J.M. Where are you from? and what kind of child were you?
I’m the baby of six kids, raised by my siblings and former missionary parents in St. Paul, Minnesota, on and around a particularly liberal and international Liberal Arts college campus where my dad taught French. Growing up, I had no idea that protests, flag burning, public drunkenness and the like … were not the norm, nor was a strong emphasis on volunteerism and ‘Good Samaritan’ service work.
As a kid, I was both driven and clumsy. I found it almost impossible to follow the rules and expectations in front of me. I was forever starting ambitious projects like writing and distributing books (“published” with the mimeograph machine and paper cutter in the church office where my mother worked part-time.) At the same time, I often got C’s and D’s in school.
By age 7, I was going to keggers with my older sister Peggy and got painted up by her friends on LSD for “Springfest.” But I was socially awkward with kids my own age, teased a lot, andfelt the emotional sting many gay boys feel when they’re ostracized and belittled, if not outright bullied by kids around them.
J.M. What inspired you to become a model?
Another of my big sisters was a successful commercial actress and print model. I idolized her, and saw how she was treated like a celebrity on sets. There was an army of makeup people, clothing stylists and photographer’s assistants huddled around her. I yearned for that attention and the approval it seemed to embody.
Also, this was the Midwest in the 1970s. Life was humble … and beige. ANY photo shoot would’ve been newsworthy. The large commercial ones my sister dragged me to amazed me with their craft service tables and massage therapists.
When I was 15, she got me with an appointment with her modeling agent. They took me on provisionally–I was gawky but looked wholesome and corn fed, so they were willing to give me a shot.
It was probably three months before I booked my first gig through them, a back-to-school poster for a local optical chain. Glamorous? No. But I felt like the king of the world.
J.M. We know that modeling is your passion, what is your day job?
I’m a voice-over narrator. I do promos and trailers. I do a good chunk of the VOs you hear on FOX, some of CBS, all of Bloomberg, about half of Nickelodeon, and most of the 20th Century Fox movies aimed at kids and family audiences.
I also write books. I’ve got four novels available now. The most recent of them is IF THE RAINS DON’T CLEANSE, a historical novel based on my parents’ experiences while missionary schoolteachers in Congo in the 1950s. I wrote about the brutality of the environment they encountered, as well as the ugliness of colonialism, something my parents eventually could no longer stomach. Mom and Dad decided to leave and escaped Congo just as the handover of power from Belgium to locals erupted in bloodshed. (It was back stateside that I was born.)
J.M. What kind of shoots do you like to do?
I’m pretty much done with commercials shoots. They don’t really interest me any more. Men have an advantage with modeling in that we can typically work for more years than women can. But if things aren’t interesting to me, if I don’t feel inspired or challenged, I tend not to do them. Hollywood has been kind enough to pay me well for stuff I do, so I have the option to pick and choose what I work on.
At this point, I am all about collaborating with talented photographers, stylists, etc. to push the limits of what each of us can do as performers, artists, and craftspeople. So it ends up being a lot of coffee table books and benefit projects. I’m flattered to be profiled by YOU, because you are one of my very favorite photographers of all time, not just technically but because of your out-of-the-box thinking, attention to detail/perfectionism, and almost freakish devotion to creating alternate worlds.
I won’t say ‘no’ to certain commercial projects here and there — there’s a salon in West Hollywood whose owners I am fond of, and for the last few years I’ve done the big posters in their windows. And I’ve done ads and posters for a few gyms and fitness products I like.
How about this? I like shoots where I feel afterward that I’ve grown. Or where camera has seen a side of me that’s not been explored before.
J.M. Would you consider yourself a good boy or a bad boy? And what would others consider you to be?
As coy as it may sound, it depends on who you ask. I’m very much a mix of angel and devil, and different people see in very different roles. Mostly I’m a good boy — I do a lot of philanthropy and service work, don’t stay out late or hang with the party crowd. As far as bad boy goes … in my day I’ve been involved in a romantic tangle or two. (grin)
J.M. You seem to be a Renaissance man and have your hands in various charities and political arenas? What is your personal agenda?
I’m and advocate and activist for civil rights and religious tolerance.
My main focus is on the LGBT community, and our youth and seniors in particular. But I’m also passionate about protecting the rights of Muslim-Americans and others whose background or beliefs don’t match the current mainstream.
I have my own small foundation and sit on the boards of several organizations including the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and the NOH8 Campaign. I just became a member of the LifeWorks mentoring cabinet and in 2011 I joined the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
J.M. What is your life-long dream?
May I choose more than one? I’d like to see the world be a kinder place for all people. I’d like to see us give each other the benefit of the doubt more. We’re generally horrible to each other, but have it within us to be remarkable. I want to be an agent of change, a walking/talking catalyst to motivate others to find their better self.
For me personally, I want to get a house in the mountains and move there at least half time. I want a place with a creek on the property, water gurgling day and night as it falls on the rocks. I want hiking trails.
And I want a gorgeous semi-crazy man to share it with.
J.M. What two celebrities, dead or alive, would you want to have at a dinner with and what would you ask them?
I’ll skip the obvious answers like Jesus and Obama. How about this — I’d like to have dinner with Snoop Dog and Biblical scholar Karen Armstrong.
I’ve always had a feeling I’d get along really well with Snoop, though we’ve never met. Not sure exactly what we’d talk about but I suspect there’d be a lot of marijuana involved. Snoop has this sort of pragmatic groundedness that really appeals to me. Not to compare Snoop to a tortoise, but his degree of calm is the same that African Sulcata tortoises show, and it’s why I keep them as pets.
Karen Armstrong is a brilliant woman who has accrued such remarkable wisdom over the course of her life — first as a nun, then as a leading expert on Islam — that the seems to sweat wisdom and brilliance. I’m guessing that, at dinner, I’d hardly have to ask her anything — “How’s the weather?” would get a brainy, zany comeback that’d have me keyed up with excitement, reconsidering my position on the sky, weather, and what it all means.
J.M. What is your favorite sexual position?
Favorite position? Employed, beotch!
No, no, no … I’m very passionate and love to be really engaged with the guy I’m having sex with. So sometimes my favorite “position” is just bodies pressed together, making out, staring in each other’s eyes, hands exploring.
As far as the rest of it, let’s just say this: I was initially drawn to your photography, Mr. Monroe, for two reasons — the over-the-top artistic whimsy, and the way you photograph and showcase men’s asses. I’m all about a gorgeous ass and thoughts of what I might do to and with it.
Does that answer your question? (smirks)
J.M. If you were an animal what would you be and why?
I’d be a caracal, a medium-sized wildcat native to the very southern U.S. and parts of Mexico and Central America. They’re fierce-looking but kindly, with golden coats, muscled athletic bodies, and giant ears made for listening.
J.M. What exciting projects have you been doing lately and what is in the future for Ben Patrick Johnson?
I’ve been blessed with lots and lots of voice-over work this year — almost 3,500 voice-over sessions total in 2011. I’m helping raise my two teenaged Godchildren. I’m in the middle of writing my sixth novel, which I will complete in 2012. And I hope to do a number of interesting shoots with you, sir!
Oh and there’s that idea of meeting and eventually marrying a gorgeous, semi-crazy guy … with a great backside.
J.M. What is your favorite quote of all time?
It’s the Golden Rule — not a quote, really, but the foundation of most world religions before they get twisted by our fears, pettiness and desire to control others. If there’s a single useful rule for how to get along in life, this is surely it:
“Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.”
Try it every day! And know I’ll be doing the same.