How moving to Canada helped Amy Jo Johnson, the first Pink Power Ranger, reinvent her career
Actor gained fame as Kimberly the Pink Ranger, then later with roles in Felicity, Flashpoint
For a young Amy Jo Johnson, Hollywood fame was more daunting than the evil monsters she regularly fought on television.
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles in the early 1990s at the age of 21, the young actor was cast in a new kids' show.
It was called Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and it became an instant hit.
Johnson, who played Kimberly Hart, the Pink Ranger, describes herself as having been "an insecure, naive young girl" at the time, totally unprepared for what would come.
In early 1994, the Rangers made their first live appearance, performing acrobatic stunts and answering fan questions at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. They filled the 4,000-seat amphitheatre four times over. More than 35,000 people flocked to the park, far more than organizers anticipated.
Merchandise stands were mobbed. The freeway was backed up for miles. It was nearly too much for Johnson to handle.
"It was a live show, so we had to, like, stand on top of a huge 20-foot tower and pull off our helmets, and the entire audience started to scream like we were rock stars," she recalled.
"I went home that night and had horrible nightmares — horrible nightmares. It just threw me for a loop," she said. "I realized, in that moment, that I don't want to be famous. I don't want to be a superstar with huge fame. I think it is a strange thing to have people that you don't know, know you."
It was a rude awakening for a young actor in her first role, but Johnson turned it into a launching pad for a fulfilling career — never far away from that pink spandex uniform, but neither held back by it.
And while it made her think twice about staying in the show business, it ultimately led to more varied and rewarding work.
And it was aided in part by her exodus to Canada.
'Ridiculously low' pay for Rangers
Stage fright wasn't the only tough part of the job for Johnson in those early days. Stories of low pay and workplace harassment have trickled out over the years as former Rangers have spoken out in interviews and at fan events.
"It was a non-union show," said Johnson. "At the time, being 21 years old, it was more money than I had ever made, but we were paid a ridiculously low amount of money by industry standards."
Multiple Rangers were replaced after demanding higher wages. David Yost, the Blue Ranger, who later came out as gay, said he quit the show after enduring homophobic slurs from the crew.
In a guest column for Variety this week, Johnson wrote that in addition to being paid "peanuts," she "almost died a few times because of the makeshift low-budget stunts we performed."
Canada 'feels like home'
Johnson left the series in 1995 after appearing in over 120 episodes, and arguably went on to the most successful acting career of anyone in the original squad. She landed a recurring role in Felicity, and counts E.R. and Spin City among her other television and film appearances.
In 2005, she left Hollywood behind and moved to Canada to reevaluate her career.
"I just needed a break from L.A., and from the industry," she said. "I extricated myself, and my entire life, to Montreal, wanting to take a break and look at if I even wanted to act anymore."
It wouldn't be long before the cameras called again. She went on to co-star in the Toronto-based police drama Flashpoint for five seasons, earning a Gemini award nomination along the way.
"When Flashpoint carried me to Toronto, I really fell in love with Canada. Like, as soon as I got to Toronto, I was like, OK, I can make this place my home. This feels like home," she recalled.
She's been a Torontonian for the last eight years and received her Canadian passport in 2015, making her a dual Canadian-American citizen.
Transition into filmmaking, directing
Getting away from the pressures of Hollywood also allowed her to explore a creative side beyond acting.
She has released three folk-rock albums and directed and produced two short films. Her first feature film, The Space Between, is set to launch this summer.
Despite the rocky start, Johnson doesn't consider her legacy as a Ranger to be a burden on her career.
"Without even knowing it at the time, a way to inspire thousands of little girls to believe that they can be as badass as little boys. That, in itself, is priceless," she wrote in her Variety column.
At a press junket for the new film, she surprised the cast — including Naomi Scott, who plays the new Kimberly — by appearing as a reporter for an interview.
They spoke about bridging the gap between generations of Power Rangers fans. In fact, devotees of the show have been a major force in supporting Johnson's more recent work.
In 2014, she donned a Pink Ranger costume and busked in Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square to promote her Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for The Space Between. The campaign was a success. (Additional funding came from Telefilm.)
"It was all those kids that are now grown up that watched Power Rangers that helped fund my movie," said Johnson. "So I feel really very lucky and blessed to have that as my first job as an actor."