Staring out the window of his regal suite at the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco, Aaron Johnson seems almost melancholy, a far cry from the excitable superhero wannabe he plays in his new movie, “Kick-Ass.”
“This is my first time here,” he says in his thick English accent, gazing down on Market Street as the early morning fog burns off. “It’s a shame when you arrive in these great places and you realize you’re going to spend your time there holed up in some dark room.”
Johnson, 19, should know. He’s been acting since he was 6, and starred in his first feature, “Tom & Thomas,” at 11.
In the past year, he has been busier than ever, playing a doomed, love-struck teenager in the just-released “The Greatest”; an angry icon-to-be, John Lennon, in “Nowhere Boy”; and comic-book geek Dave Lizewski, the unlikely hero of “Kick-Ass,” which opened Friday.
Already a veteran of stage and screen, Johnson is engaged to be married to Sam Taylor-Wood, 43, his director in “Nowhere Boy,” and is an expectant father.
Does he really know what it’s like to be a high-school misfit whose lone superpower is his ability to seem invisible around girls?
“I went through what Dave is going through when I was about 10,” he says. “At that age, I wasn’t particularly outgoing or charismatic. But I was much younger than he is when I experienced that phase.”
The precociousness has paid off.
In “Kick-Ass,” which appealed to Johnson because its fantastical elements are grounded in a dark, credible human story — he cites Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies as an inspiration — that lends Dave and his crime-fighting alter ego surprising gravity. And he’s winning rave reviews from his co-stars.
“He’s brilliant,” says Los Angeles native Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays rival wannabe Red Mist. “I don’t know if I could do a great British accent, but his American accent is remarkable.”
Adds Nicolas Cage, on hand as the movie’s most formidable vigilante, Big Daddy: “Aaron is the reason ‘Kick-Ass’ works.
There’s one line in the movie that really affected me, where three guys are picking on one guy, and Aaron says — and I’m paraphrasing — ‘I have to stop this!’
“Aaron really sells the line. He does it in such a way that you believe him, and that’s no small thing. He has such a commitment to his delivery, and you’d never know he’s a Brit. I’m completely taken with him — his lifestyle, his acting and his philosophy. I can’t say enough.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloë Grace Moretz, Mark Strong, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Running time 1 hour 57 minutes