Jake Johnson was inspired to make his feature film directorial debut on the new comedic thriller, Self Reliance, by the Japanese reality show Susunu! Denpa Shönen. The Minx star shared the news during a recent interview with Collider.
In addition to helming the movie, the filmmaker also wrote the script and plays the project’s protagonist. Self Reliance, which is now available to stream on Hulu, follows his character, Tommy, as he’s stopped by a limo that’s driving Andy Samberg.
The Brooklyn Nine-Nine star-turned-reality show host presents Tommy with the intriguing offer to participate in a dark web reality television series for the chance to win a million dollars. If he agrees, assassins will attempt to kill him for 30 days. The only exception is that he can’t be killed if he’s not entirely alone.
Tommy believes that the task will be easy because he thinks he’ll be able to just enlist his family to stay by his side. However, when they prove to be uninterested in helping, he has to keep finding people he can rely on to keep him alive.
After hearing about Susunu! Denpa Shönen, Johnson first conceived of Self Reliance as a three-season television show. However, he didn’t receive any offers to develop the story for that format. As a result, the project ultimately evolved into the feature.
Upon its release in 1998, Susunu! Denpa Shönen locked comedian Nasubi in a room without any clothes or food. Nasubi could only obtain supplies and nourishment by winning magazine and radio contests.
During an interview with UPI, Johnson said after he heard about the Japanese reality series, he thought: “‘Man, that’s going to be coming to the States and that’s what entertainment is going to be. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that on CBS.”
Modern American network television networks aren’t supporting the extreme measures that the reality show in Self Reliance portrays. But Johnson pointed out that YouTubers and Influencers are always pushing the boundaries of documentary content. “You’ve got a guy like MrBeast who’s doing really wild stuff. He locked two people into a white room with white walls for something like 90 days and they went utterly insane.”
Johnson, who previously directed an episode of New Girl, said he wasn’t initially looking to helm a movie. However, he felt he needed to control the tone of Self Reliance, which he could only do by also directing it after he penned the script.
“For this specific movie, the tone really meant a lot to me,” Johnson said. “It was very specific, and I felt like I knew what I wanted it to be.”
The thriller questions whether the game show is real or whether Tommy is just having delusions. the filmmaker said he wanted to ensure viewers that they could believe either option until the story reveals the truth.
“Every scene, you had to be able to justify each side of the argument,” Johnson said. “Until the ending, we wanted to make sure that both sides could work because I felt like that was part of the fun of watching the movie.”
Johnson graduated New York University for screenwriting in 2001. He moved on to acting while performing sketch comedy at Upright Citizens Brigade and Improv Olympic.
Before Self Reliance, the filmmaker scribed and starred in the movies Digging for Fire, Win It All and Ride the Eagle. He only considered moving into the helming space because of Self Reliance‘s unconventional tone.
“Directing was not something that was the big dream,” the performer said. “The idea of creation was always the big thing.”
That can be playing a character in another filmmaker’s project, Johnson added, such as his role on the comedy television series Minx. Max canceled the show after its first outing, despite producing a second season. Starz aired the sophomore season, but then canceled the comedy again.
Johnson said he was happy to get to do two years of the show. “I see that as a victory,” he said. “Would I have liked to do more? Absolutely.”
Minx also starred Ophelia Lovibond as Joyce, a publisher in the ’70s. She combines her feminist magazine with the idea Johnson’s character, Doug Renetti, created for an adult magazine aimed at women.
The Season 2 finale set up Joyce and Doug as rivals for a potential third season. Doug was made president of a new publishing company, while Joyce decided to keep her magazine running independently.
“We were talking a lot about what happens to Doug,” Johnson said. “The big thing was he’s about to get a lot of power.”
Besides penning, directing and starring in Self Reliance and appearing on Minx, Johnson is also set to record his role in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse. The third animated Spider-Man movie was postponed during the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strikes.
In the animated film series, Johnson plays Peter Parker from another universe, who mentors Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). Johnson said he’s had discussions about the next movie’s story after the cliffhanger ending of Across the Spider-Verse.
“I know some stuff from talking to the writers and [producers] Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller],” Johnson said. “There’s great stuff coming, but I just don’t know what stage they’re exactly at.”