When the call came, Scottsdale native Johnna Dias-Watson had just gotten her visa and moved to London. She was still settling into her new place when she learned she had landed a role in a new show called “Wednesday.” She was told they’d be filming in August.
On Aug. 1, production called and said she’d need to be in Romania, where the show would film, on Aug. 3.
So, Dias-Watson quickly packed some bags, figuring she wouldn’t be gone long.
“[This] was the first big job I booked; the first streaming network gig,” she says. “We didn’t know exactly how long I’d be out there. I thought I’d have breaks to come back, so I just packed some stuff. I thought I’d be back by October, the latest.”
She ended up being in Romania for seven months, through March 2022, and appearing in all eight episodes of the show.
Dias-Watson had been cast as Divina in what is now the hit Netflix show “Wednesday,” working alongside such stars as Jenna Ortega, Gwendoline Christie, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Christina Ricci.
“I’m backing up [the character of] Bianca Barclay (played by Joy Sunday). I also have a brother, and he’s also over her shoulder. We’re supposed to be the cool kids, led by Bianca. Wednesday goes to school and butts head with Bianca pretty quickly,” Dias-Watson explains. “I loved being the mean girl. It’s so much fun. It’s hilarious, too, because I can’t imagine glaring [at people when I] first meet them. And when we meet Wednesday, we just glare at her. I've been told I have a good glare!”
Regarding her character, she says, “I love the idea of being this complicated boost—I’m boosting Bianca’s character—but at the same time, I’m building my own. That was so much fun to play.”
Dias-Watson is grateful that she’s had the opportunity to work with the incredible talents in the show.
“It was really cool,” she says. “I never thought my first job would be with Gwendoline Christie or Catherine Zeta-Jones. I just didn’t. That’s the kind of thing you joke about with friends. … I just tried to be nothing but excited, and to soak it all up and learn whatever I could from them. And we got so lucky. They were so nice. Everyone out there was incredible.”
Dias-Watson was just 4 years old when she had her first role on the stage in a production of “The Jungle Book.”
“I literally just came out and held a sign, but I thought it was so cool. I got a costume fitting and got to be on stage and just loved it,” she says.
“And everyone loves kids on stage, so they were cheering, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m really good! I’m really good!” she continues with a laugh.
Of course, it wasn’t always smooth sailing from her stage debut to her role in “Wednesday.”
“I didn’t even always get cast in the shows!” she reveals as she talks about growing up as part of the Valley’s theater world.
Still, she spent most of her time performing at theaters such as Greasepaint Theater, Hale Theater, Southwest Shakespeare, Nearly Naked, and Childsplay.
Her first lead was as Belle in “Beauty & The Beast” at Greasepaint Theater.
“Belle is a dream role,” she says of that show. “And I made some really good friends in that cast.”
One of her other favorite shows that she was part of here in the Valley was “Next to Normal,” which she performed in when she was 16.
“I was always the actor, and I was never the singer,” she says. “I always found that vocally I wasn’t quite on par with some of the other girls my age. I wanted the scenes between the songs and the dialogue. In this show, I really got to act and think about the circumstances for the first time. I also played against a professional actor. So, I loved that play. Also, I was 16 and got to play 16 with all its emotions!”
The last show Dias-Watson performed in before leaving Arizona was “Nevermore.”
“It was interesting because here’s a lot of Edgar Allen Poe in ‘Wednesday,’” she says. “That was my last show in Arizona and, subsequently, the theme of my first big job.”
Moving From the U.S.
Dias-Watson had been part of a summer program in London when she was 16, so when she was 17 and applying for colleges, she applied to a variety of schools in the U.S. but also decided to apply to the Royal Welsh College of Drama & Music in Wales, which she says had been the top drama school in the U.K. for about five years at the time she first applied.
When she got in, she knew she would attend.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” she says. “I was just so excited. I love Arizona, but it’s interesting—being away makes me love it more.”
Her parents supported her path, especially since her mom—Maureen Dias-Watson, who owns the Valley’s Greasepaint Theater—had also been bitten by the acting bug when she was young.
Dias-Watson says her experience at Royal Welsh was unmatched.
Though originally planning to move back to the United States after her time in college, she was approached by an agent while she was there.
“We had a meeting and kept in touch, and then he offered to sign me. I hadn't been expecting a chance to stay in the U.K. I knew I had wanted to, but didn't think it was possible.”
Then the pandemic hit.
When everything was shut down, Dias-Watson came back to Arizona for a while. During that time, she performed in a small role in one project and then a lead role in a feature film that her friend, fellow Arizona native and theater kid Casey Likes (who recently debuted the lead role in the Broadway Show “Almost Famous”), had written.
When Dias-Watson’s visa was approved in April of 2021, her agent in the UK began submitting her for auditions—one of which was the “Wednesday” project.
The Valley and Theater
Dias-Watson credits her theater foundation here in the Valley for her early love of the industry and the experiences that led her to where she is today.
“The opportunities that you get as a young person aspiring to become an actor in Arizona are unmatched by other smaller cities in the U.S. We’re not New York or Los Angeles, but we have probably more than 10 theaters that young people can audition for and get into at any level. The opportunities that you get genuinely are incredible. I’m just so grateful. I haven’t seen that replicated anywhere else. That’s what I spent my life doing when I was there.”