Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, co-star of the "Be Cool" Movie!
The charismatic superstar and the "People's Champion" is known to millions of wrestling fans as "The Rock" inside the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) ring. Off the brutal and tough wrestling venues, he has become a hollywood superstar. Johnson became a third-generation wrestler after shifting from a career in professional football to professional wrestling when an injury sidelined his gridiron aspirations. After flexing his acting muscles on television in Saturday Night Live, That '70s Show (in which he played his own father), and The Net, the Rock made his feature debut with his role as the dreaded Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns (2001). Returning as the same character the following year in the appropriately titled The Scorpion King, Johnson did little to enhance his reputation of a trained thespian, though he did get the summer film season off to a rousing start for audiences hungering for some energetic escapist fun. Recalling John Milius's 1982 hit Conan the Barbarian (another film that launched the cinematic action career of a then-little known athlete named Arnold Schwarzenegger), the sword and sand adventure raked in 36 million dollars on its opening weekend and stuck at the top of the box office in the weeks following its impressive debut.
Though he would return to the ring for the remainder of 2002, it didn't take The Rock long to soften on the prospect of a return to the silver screen - and with the following year's The Rundown he did just that. Cast as a bounty-hunter who is sent to Brazil to retrieve the son of a well-known mob boss (American Pie's Sean William Scott), the film provided The Rock with the sort of opportunity to display his notable comic flair - a notable talent that was mostly neglected in the special-effects laden Scorpion King. By this point his screen career had earned the wrestler-turned-actor a notable fanbase that reached well beyond the WWE universe, and in 2004 he took the law into his own hands with the feature remake (in name and general concept only) Walking Tall. Based on the exploits of hard-case Southern sheriff Buford Pusser (played by Joe Don Baker in the original 1973 version of Walking Tall) - the film found The Rock cast as an hoest, retired soldier who - upon return to his small, rural Washington State hometown - discovers his former high school rival Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) has corrupted the once prosperous town by introducing drugs and gambling and effectively shutting down the once-prosperous lumber mill. Anyone who saw the original (and even those who didn't) could no doubt tell what follows - and if there ever was a man to lay the smackdown to the criminal element few could doubt that The Rock would be up for the task. Dwayne Johnson was born on May 2, 1972, in California.
The Rock Slams His Wrestling Future
The Rock says he's a bit surprised that his wrestling career ended and no one told him.
Although for the last two years he's not worked fulltime for the World Wrestling Federation, now the WWE, he says, "My contract was up and it came and went last year."
He says, "I wasn't contacted or notified or anything like that. It wasn't until my own team had basically congratulated me, like, 'Oh my God, what a wonderful career you've had, congratulations.' I was like, 'What? Really? I'm done?' So I wish that it would've gone down a little bit differently. So that part I'm sad about."
Although his name is Dwayne Johnson, he's credited with his wrestling name when starring in "The Scorpion King," "The Rundown," "Walking Tall" and his latest film "Be Cool," opening Friday (March 4) in which he plays a flamboyantly gay body guard.
"I'm able to go out and use the name The Rock and be billed as The Rock if I wanted to in movies," he says. "But I do miss the fans.That part sucks. I mean, I can't perform live like that. I love the live interaction, period."
Although he'd entertain going back to wrestling, if offered a contract again, he remains busy with a slate of action movies including "Doom," "Gridiron Gang," "Instant Karma" and "Johnny Bravo."
Dwayne ''The Rock'' Johnson: On playing a gay, country western singing bodyguard
The Rock's career is hitting all the right notes lately. Scorpion King, The Rundown and Walking Tall were all hits, and he's now taking on the video game genre with Doom, which recently wrapped shooting, and John Woo's Spy-Hunter, which will begin production later this year. Just when you thought you could peg The Rock as "the new king of action," as he was labeled after his recent run of success, he's decided to shake it up in a way no one could have predicted.
In Be Cool, The Rock plays Elliot Wilhelm, a gay, country western-singing bodyguard. Yes, you read that right. Few things about The Rock's character in Be Cool are what you would expect. In fact, about the only part that could draw any connection with his past roles is that he is a bodyguard, which certainly suits the large, heavily built action star. Elliot is the bodyguard to Vince Vaughn's hip-hop talkin' Raji. Wilhelm is also an inspiring actor. Key moments in the film include a surprising music video rendition of Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" and a spot-on monologue reading of the cheerleader standoff between Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union in Bring It On. Trust me, I couldn't make stuff like this up.
The Rock's comical character is an unexpected, refreshing and witty turn for the growing star. Proving that he's more than just brawn, Rock mixes his trademark charisma with a talent for comic timing to score some of Be Cool's biggest laughs. He more than holds his own opposite Be Cool's ridiculously star-studded cast including John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, Andre Benjamin, James Woods, Steven Tyler and Christina Milian, among others.
