Mark Johnson: Playing ‘Narnia’ nanny

Youth Impact Report 2011: Bigscreen Chaperones

Impact: Shepherded the two youngest “Chronicles of Narnia” stars into leading roles in “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
Next: The adaptation of the classic Chicano coming-of-age story, “Bless Me, Ultima.”
Causes: Westside Children’s Center, which his wife, Lezlie, founded in 1987.

If it weren’t for Clint Eastwood, Mark Johnson might not have discovered the hidden talents of child actors.

As a producer of Eastwood’s 1993 kidnapping drama “A Perfect World,” Johnson witnessed Eastwood’s meticulous handling of his young star, inexperienced 7-year-old T.J. Lowther, opposite leading man Kevin Costner.

“Clint had a pretty amazing way to work with children,” says Johnson, a producer of the “Chronicles of Narnia” films. “I would look at him and say, ‘I don’t know if we have that moment we were looking for,’ but Clint would say, ‘Trust me,’ and he would find what he needed to make a shot work. Sometimes it may have been when the boy didn’t even know he was acting. Clint could see what the rest of us couldn’t.”

That experience persuaded Johnson that kids have a special naturalness in front a camera; they can be genuine and eager to please, without the “emotional baggage” of adults.

“I’ve done a lot of productions with children, and I’ve never experienced anything like some of the horror stories that prompted W.C. Fields to say what he said,” he observes. “If there’s ever a problem, more often than not it’s with the parents not the child.”

In the past 12 months, Johnson has served as producer on the child-starring chiller “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” as well as “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” The third “Narnia” installment shifted the focus from all four Pevensie siblings to the youngest two, played by Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley.

“They were secretly happy they were getting out of the shadow of the two older siblings,” Johnson says. “We don’t have a plan yet for the next one, but I would be heartbroken if it didn’t continue.”

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