Woman’s Day (Australia)
5 minutes with... SAMUEL JOHNSON
The multifaceted actor and writer has curated his most revealing book to date…
Having lost his mother Merrill and sister Connie well before their time, Samuel Johnson knows how important it is to express your love to the people closest to you. In his new book, Dear Lover – the fourth in his Dear series – he does just that.
Talking to Woman’s Day, the 44-year-old opens up about what it was like editing love letters from some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Larry Emdur, Turia Pitt and John Paul Young, and also explains how challenging it was putting pen to paper for his own lover, Emma Rooke, while seemingly “outing” them as a couple. And why he did it all for his late sister.
This is such a lovely idea for a book, how did you come up with the concept?
Dear Santa was the ninth highest-selling non-fiction book in the year it was published. Dear Dad was a retail hit and Dear Mum went off. We were happy for that to be it and then Dear Lover emerged. It rose to the top. I didn’t realise it, but we opened a can of worms. We all love differently. Some people are single by choice, some have partners who are dead, and some people’s love is well and truly on the rocks. The love we share goes up and down, and
comes and goes, but when it works, there’s nothing like it. Even if we aren’t looking for it, it can bowl us over on any given day. This collection of letters is a delightful, funny and honest look at our significant others. All letters were provided free of charge, which will hopefully, and most importantly, help fulfil my most longed-for wish – to find a cure for cancer. Cancer takes our partners too.
You’ve been deeply affected by cancer. How do you think your sister Connie [who died from cancer in 2017] would have reacted to this book?
I wish Connie could have written for this book. Her letter would have been to Mike, the father of her two boys. They met at Noodle Box. He’s Noodle Boy from across the road. He always will be. It’s hysterical. Connie would have written a very funny letter. I know she would have been so proud because books are a family tradition. The whole family ran seven second-hand bookshops for a couple of decades and Dad, Mum and all three kids are published.
Did you have particular names in mind when you were organising this book? Or did you just shoot out a mass email asking everyone you knew?
We have a bunch of reliables, with big profiles, that are happy to write various letters, and others, like Tom Gleeson, who will help when they can. I’ve been hassling celebrities for decades now.
What was the most surprising letter you got back?
This is a very inclusive, heartfelt, revealing, raw and sometimes spicy book. It’s full of surprises. Bev’s [Killick] letter is very real and a little bit sad. Sam Mac opens up about the recent birth of his baby girl. There is another letter that just says, “Dear Lover, make yourself known.” I won’t say who wrote that one.
Do you have a favourite?
I have many favourites here. It’s hard to rank them. I like the letters that go there and make my heart feel all the things. If I groan, cry out or clutch a pearl, it’s a ripper of a letter, and this book is full of them.
Now your own letter is for your girlfriend Emma. Did you hand it to her to read before publishing the book? Or will she read it when it comes out?
I showed my girl in advance. I wasn’t going to wait until Valentine’s Day and then show her, which some people have done. I might have gotten something wrong, and I needed her nod. It’s the first time I’ve been public about Emma. For 10 years
she has lived happily in the shadows, so “coming out” was a big deal for both of us. Just because I’ve got a public profile doesn’t mean she wants one.
How easy was it for you to write your letter?
I wrote my letter in 10 minutes. It just came out. It kind of wrote itself.
Are you a letter writer outside of this book, or a more face-to-face guy?
I don’t just write letters for books. I wrote to Larry Emdur after I read his book. I wrote to Jon Faine after I read his. I write letters to so many Love Your Sister villagers. It’s how many of us stay in touch. Roald Dahl returned every letter he received! My friend Marnie got two replies from him. To me, letters are very important, and I keep them all. Publishing this book means so much more to me than playing Molly Meldrum. It’s my sixth publication and my best yet, by far.