In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind The Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
It's been a decade since the curtain closed on Troy Bolton, Gabriella Montez, and the rest of the East High Wildcats, but you wouldn't know it by looking at Bart Johnson's Instagram page, @bart_johnson. One glance at the account of the actor, most recognizable as Troy's dad and basketball coach Jack Bolton, shows legions of High School Musical faithfuls who enjoy reliving the nostalgia of what is arguably the most successful Disney Channel original movie franchise ever.
Johnson first became a household name while playing the Wildcats' Coach Bolton in the High School Musical franchise until 2008, but videos from his IG account over the past couple years show that HSM's Wildcats still have zero cool when running into him in public.
Case in point: An Instagram video of fans spotting Johnson on the street and completely losing it when he uttered his signature line, "What's up Wildcats? Keep your head in the game!" went viral in June 2017 after the actor and a few fan accounts shared it online. Then, in February, Johnson popped up again on social media when he posted the first episode of the "Coach Bolton Diaries" YouTube series, which detailed the coach's recurring dancing nightmares and proved that the actor wants High School Musical 4 to happen as much as the rest of us do.
Nowadays, Johnson has 112,000 followers and counting on Instagram, the great majority of which are self-professed Wildcats who grew up with the film series. When the actor shared his first Instagram post in February 2014, he remembers the transition to the visual medium being a natural one. "I already record videos all day every day just for fun, and share them with my friends and family," he tells me in an interview for Elite Daily. He cites his interest in video as a reason for his future plans to venture into YouTube. "I’m doing that stuff already," he says. "Honestly, I get a real kick out of making people laugh. If they laugh about a post about you, mission accomplished."
Johnson's explanation for how he grew his following on the social media platform is pretty cut and dry. "I just started throwing things up on Instagram, and I started getting this following, and people seemed to respond to it really well," he explains. However, the reality isn't quite as easy as it sounds.
According to the actor, 99 percent of his fans are High School Musical diehards, which continues to make separating his personal life and current career from his HSM throwbacks a tough balancing act.
Laughing, the actor admits, "If I put too many photos of my family up, people don’t seem to like that. I do get a lot of comments [about my kids], like 'That’s not Troy!' So I have to explain that Troy’s off to college now at Berkeley, and they weren’t paying attention, but I do have more kids, and here they are. I can’t step out of character too much or my Wildcats will get disturbed."
On the other hand, Johnson sometimes shies away from posting only Wildcat-centric images and videos despite the fact that those posts seem to do noticeably better with his followers. "I can’t just do High School Musical because that seems a little pathetic," he explains. "I’m still trying to figure it out. My main goal is to share my real life, who I am and what my life really is, and give a little bit of insight. But at the same time, I want to pay tribute to all my followers."
Currently, finding that balance means creating a separate family page and a new page focused on the franchise (@coach_bart_johnson), where he plans to be "a little less shameless about posting all the High School Musical stuff."
"My idea is to offer a daily dose of coaching from Coach Bolton to anybody that wants it," he says. "I don’t know how that’s going to work and if it's a terrible idea, but I’m experimenting."
As with any popular Instagram page, you can't make everyone happy, and Johnson hopes that his "haters" will stay off the new page.
"I have a couple haters who will show up and be like, 'Hey man, you need to get a life. Move on already. It’s been 10 years,'" he admits. "My response to that is 'Look, 99 percent of people who follow me are diehard Wildcat fans, and when I post something for them, do you read the nice comments? How can I not post for them? I enjoy making people happy, I enjoy very much the passion that people express to me, so why would I not do that?'"
Considering that the High School Musical fandom is very much alive and well, it's a policy that's been paying off on social media. In fact, sharing his first post to Instagram in 2014 — six years after the final High School Musical movie hit theaters — coincided with the timing that his young fans began using social media, and his continued Instagram popularity reflects that.
A few haters aside, Johnson says he's constantly "humbled" by all the love and support he's received from his Wildcats since the original High School Musical movie was released in 2006.
"What’s special about this, at least in my perception, is that it was movie that was really important to a lot of peoples’ youth," Johnson says about the trilogy's enduring popularity. "Every day of my life, I have people who come up to me and say, 'Coach, you don’t understand, you’re my childhood!'"
From being mobbed by 300 kids on elementary school playgrounds to hundreds of high school and college-aged kids running up to him on the street, Johnson has watched his fanbase grow up and keep their excitement about the series, even in places you wouldn't expect.
The actor says one of his fondest recollections was being stopped by a group of teenagers in Sciacca, Italy, who recognized him and then grabbed hundreds of their friends and family — many of whom didn't speak English — to take pictures and talk about their shared love of High School Musical.
"They’re so excited that I never get annoyed and I never get sick of it. I love it. I feel an honor and a privilege to feel a part of peoples’ childhood and something that they have such fond memories of," Johnson says about his global fanbase. "I try to always have gratitude and appreciation for that."
From interacting with fans on and off his Instagram page, the actor says that he feels like there's a big demand for a fourth film and a way to get original cast members involved, although he admits that Disney seems to have a different opinion of what fans are looking for. While another film isn't currently on the front burner, per Johnson, it looks like Disney has taken notice with plans for an all-new High School Musical TV series in 2019, albeit without the nostalgia factor that's hooked the current fandom.
"They do have a great writer and showrunner and producers on the show, so I think it’s going to be really good quality, but I’m just a little concerned that it’s really not what I think the fans want," he says.
Speaking of nostalgia, you'll be happy to hear that Johnson and his on-screen son, Zac Efron, had a bromance IRL. In addition to all the big dance numbers and the part in the movie where he says to Troy and Chad, "What the heck are those two doing in a tree?," the actor says that his favorite scenes to shoot were the ones with Efron.
"It was the most fun to shoot when we got to work together," he says. "I think he’s a really talented actor and a really great guy. He’s an awesome workout partner, just an all around good dude with a great family. I really enjoyed our time together."
They might not work out together anymore, but in October, the actor took to Instagram to pen a meaningful birthday message to Efron with the best High School Musical references.
While his High School Musical throwbacks and birthday odes to his former co-stars might give you nostalgia, Johnson's Instagram page also contains plenty of references to his day-to-day life. In addition to being married to Teen Witch's Robyn Lively, whose sister is Blake Lively, Johnson also boasts Ryan Reynolds as his brother-in-law and calls him an "awesome member of the family."
In fact, his own kids are more focused on becoming superheroes than Wildcats at the moment. "My kids all want to be stuntmen because we were watching Deadpool stunts all summer over in Vancouver," he admits, laughing.
As for the future, Johnson hopes to "keep on keeping on" with his Instagram page and maybe even venture into the world of YouTube with the help of influencer David Dobrik, who currently boasts over 10 million subscribers on YouTube and 6.4 million followers on Instagram. His idea? A blog that's centered on Coach Bolton raising a family in L.A.
"I’m such a softie for the Wildcats, because they’re amazing to me," Johnson says. "There are so much positive, nice, funny comments on there, and they seem so genuine. Fans will message me if they caught a Christmas movie that I did or a TV series that I was on. They’ll send me pictures of them watching different shows. I feel so humbled, and I’m so full of appreciation."
In other words, the High School Musical throwbacks aren't going anywhere, and TBH, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.