Previously Known For: As Chrissy Seaver in Growing Pains
|Currently Known For: As FBI Forensic Specialist Patterson on Blindspot|
“It was probably in my late teens, and also working on projects where you’re dealing with more emotional stuff that I realized, ‘Oh wow, this is a way to express yourself. This is a different kind of art form than whatever else is out there.’ It’s such a great job that I feel like it shouldn’t even be called a job. I just love it.” The youngest daughter of an independent film producer and the captain of an exploration ship, Ashley Suzanne Johnson came into this world on August 9, 1983 in Camarillo, California. Raised in Franklin, Michigan, Johnson always knew she wanted to perform and saw that dream come true in 1990 when she was cast as the adorable Chrissy Seaver on ABC’s popular sitcom, Growing Pains. Fortunately, that was only the beginning of Johnson’s career in the spotlight!
Although Chrissy Seaver was originally cast as a toddler on Growing Pains, Johnson was such a perfect fit for the role that the show’s writers accelerated Chrissy’s age to match Johnson’s as she spent the next two seasons alongside her on-screen parents—Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns—and her on-screen siblings—Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, and Jeremy Miller. During her success on Growing Pains, she made her feature film debut in Lionheart in 1990 and appeared in a string of television films like Men Don’t Tell and The Town Santa Forgot. By the mid-1990s, she snagged a handful of offers on short-lived sitcoms like Phenom and All-American Girl while also making cameos in popular series like Roseanne, Wings, Moloney and ER.
“I always loved it, even when I was younger, and it was never something that my parents pushed me into,” Johnson said of her early passion for acting. “But there’s an element, when you’re little, where you don’t really understand exactly what it is and you have a love of it just because it’s fun to do. It was probably in my late teens, and also working on projects where you’re dealing with more emotional stuff that I realized, ‘Oh wow, this is a way to express yourself. This is a different kind of art form than whatever else is out there.’ It’s such a great job that I feel like it shouldn’t even be called a job. I just love it.”
Graduating early from high school at 15 years old and focusing all her energy on acting, Johnson reprised her role as Chrissy in The Growing Pains Movie in 2000 and in Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers in 2004. She saw her hard work pay off again when she joined Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson in the 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want. Over the next few years, she continued to work with credits on the silver screen in Rustin, Killer Diller, Nearing Grace, Fast Food Nation and The Brothers Solomon as well as in series like Roswell, Ally McBeal and Providence. During this time, she also lent her voice to a variety of characters in Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go, Teen Titans and King of the Hill.
In 2008, Johnson joined the cast of Dirt as Sharlee Cates and, a year later, caught the eye of director and screenwriter Joss Whedon who cast her in the season finale of Dollhouse. Then, in 2012, Whedon called on Johnson to play a waitress rescued by Captain American in The Avengers. Although most of her scenes were cut from the final release, Whedon invited Johnson to appear in his Shakespearean romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.
“I first met Joss because I auditioned for Firefly—that little-known show—back in the day,” Johnson said of her working relationship and friendship with Whedon. “I was so young. I wasn’t the right age for it, at the time. But then, I re-met him during Dollhouse. We had shot so many scenes that just kept getting cut or edited out, but he would still bring me back to reshoot. So, over that time that we spent shooting stuff, we became such good friends. He’s just such an awesome dude. I just feel really lucky that he works with people and makes a family. He likes working in that environment of having the familiar people you work with and having it be familial. I think that’s where he thrives. I love that I get to work with such an awesome person.”
Apart from working with Whedon, Johnson has spent the last few years making numerous appearances on primetime series like Drop Dead Diva, The Mentalist, and Private Practice in addition to lending her voice to characters in animated series like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Infinity Train and Sky Rat. She’s also earned numerous credits as a voice actor in video games like Teen Titans, Ben 10: Alien Force, Tales from the Borderlands, Marvel Heroes, Lego Dimensions, Minecraft: Story Mode, The Witness and The Last of Us, the latter of which earned her a BAFTA Games Award for Best Performer in 2013 and 2014.
In 2014, Johnson delighted her fans when she teamed up with her friend, Felicia Day of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, and starred in four episodes of the web series, Spooked. Playing the part of a wiccan priestess named Morgan, the experience was enjoyable for Johnson who is a longtime fame of supernatural comedies. “In general, I’m very drawn to comedy, especially with something like this, which would ordinarily be scary,” she said. “I tried watching Paranormal Activity and I was horrified. It freaked me out, the entire time. My hand was over my eyes, even though I could have just shut my eyes. I don’t know why you need the extra protection of your hand over your face. But when it’s turned into a comedy, it eases the tension. I think it’s a really funny genre because you’re taking something that’s scary and making it funny. I love it. I’m a fan.”
Although the 34-year-old Johnson says she leans more toward voice acting because of the freedom it allows her to experiment with characters without the constraints of sets and costumes, she hasn’t completely given up on the silver screen and is set to appear in the 2018 film, Weight. She’s also voicing Mindy in Sky Rat and will reprise her role as Ellie in The Last of Us Part II. “I guess it’s instinct at this point,” Johnson says of her method behind choosing her next projects. “There are so many different genres that I do love. It’s not like I only like doing comedy, or I only like doing drama. I just like things that I think are good and that I would like to be a part of, and that hopefully people will enjoy. I’m not incredibly particular. The only requirement is that it’s good.” That seems like a fairly simple requirement from an actress who has a habit of bringing out the good in every project she’s in!