the nonsense and all the background noise and by just making a decision that’s for you and claiming it for yourself – and jump in with both feet and take this journey – you will reap the rewards artistically and in terms of your career.