VARIETY Q&A: Levi Johnston on his reality show, Alaska, and being ‘half-redneck, half-Hollywood’


A month ago, it looked like Levi Johnston was getting married to the mother of his child, Bristol Palin.

That didn’t quite go as planned. But Johnston’s got his eye on another prize: The Wasilla, Alaska, city hall. Johnston wants to run for mayor — and yes, the cameras will be following him. As Variety wrote earlier today, Stone and Co. is shooting a pilot starring Johnston, which it then plans to shop to the networks.

Whether it’s a slam dunk remains to be seen — notoriety doesn’t automatically make one a TV star. But Johnston is telegenic, and the concept is just strange enough that a crafty reality producer could make it work, particularly if the show is populated with characters from both Alaska and Hollywood (where Johnston’s also trying to break in).

TankjonesVariety spoke to Johnston, his manager Tank Jones (right; see! He has a manager named Tank Jones — there you go, characters) and his Hollywood liaison Canaan Rubin about the show, and about the whirlwind two years that Johnston — who calls himself “half-redneck, half-Hollywood” — has just experienced. An edited transcript:

VARIETY ON THE AIR: Where did the idea for this show come from? What’s it going to look like?
LEVI JOHNSTON: Obviously running for mayor is the big part of the show. A little bit of that I’m going to have my boys, I’ll have my life in Hollywood, I’ll be back in Alaska. It’s hard to figure me out. You’ve got to follow me around. I’m very different. I live a crazy life. Basically it will be both worlds. My life in Hollywood and back home, the real country boy that I am.

VARIETY: Why are you doing this?
JOHNSTON: I always wanted to do a show. People came with many ideas, then I paired up with Canaan, who came up with a lot of things for me. This is something I really want to do. I think it will grab hold of people.

VARIETY: What happens if you actually get elected?
JOHNSTON: Then I’m the new mayor. I will serve, the whole thing.

VARIETY: What did you think of this idea of running for mayor?
JOHNSTON: The first time I heard it, I got to be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about it. The thought never crossed my mind. But the more I think about it and look into it, I think there is a possibility we can make this happen. It’s something I want to do.

VARIETY: Do you have any ideas on what can make Wasilla a better place?
JOHNSTON: That’s for the show.

VARIETY: That mayoral position in Wasilla can be a launching pad for a bigger career in politics, as a certain former mayor has shown. Do you harbor further political aspirations?
TANK JONES: We’re going to go for governor after mayor. I’m the campaign manager. If we successfully do the mayor thing, we’re going to do the governorship. We’re not trying to copy anybody, but we feel he can better serve these two positions that have been so light for so long. He’s going to come in and try to help the people.

VARIETY: Levi, what do you think the reaction is going to be from the Palin camp when they hear that you’re running for political office?

VARIETY: There’s been a lot of talk about you pursuing different reality projects. What’s your reason for doing a reality show?
JOHNSTON: I just think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve watched a lot of different reality TV and this is totally different. No reality show like this has been done like this. I want people to get to know who I really am. I’m just trying to send a message to America about who I really am and what I want to do with my life.

VARIETY: Who are you then?
JOHNSTON: Half redneck, half Hollywood.

VARIETY: And what do you think the perception is of you out there?
JOHNSTON: I think it’s love and hate right now, but we’re trying to flip that around.

VARIETY: There was talk of you doing a show with Bristol. Was that ever a possibility?
JOHNSTON: We discussed it, and we weren’t thrilled with any of the ideas. We got a lot offers. But the fact is we didn’t want to do it.

VARIETY: Is there a chance any Palins will appear in this show?
JOHNSTON: You never know. You’re going to have to watch the show.

VARIETY: How are you splitting your time between Hollywood and Alaska?
CANAAN RUBIN: It’s organic to what’s going on in Levi’s life right now. He’s had a lot of business in Hollywood as of late, with the Teen Choice Awards, he ‘s now shooting this music video that has gotten a lot of attention. His life has become a split between Alaska and Hollywood. But I’d say Alaska is still his home, Wasilla. He grew up there, he lives there, and what happens in that town is very close to his heart. That’s something he cares about ad is looking forward to get into it. While he’s pursuing that position, be it Mayor or City Council, he’ll be making a presence in Hollywood too.

VARIETY: That election is this fall?
JONES: The process is on going. These things don’t happen overnight. We’re making preparations for everything. We’re piecing everything together right now. Actually, I think the date for mayor is 2012. So we’re going to be making preparations, brushing Levi up on the issues. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. We’re not taking this lightly.
RUBIN: Just like the title says, this is the road to the mayor’s office. I think when people hear that he’s running for office, is he ready today to run for mayor? No. This is a process. By the time we actually get there, hopefully he’ll be ready. We may start with city council. He can run for city council within the next year. And then mayor is two years down the road.

VARIETY: Levi, what do you think the reaction is going to be when you announce this?
JOHNSTON: I think first people are going to think it’s a joke. But it’s my job to prove them wrong, and I’m going to make it happen.

VARIETY: Is it a joke?

VARIETY: How has your life changed?
JOHNSTON: Just about in every way possible. I lost a lot of friends, I don’t live a normal life, like I used to. I’m on aplane, different states every other week. It’s crazy, but there are pros and cons to everything. I love it, and I’m just trying to make the best of it.

VARIETY: You said you “lost a lot of friends.” Elaborate on that.
JOHNSTON:People you grew up with, thinking they’re your friends, but then some of them are out for money and just to sell you out for some stupid stuff. And they do it, obviously you can’t trust them anymore. I met a lot of great people and made new friends as well.

VARIETY: Was there a thought of just following you with cameras without a gimmick?
RUBIN: Tank really is looking out for him. This is a real endeavor that we’re undertaking. We didn’t want to do anything that just had cameras following him around, catching him in a hot tub with some girls or something like that. That’s been done and done very well on TV by other people. This is something that he can take seriously, and we wanted to make sure that the show he did could actually have some legs and go beyond the first season.
JONES: And it has to be with the right company. We’ve been approached by a lot of different production companies and networks. Somebody had to come to us with the right idea, the right format. We talked to everybody. We clicked instantly with Stone and Co. And it’s real, this is not a joke, this is real. There were some dating shows, that kind of thing. We’re not about that. We’re not here to make an ass out of ourselves. We weren’t going to do that. A lot of stuff that was brought to us we weren’t happy with.

VARIETY: Levi, what about Wasilla, how has that town changed since the spotlight came?
JOHNSTON: I haven’t seen it change at all. The people in Wasilla don’t really care. They’re really low-key. It’s a really chill town. They don’t care about that. People call it a redneck town. But people talk a lot of crap about me. They’ve never been there, and they don’t know me.

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