Tim Johnson


Renaissance Man

Actor, athlete, musician, coach, writer, filmmaker, there anything that Theodus Crane can’t do?

You might recognize Theodus Crane as post-apocalyptic survivor Big Tiny on the hit TV series The Walking Dead, or as Zeke on the acclaimed period-drama Underground. Perhaps, without realizing it, you’ve seen his stunt work on the sci-fi series Zoo. Maybe you’ve even taken one of his boxing classes at the Strong Martha gym in West Tisbury. A man of many hats, Crane also has multiple irons in the fire. Case in point: he’s currently working on one musical, two albums, and two films. Martha’s Vineyard Magazine recently caught up with the indefatigable part-time resident to chat about the bold TV characters he’s played, his favorite acting gig, the horror genre he’s famous for, and the creepiest place he’s ever seen. (Surprise: it’s not where you think.) 

Martha’s Vineyard Magazine: You’re from Atlanta and live in New Orleans, but you spend a decent amount of time on-Island. What first brought you to the Vineyard and what do you like about living here? 

Theodus Crane: My wife [Julia Keller]. That’s where she’s from, so I started out visiting her when we first started dating. We split our time 50/50 between New Orleans and the Vineyard, and I actually like the Vineyard more. It’s one of my top five places to be.

MVM: What do you like about it?

TC: I never thought I was one for solitude (laughs), but being off in a house in the woods sometimes is a great way to collect your thoughts and focus your creative energy. I’ve done a lot of really good writing and learning. And it’s a great place to have children; there are so many things to do. It’s really, really just a wholesome place to be, and you don’t have to worry about city things....

Especially since 2020, things have gotten crazier and crazier. The Vineyard has been a reprieve for my nervous system. I really do enjoy being so close to nature.
I don’t want to be in nature; I just want to see it really closely. I get the benefit of that on the Vineyard. 

MVM: While on-Island, you teach martial arts at Strong Martha, a shoebox-sized boxing gym in West Tisbury. How did you find Strong Martha – or did Strong Martha find you? 

TC: I started teaching at Blitz [Fitness in Vineyard Haven], and one of the owners of Strong Martha came for my class and we arranged a meeting. At Blitz I taught mostly kid classes. That’s one of my passions in life: coaching. Martial arts have been something that’s been integral to my growth as a human and my development. That’s something I love sharing with other people.

MVM: You first got into performing through musical theater, and you’re currently writing a musical titled Monstir Monstir. What can you tell us about it?

TC: It started as an album. With every album there’s always an intention of having a story behind it. I make music as a hobby, but I understand that the thing I’m most attracted to is storytelling. I’m in the process of writing the musical now with the intention of shooting it on the Vineyard. It’s a horror movie, from the perspective of monsters, and I haven’t seen a place creepier at night than Massachusetts (laughs).

MVM: Massachusetts is creepy?

TC: Tashmoo Farm [on Lambert’s Cove Road], that’s one of the creepiest places at night that I’ve ever seen. It’s an actual farm with an old historic building. There are stories about people who lived there, a ghost that lived there….In the fall the windows are lit with battery-operated candles or whatever. Sometimes one is lit, or all are lit, and there were some wreaths up for the holidays. When you look at it – the lights shining on the other lights and the wreaths – it’s a sight. One night, this crazy fog bank rolled in…what was meant to be festive and beautiful was actually the scariest thing. 

The thing I really enjoy about that is the juxtaposition – this scary scene versus the actual safety of the Vineyard. Again, there’s that respite for my nervous system. I can just remind myself that the likelihood of something happening here is so low, all I have to do is go home and not worry about it. It’s comforting.

MVM: You’ve amassed an impressive acting résumé, having appeared on The Walking Dead [AMC], Underground [WGN America], Law & Order [NBC], and others. What was your favorite gig so far?

TC: My favorite was Underground, mostly because of the cultural significance. I appreciate the representation it brought; I’m proud to be connected to that body of work. It is some of the best work I’ve done and it was one of the first jobs I had that really motivated me to grow as a performer. 

I am fortunate to work with powerhouses – [Robert] De Niro, [John] Cusack. But that said, in every department there was always greatness. So many Emmy winners, so many Oscar winners, all of that from that one job. It’s been amazing. I’m eternally grateful to have been part of that.

MVM: Let’s circle back to your career as a martial artist. You hold the amateur world heavyweight title in Sanshou, a Chinese form of kick-boxing. How did you break into the world of fighting? 

TC: I found my coach in New Orleans. I’d gained one hundred pounds and started drinking, smoking cigarettes, and I needed to get my life and health back on track. Martial arts had me focus. It’s kind of a testing ground to how resilient you are and how well you can manage your stamina, your energy level. It’s also just really, really fun. 

As for the title…it’s not the Olympics; it’s a whole different thing. But it was still my version of it; it was as far as I was born to go with it. Being a martial artist by trade takes a lot of dedication, similar to an actor. You can’t really do both. 

MVM: It seems like your passion for doing stunts is the through line with your acting and martial arts careers. How did you get your start in the stunt world?

TC: I lived very briefly in L.A. and I got a call from someone looking for a specifically built stunt man. This major stunt company resorted to Facebook groups. It was a sci-fi series called Zoo [that aired on CBS]. I was the only person they could find in the world that matched the main actor’s build. 

I had no idea how to transition with that, but it was something I had always been curious about….That was right before I booked Underground. Being able to do that big stunt work, it gave me confidence. 

MVM: Looking ahead, you are co-producing and starring in a short called Room for Dessert and a feature called Theo Has a Posse. Tell us a little bit more about these new projects.

TC: Room for Dessert is in the post-production phase, and we are pitching it to film festivals now. One of them is the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival and also the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. The writing is by [New Orleans–based writer] Pamela Davis-Noland and it came to her on what she thought was her deathbed. She had breast cancer and she wrote it initially as a one-act play. It’s a response to police killings highlighted in the media. She thankfully got through her breast cancer and was able to bounce back and live life again, and she kept developing this body of work. 

Theo Has a Posse is the total opposite of Room for Dessert. It’s a grindhouse thriller. It’s a revenge flick. It’s pure fun. It’s a great story. It’s set in New Orleans, so that’s where we’re looking to film. It’s fun. We’ll do some driving, flying, shooting.

MVM: You’re also working on an album called Heist Music

TC: I’m working on three albums! I like to work on things in threes. Writer’s block is real, and I don’t like to stagnate. If I get stuck on an idea, or if I just get stuck, I like to pivot. I like to smell different flowers, if you will. I started with Monstir Monstir, that album I am making as a musical. Heist Music is the story of a failed bank heist being told through an album. My influence for that is Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves, because that album has a narrative and I always wanted to do something like that. I started writing that last year. And then I have a song that didn’t fit into either storyline, so I’m making that into a regular old album. I’ll see where I can go with that.

MVM: If you were to produce, star, or write about something on the Vineyard, what story would you tell or create? 

TC: That’s a really good question. It would be a horror movie. That’s my genre. I try to fight it, but it’s my genre. I think it would be based in the summertime, when all the visitors come. Maybe late summer or midsummer, when the culture is the scary thing. Or maybe a story about the native Islanders taking their Island back. I would definitely make the Vineyard the focal point, but I would fictionalize the specifics. I wouldn’t call the place Martha’s Vineyard; I would want artistic freedom and I wouldn’t want to piss anyone off (laughs). 

It’s funny that I haven’t thought of that before – a story about the Vineyard. I drive around and I look at the spaces and the people and I’m just like, “Man, there needs to be more movies here.” I think you have started me on a little journey, so thank you for that.