Haley Johnson: From extra to a screening at Cannes

Haley Johnson Genesis

Denver actor Haley Johnson went from answering a local call for extras to playing the lead female role in a film that will be screened Friday at the Cannes Film Festival.

How does that feel?

“Surreal. Unbelievable. A once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will, unfortunately, miss attending,” she said.

Alas, Johnson will miss the screening of Genesis in Cannes because she is currently appearing in Casa Valentina through May 22 at The Edge Theatre. She plays the rather … disapproving daughter of a retired 1960s Army veteran who happens to enjoy wearing women’s clothes.

But wait … how did this happen?

Haley Johnson Casa ValentinaGenesis is a locally produced zombie film written and directed by Loveland native Michael McCarthy and his production company, Killgore Films, which put out a call for extras that Johnson answered way back in 2012.

“I showed up on location and there were at least 20 or 30 other people there,” she said. “I said I’d be happy to be covered in blood and dirt and went so far as to roll around on the ground to get my clothes filthy.” Apparently, McCarthy noticed.

“When we had to re-write and re-cast, it was clear that Haley had amazing talent, so we wrote a large part for her,” McCarthy said of Johnson, whose recent stage work includes playing the mother of a boy killed in traffic (Rabbit Hole) and a daughter whose mother who announces her intention to commit suicide (the Henry Award-winning Night, Mother).

Genesis is an apocalyptic thriller in which U.S. Marshals are sent to a remote farmhouse in Colorado to retrieve a scientist in the Witness Protection Program who may hold the key to solving the unfolding pandemic. Johnson plays a mystery woman named Ilsa. “As the story unfolds, you learn small details about who she is, what she wants and how she fits into the puzzle,” she said.

Johnson moved to Littleton from Pensacola, Fla., in 1995 and graduated from Arapahoe High School. She attended Florida State University for two years before graduating from the University of Colorado Denver and has been working in the Denver metro theatre community as an actor, director and playwright for the past 12 years.

To be precise, Genesis is not in consideration for the Palme d’Or (the highest prize awarded at the Palm). It won entry into the Marche de Film, which is a market festival at the Cannes. But, still …

Courtesy Killgore Films.

Here’s more about Haley Johnson’s long, strange trip not to France:

John Moore: Where was Genesis shot?

Haley Johnson: It was shot all over Northern Colorado but my scenes were specifically shot on location at a turn-of-the century farmhouse in Greeley. The first few times I was called as an extra were for night shoots. When I was given the role of Ilsa, I shot my scenes on  location, all over one weekend.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

John Moore: So how hard is it not to be in France this weekend?

Haley Johnson: It would have been a pricey trip, and it’s next to impossible to book a hotel anywhere near Cannes. But, I’m currently performing in Casa Valentina at The Edge Theatre, and I’ve never missed a performance of a show I’ve been a part of. Ever. I will miss the screening, but I was more bummed at the possibility that I may be missing the opportunity of bumping into Tom Hardy at a French café.

John Moore: How can we see Genesis in Colorado?

Haley Johnson: Genesis will have a screening for cast and crew in Loveland this June, and it will be available on Blu-Ray and iTunes later this summer.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Go to the official Genesis web site

Courtesy Killgore Films.

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