When we call him Jonny Weston is busy watching “Scooby Doo.”
“I just watch it to decompress,” the actor says, talking to us after an intense weekend promoting the third “Divergent” film, “Allegiant,” in which he plays Edgar, an intense bruiser with a thin Mohawk. In the second film “Insurgent” he was a member of the rebellion; in the third he’s an enforcer for the fascistic rebel leader played by Naomi Watts, hunting down our heroes, including Shailene Woodley’s Tris and Theo James “Four.”
But back to cartoons. In addition to being a “Scooby Doo” nut, he’s way into “Rik and Morty,” the Adult Swim great about a mad scientist grandfather and ever-nervous grandson traveling between planets and dimensions. “One of my goals when I get older is to play Rik in real life,” Weston says. Failing that, he wouldn’t mind just doing animated voicework. “I’d get to show up for work looking horrible, eating Doritos all day. I could get horribly fat and have this great career in cartoons.”
Anyone who does animated voicework will tell you about how it involves saying whatever and having no idea what will end up in the finished product. But don’t assume live-action work means having a sense of control.
“Oh, I gave that feeling up in live-action long ago,” he says. Even on “Allegiant,” director Robert Schwentke would shoot and shoot, having the actor try countless different things in character. “I’d produce as much variety while still being within the boundaries of Edgar. But then I wouldn’t know what takes he was going to use,” Weston says. “I saw this movie a couple days ago, and he used my best takes.”
Born in 1988, Weston is, like “Allegiant” stars Woodley and Miles Teller, very much part of the new wave of exciting young actors taking over Hollywood. Also like them, he’s compulsively cast as characters far younger than he is. He’s played high school age as recently as last year’s “Project Almanac” and he was post-college age in the Zac Efron DJ saga “We Are Your Friends.” Even his nice guy roles tend to have an edge to them, as with his assertive, wheelchair-bound kid in love with a middle-aged ex-punker (Juliette Lewis) in the indie “Kelly & Cal.”
Graduating to blockbusters, which he did with “Insurgent,” was weird at first. “The first time walked on set, I immediately felt uncomfortable. I was like, ‘Whoa, get me out of here,” Weston recalls. Once he saw the giant set that housed the “factionless” group — those who had left “Divergent”’s big, evil version of Chicago — he says he felt right at home.
In “Allegiant” the downtrodden characters allow the dark side to take over. Still, Weston wanted to make sure Edgar wasn’t just a brute. “None of them are sure what they’re doing,” he says. “They’ve been told they’re doing the right thing. They assume the person they’re following is doing the right thing.”
Still, Edgar, at least, corrupts absolutely, seizing his newfound power to become a dangerous bully. One of the first scenes in “Allegiant” finds him lording over a gigantic mob, who are hooting and hollering over a rash of mock-trials and executions of people who were part of the city before it was overthrown.
“It was basically 250 people surrounding me, all screaming at my command on every take,” Weston remembers. “It was both humbling and it’s opposite: It was ego-blasting as well. I had 250 people, dressed like me, who were my people, who trusted in me as their military leader. I could turn the room with the tip of my tongue.”
He says he gets why people, even presidential runners, can’t get enough of screaming crowds. “I felt like I was on fire,” he says. “It was intoxicating.”
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