Oak Park’s own Johnny Westmoreland started acting 21 years go. He remembers his first performance fondly. His acting instructor asked him to be in her play, Glory Train. He recalls asking her if she had a script, and she said no.
“She said, just wear all white and act like you [are] a pimp, and you [are] buying your way to heaven,” Westmoreland explained, laughing. I ain’t doing that in front of all them people! But I went ahead and did it without a script and everybody loved it. So I kept going and kept pursuing.”
Soon after, Westmoreland landed his first television commercial — for State Farm Insurance.
“I needed something to do to make people laugh. And I have a passion for it, so that’s how I started,” he said.
Since then, Westmoreland has had a thriving acting career.
He appeared in The Chi in 2019 as the main character’s dad. That led to roles on 2016’s Fatal Attraction and 2019’s Easy on Netflix. His film credits include Ebola, Shanda Did What? and Festival. Additionally, he has appeared in numerous theater productions.
Westmoreland says he prefers acting in television series because it allows for increased exposure and opportunities to stretch his acting abilities, especially with the possibility of doing more than one episode of a show.
“The audience gets to see the growth in not just a [recurring character], but hopefully in my [skills as an actor over time],” he adds.
His latest role is in Candyman, a supernatural slasher film co-written by Jordan Peele and directed by Nia DaCosta. The 2021 film is meant to be a direct sequel to the original Candyman released in 1992, ignoring the sequels done in 1995 and 1999.
Westmoreland plays the first Candyman, Samuel Evans, from the 1950s. Evans is one of many variants of Candyman who form The Hive, whose purpose is to bring the tragic truth of Black oppression to the forefront, emphasizing how systemic racism continues to justify violence against Black people, from lynching and murder to gentrification and police brutality.
He says it was an honor to play a version of such an iconic serial killer, especially because he was hand-picked by Peele, who felt Westmoreland had an uncanny resemblance to the actor who played the original Candyman in the 1992 film.
Filming the horror movie wasn’t as frightening as he imagined it was going to be.
“I thought it was going to be a very scary movie, but it wasn’t,” he says. “They used a Cyprus scanner to [disfigure my face]. I made like 20 different faces, and all of them [were] ugly. Candyman was being transformed from me and it was really cool to see the process of that.”
Westmoreland grew up in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. He’s a multihyphenate artist who also plays the guitar and harmonica and has been a motivational speaker for nearly 25 years throughout the Midwest. He believes all it takes is for one person to listen and to be motivated by his talks, and that is why he continues to do speaking engagements.
“I [want] the audience to know that good can come out of the hood,” he says. “I want [kids especially] to know it doesn’t matter where you come from; it’s about striving to do your best [by letting] God lead you. Everybody [has] a purpose in life. Ask [God] what’s your purpose and your vision, and he will show you.”
Acting, motivational speaking, and giving back gives Westmoreland a great sense of personal and spiritual joy. However, he says his greatest joy comes from being a supportive father to his 17-year-old daughter. While she also has a love for acting, he is quick to note she has her own agenda for her future.
“She’s a professional dancer and singer. She can really sing. She’s been singing since she was 5, like in front of 1,500 people,” he gushed. “She’s also a much better actor than I am.”
Westmoreland moved to Oak Park in 1988, and he continues to live here because it’s a good place to raise a family, he said.
“I like the parks. It’s just a great atmosphere to live in. Everything is right at your feet, and you can’t ask for anything more.”
He credits his strong belief in God for why he never thought to move to Los Angeles, like most actors.
“God will always show me where to go; until then, I’m staying put in Oak Park.”