Arts and Entertainment

Alumnus embraces 'Lethal' opportunity in TV series

Johnathan Fernandez's role as forensic pathologist “Scorsese” in the Fox series "Lethal Weapon" has been a career-changing opportunity. Credit: Eddy Chen/FOX All Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2006, one alumnus left Penn State with a telecommunications degree in hand. Ten years later, he’s making a name for himself as a forensic pathologist. Well, sort of.

Johnathan Fernandez is starring in Fox’s new series “Lethal Weapon,” an action/drama/comedy based on the movies of the same name. In the show, Fernandez plays a forensic pathologist by the nickname of “Scorsese” after Martin Scorsese, a name his character received from his colleagues on the show because he attended film school and wrote a script.

Coincidentally, a lot of Fernandez’s real-life interests go into this character.

VIDEO: Lethal Access: An Inside Guide to "Lethal Weapon," with Johnathan Fernandez

When Fernandez started at Penn State, he had hopes of someday being a forensic illustrator, or somehow ending up in forensics. As a child, he said he and his mother (the only two who could stomach it in the family) would watch surgeries on The Learning Channel (now TLC).

Fernandez changed his mind countless times after that and earned his telecommunications degree. In addition, he took multiple film classes and even made some of his own films at Penn State.

“For this to be the character I’m playing is really crazy,” said Fernandez. “The coincidence is really insane. Me playing a character like this, a forensics guy who is also a cinephile and also a goofball is just perfection.”

The road to being an actor in Los Angeles wasn’t an easy one for Fernandez. Born in Brooklyn before moving to the Poconos, Fernandez is the first generation of his family to be born in the United States; his mother came from Colombia and his father is from Honduras. With his mother working for an engineering firm and his father an electrician, being an actor wasn’t exactly a natural path.

Fernandez initially got into the TV business the summer before his senior year at Penn State. Through the Office of Internships and Career Services in the College of Communications, led by Assistant Dean Bob Martin, Fernandez landed an internship with MTV’s “Total Request Live.” Following graduation, Martin put Fernandez in touch with alumnus Dave Zigerelli, who was then working with the show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in New York City. Zigerelli helped get Fernandez an interview and he was hired as an audience page for the show.

After about three months, the show went on hiatus. Without a job, Fernandez received a stroke of luck. One of his mother’s coworkers had a husband who worked in production at ABC.

“It was a really serendipitous moment because I just met the right guy at the right time when they were hiring. I had an informal interview and I got hired to be a production scheduler for every daytime show of ABC.”

Fernandez later started taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Improvisational and Sketch Comedy Training Center in New York City.

Fernandez spent 10 years in New York City, making a name for himself in shows, films and commercials with his comedy. His credits include HBO’s “GIRLS,” “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and many more. He has also worked on his own sketch shows and written scripts.

“As much as I was hoofing it in New York at the UCB and doing as many shows and auditions as possible, the first person that really legitimized me as a talent, was my manager Edna Cowan,” said Fernandez. “Once we started working together, I was able to get into doors that I didn't even know existed, as well as land major auditions. It's been almost six years now that her and I have been working together and she's been an invaluable adviser in my career, as well as a treasured friend.”

One of the doors Cowan helped open for Fernandez was ABC’s 2015 NY Talent Showcase, which puts up-and-coming actors in front of industry professionals like agents, managers, producers and more. One of only 14 people chosen to participate, Fernandez was named a standout performer.

After that, an agency signed him before pilot season hit, which generally runs from January to April when new shows are being cast.

“It just kind of changed the landscape entirely,” said Fernandez. “All of a sudden, instead of going out for one or two pilots a year, I went out for like 39 or some crazy number like that.”

In the end, he got the spot on “Lethal Weapon,” packed his bags and moved to LA.

The show, which earned a full-season order (18 episodes), is now six weeks into its season. Workdays vary for Fernandez depending on how many scenes he needs to shoot. Some days could be three hours, while others could be 12. The team takes about nine days to shoot an episode, and Fernandez usually shoots from one to three days per episode.

This job, though, is different than other ones Fernandez has been around.

“People hear about a show like ‘Lethal Weapon’ and automatically before the sentence is over, they’re rolling their eyes because they’re like, ‘Come on, another reboot. How are you going to tackle iconic characters like that?’” said Fernandez. “Because of that, the entire crew from top to bottom has been people who really wanted to do something special. This is a job that you leave other jobs for.

“When you show up for work, it feels like you’re not doing anything. It feels like you’re just hanging out because everybody wants to be there. I show up with the cadavers, I make the jokes and I leave and then they go continue to blow something up.”

And another thing that’s blowing up is Fernandez’s career. Now, playing a major role on a Fox show, Fernandez has solidified himself as a proven commodity. For him, having a regular role on a show like “Lethal Weapon” has been his goal and dream. Now that he has proven himself, he has already auditioned for other major roles in shows and movies — things that wouldn’t have come along prior to “Lethal Weapon.”

Not only has he had more opportunities for larger roles, but since he now has some clout, people are also more interested in his ideas and his scripts.

While Fernandez believes he is already living the dream, he also has goals for the future such as being in a Star Wars movie or starring in a Marvel movie. All of a sudden, those jobs don’t seem so far away.

“I can’t help but think about what this means for the future,” said Fernandez. “Now, people know me as a series regular on a major network. That means certain jobs are going to come by. The days of the one-line characters are over.”

Johnathan Fernandez, the first in his family to go to college, has parlayed his experience at Penn State into opportunities in Los Angeles and New York City. Credit: Brian Bowen Smith/FOXAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated June 02, 2021