by Cathy Tollefson '83
Sometimes acting isn’t just about performance. Sometimes getting a part has more to do with how white your teeth are, or if your eyebrows are crooked, or any other superficial quality a casting director might (or might not) be looking for. But for Devielle Johnson, performing is all about what shapes each day—feeling. And while connecting to our feelings can be unconscious for many of us, for Devielle it’s a deliberate part of creating a character. “After all of the auditions I’ve done and for all of my successes and failures, I still get butterflies before a performance or audition,” he says. “Sometimes I think, ‘I should be past all this,’ but then I realize I need those feelings to explore and connect to a role.”
The technique works. It has landed him in numerous theater productions, film, and in national television commercials for clients such as, Nike, Car Toys, and Sleep Country USA.
Devielle, a Tacoma native and Lincoln High School grad, was a football recruit at Washington State University and spent a year in Pullman before returning home to help care for his ailing grandfather. Devielle’s maternal grandparents raised him, his brother, and two sisters. His grandfather, a career military man, encouraged Devielle to go to college instead of joining the service. So, while working two jobs, caring for his son, and helping out at home, Devielle attended Tacoma Community College, too.
“My grandfather always told me, if you’re going to be something, be the best at it,” he recalls. “And, that’s what I try to do, stay focused on what’s important—my faith and family come first—and all kinds of doors have opened.” He feels strongly about raising his two sons in Tacoma, rather than Los Angeles. “This is my community and I want to stay here,” he says.
Gordon Elliott ’76, then Puget Sound football coach, encouraged Devielle to come play for the Loggers. Arriving at UPS at age 24, Devielle declared a communication and theatre arts major and was soon encouraged by professors Geoff Proehl, John Rindo, and the late Scott Weldin to try out for university productions.
In one of his first roles, as a warrior in Our Country’s Good, Devielle caught the acting bug. “I was so inspired by everyone around me,” he says. It wasn’t until he got the male lead in the 1999 production of Antigone, though, that he began to see himself as a serious actor. “I thought, ‘They’ll never cast a black Creon.’ But they kept encouraging me to try out for the part.”
After earning his undergraduate degree, Devielle received a specialized graduate degree from Clover Park Technical College in media design and performance, and he was part of a student team that received first place in a national competition for their documentary on the opening of Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. “The program really helped me appreciate the whole process, including set design and directing,” he says.
Devielle continues to hone his craft at the Seattle Acting School, now in his third year there. “I’m in the advanced training classes three days a week, and two days a week in non-class practice. When I’m in L.A., I train at Playhouse West. I realize I’ll never stop training,” he says.
Devielle also has a day job with the City of University Place as a youth coordinator—after eight years as the athletic and Building Opportunities Through Technology lab director at the D.A. Gonyea Boys and Girls Club in Tacoma. Between work, training, and marketing his acting career (with the help of a manager and five agents across the U.S. and Canada), how does he have time for family life?
“I couldn’t do any of this without Ali,” Devielle says of wife Alison Anattol Johnson ’99. “The best thing about coming to UPS was meeting my beautiful wife.” Devielle also enjoys time with his two biggest fans, sons D’ondre, 13, and Santana, 10. He coaches every sport they participate in. “I want to help them find their creative passion in life,” he says.
So, what’s next for Devielle’s career? Stay tuned—with a recent audition for the new Brian De Palma movie, Redacted, a film based on the events surrounding the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by four U.S. soldiers, along with callbacks for CBS’s series CSI and The Unit, and the new series, Dirt, on FX, Devielle won’t be waiting in the wings for long.