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A & E

Joliet actor's work to be featured in film festival at Gene Siskel Film Center

22nd annual Black Harvest Film Festival includes film starring Joliet man

JOLIET – Lawrence E. Johnson Jr. said he finally gets to showcase his talent.

And the Joliet native and father of three added he’s pretty excited about it.

Johnson Jr. has one of two starring roles in “A 3rd First,” a comedy short film, which will premiere Saturday during the 22nd annual Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the Art Institute of Chicago.

According to a news release for Take1Productions, the film tells the story of an uncomfortable first date that takes an unexpected turn. It was written and directed by independent filmmaker Will Adams and also stars Conchedia De Pratto.

The film is just 15 minutes long, has a cast of two people and was shot in one location, Johnson Jr. said. But it’s effective and hilarious.

“When we watched it, even though we knew what happens, we laughed every time,” Johnson Jr. said.

Johnson Jr. said he also appears in the independent film “Secret Lover,” about a young married Muslim couple, which will be released Oct. 22. The trailer for that movie can be viewed at


Johnson Jr. said he began acting 10 years ago in skits at his church, One Vision Worship Center in Joliet. Then he performed in a couple of stage plays, also with the church. He overcame his doubts and began to seek more opportunities.

“You get things in your head – ‘Hey, I’m too fat, too old, no one wants me, why am I doing this?’ ” Johnson Jr. said. “But once I started getting accepted and people said, ‘Hey, you did a good job,’ I stepped out in faith and went on from there.”

Johnson Jr. said his wife, Twanette Johnson, suggested he send professional photos to casting agencies to see if he could “take his career to the next level.” And as jobs appeared, Johnson Jr. said he developed his skill.

“It’s not that easy,” Johnson Jr. said. “Someone gives you a script and you say the lines a certain way or you think it comes out a certain way. But the director or writer might want you to say them a certain way and you have to try to accomplish that by digging into the character.”

The actual filming of scenes is different from the way Johnson Jr. envisioned it, too.

“I thought I’d get a script, read it and be done,” Johnson Jr. said. “But you have to shoot from one side, then the other side, and you have to shoot from the back. A lot goes into it behind the scenes that people don’t see.”

Film-wise, Johnson Jr. has appeared in independent projects. About 18 months ago, he turned his attention to television, appearing in many non speaking roles, as well as speaking a line or two, which sometimes didn’t make the final cut, he said.

But that’s part of the process, he said.

“You have to be patient; you have to take baby steps. You don’t look at the big picture and say, ‘I’m going to be a superstar overnight,’ ” Johnson Jr. said. “You have to take classes. You have to learn the craft. You have to become better day by day. You have to have faith day by day.”

His overall goal is to make acting a full-time career. Currently, Johnson Jr. is a rental coordinator for a company that rents heavy equipment. He cautions aspiring actors about building an acting career for the wrong reasons.

“If you’re doing it for the money, don’t do it. If you’re doing it just to get a little fame, don’t do it,” Johnson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of hard work.”



WHAT: “A 3rd First” at the 22nd Annual Black Harvest Film Festival

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6, 6 p.m. Aug. 19 and 8:30 p.m. Aug. 20

WHERE: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Chicago

ETC: Q&A with filmmaker Will Adams to follow Aug. 6 viewing

INFO: and



With two completed feature-length films, “A 3rd First” marks the seventh film project for Chicago native and Columbia College Chicago alum Will Adams, according to a news release from Take1Productions.

Adams initially shared his stories through video as a television production student at Hirsch Metropolitan High School, the release stated.

His previous projects have secured week-long independent runs at ShowPlace ICON Theatre and Studio Movie Grill. The Englewood International Film Festival and Bronzeville Film Festival have also screened Adams’ work.

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