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What Keean Johnson Has Been Doing Since Alita: Battle Angel

It would be hard to call Alita: Battle Angel a "breakout role" for anyone involved. Muddled reviews from critics tamped down excitement over the live-action adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's beloved series, and the majority of the talk around the film centered on whether it made back its bloated $170 million budget at the global box office. (For the record, it did, earning $404 million worldwide.) Still, for those who saw Alita: Battle Angel, it was hard not to be drawn to Keean Johnson's performance as Hugo, a scrap dealer who becomes a romantic interest of Rosa Salazar's amnestic cyborg Alita

The one-time Broadway star had moved beyond the stage years before Alita: Battle Angel. Johnson became a regular on several seasons of Nashville as Colt Wheeler, the heavy-hearted son of Will Chase's Luke Wheeler. Alita: Battle Angel was Johnson's first crack at a Hollywood movie, however, and he didn't waste the opportunity. Since his turn as the orphan love interest of Alita, he's kept busy with big-budget films and massively hyped premium cable shows. Though Hollywood as a whole seems to be on hold given the current state of the world, Johnson's backlog of projects will keep him on our screens well into the near future. 

Keean Johnson joined the cast of Euphoria after Alita: Battle Angel

On the television side of things, Keean Johnson is sticking to adaptations of foreign successes. After his time in the effects-studded, cameo-filled world of Alita: Battle Angel, Johnson went with a much more grounded and gritty role. He dropped into the drug-soaked and sex-obsessed world of a Los Angeles(ish) high school on Euphoria, HBO's take on the Israeli drama of the same name that's regarded by many as one of the best TV series of 2019.

Johnson plays Daniel, a student at East Highland and a former flame of Kat Hernandez, played on Euphoria by Barbie Ferreira. To further complicate things, Daniel has also taken an interest in Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney), the older sister of protagonist Rue Bennett's (Zendaya) childhood best friend Lexi (Maude Apatow). Though Daniel is definitely a tertiary character, flitting in and out of the series for six of the eight episodes of season 1, his frequent dalliances with main characters — and a party he hosts near the end of the first season of Euphoria – serve as launching points for many feuds. 

Keean Johnson appeared in Midway

The same year Keean Johnson turned up on Euphoria, he starred in Midway, a war epic that launched in theaters just a month before director Sam Mendes' critically acclaimed, multi-Oscar-winning flick 1917 arrived on screens. The film centers on U.S. Navy aviators and sailors during the Battle of Midway, a naval battle that played out across four days of July 1942 during World War II.

Alongside Ed Skrein as Lieutenant Richard "Dick" Best, Aaron Eckhart as Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, Patrick Wilson as Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton, Woody Harrelson as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and many more, Johnson portrayed Chief Aviation Radioman James Murray — just one part of the massive ensemble cast that brought to life the historic battle under the watchful eye of disaster auteur Roland Emmerich. 

The three-day long naval battle is perfect for a large-scale blockbuster, telling the story of a planned ambush that was undercut by U.S. intelligence and a decisive victory for Allied Forces. Midway was a bit of a passion project for Emmerich, who raised the funds for the movie outside of the studio system. Its $100 million budget made Midway one of the most expensive independent productions ever — and it just barely made it back, pulling in $125 million at the global box office. 

Keean Johnson's upcoming projects

Keean Johnson's current project, a teen movie drama called The Ultimate Playlist of Noise, is likely on hold (as are many other Hollywood productions as of this writing), but that doesn't mean we won't see him in new projects in the future. He's finished filming on two other movies: Emperor and Cut Throat City

The latter is a heist film set in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and directed by RZA. Also starring Eiza González, Ethan Hawke, Kat Graham, Wesley Snipes, Shameik Moore, and more, Cut Throat City follows a crew looking to pull off a robbery to help lift themselves out of their desperate situation: being pursued by local gangsters and the police for a job gone wrong. Johnson portrays a character named Junior in the film.

Emperor, directed by Mark Amin, tells the story of an escaped slave making his way north so he can settle outside of slave states. Along the way, he meets famous abolitionists like Fredrick Douglass and John Brown. Opposite stars like Kat Graham, James Cromwell, Bruce Dern, and Mykelti Williamson, Johnson will play Rufus Little in Emperor.

Cut Throat City, which was meant to premiere at the now-cancelled South by Southwest festival in March 2020, has been pushed back until it can be screened in theaters. It's also unclear when Emperor will open.