IGNFF spoke to The Rock at the recent Be Cool press day in Los Angeles. Dressed for success, Rock came in wearing a suit and his always present smile.
Rock says it was actually the strength of the part that drew him to Be Cool more than his desire to depart from action films. "I didn't take the role specifically to get away from the action genre. I took the role because for me it was a meaty role, it was a challenge. You guys get this all the time with actors, how they always wait for that role to be fearless, where they can jump off the cliff, and for me that was this role when I saw it… [It was] an opportunity to play a guy who was conflicted in a world that he didn't want to be in, and still at the same time, felt that he had something to offer the world through song and through dance. And he was a gay man who was proud and by the end of the movie embraced even more him being gay…
"In terms of drawing from things in my own life, I connected with Elliott. Here's this aspiring actor, that was me five years ago, probably about the time where I met a lot of you guys. And this is a guy who doesn't have any money, that was me eight years ago. I was lucky in my life because I had a lot of positive gay influences, and my mentor for many, many, many years is a strong, steadfast, truthful gay man, who by the way I've literally seen kick a lot of people's asses… He was a former professional wrestler. His name is Pat Patterson."
Without being pre-judgmental to the wrestling faithful, it certainly seems possible that some of those fans may not take too kindly to seeing The Rock as a country western-singing gay man. "No, I think they're going to be very supportive because, at the end of the day, I have always wanted to entertain, and I think they would just appreciate [my] taking on the role…" The character of Elliot is a sweet, innocent guy, but his innocence could be taken by some as stupidity. "As far as being stupid, I've got to disagree with you. I don't think Elliott is a stupid man. I think he's an earnest man who's genuine. And by the way, I'm sure you guys have come in contact with them. That's the reality of Hollywood and the entertainment business. There's a lot of people like Elliott out there right now. You can go outside and they are those aspiring actors who'll drop a monologue on you at the drop of a dime. And by the way I live it every day, people who come up to me, 'Hey, I got this idea, I got a CD, I got a script…' So I've seen that before…"
The music industry in Be Cool is portrayed as shady and corrupt. We asked The Rock about the similarities between that world and the wrestling world of his past. "I think there's a lot of similarities; I think over all the entertainment industry, period. There's a seedy underbelly to the movie business, to the music business as well. I wasn't that familiar with the music, or at least that side of it. Speaking to John Travolta over the months of us filming, as well as Andre, knowing a lot of musicians, it's a pretty accurate depiction of what goes on. We made it funny, we poked fun at it, but the reality of it is true."
The original Elliot character of Elmore Leonard's novel Be Cool was written with The Rock in mind. Leonard made specific reference to the eyebrow talent in the book. "I love self-deprecating humor, I've always been a big fan of that, and to have that joke run through the movie, 'Look, I've got talent!' I thought that was a great joke too. But no, if there's another creative way to throw that in there to make fun of myself, sure.
"I was familiar with Elmore's work… It's interesting because the script was sent and my agent said, 'Hey, you should check the script. It's an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, and it will be the sequel to Get Shorty, and the character's name will be Elliott… I think it would be fantastic.' So I said okay… I'm reading it, and it says Elliott Wilhelm, age 30, aspiring actor, talented, raises one eyebrow, and gay. Okay. And I read it, and it was fantastic. Really, really well written… I met Elmore, which was actually a thrill, it was great. He'd come in from Detroit and he had said, 'Oh, thank you so much for doing the movie. I wrote this for you about six or seven years ago... And I thought of you, this aspiring actor.' And he wanted to make a joke about the eyebrow, and I said, 'Where'd the gay part come from?' (Laughs) And he said, 'Oh no, I just thought that would be interesting.'"
One of the film's funniest moments is when we see a portion of a music video Elliot made singing a Loretta Lynn song. The Rock just might deserve a writing credit for that scene-stealing moment. "I came up with that because one of my favorite movies is Coal Miner's Daughter and I know Sissy Spacek sung her own songs in that, so I thought, well yeah, "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man," it makes sense. He's a gay man singing to another gay man… (Laughs) Sure. And Gray loved it, and as for the dance at the end, again, Elliott is now completely out and free living his dream on stage in front of millions of people, he would do his customary Samoan slap dance. I called my cousins from Hawaii who are professional dancers. They were there with me, they came up, and we choreographed that number and I was so excited…"
Long before Rock could transition from action star to comedy star, he had to overcome the barriers and stereotypes for a wrestler becoming an actor. "I think the challenge at first, like five or six years ago… There was a stereotype that the wrestlers before me had, and understandably so… So getting over that, so it took a lot of the executives actually going to the show and watching me perform live, it took hosting SNL on a couple of occasions, it took The Scorpion King and movies like that, and for me it was just a matter of time, that's all. I knew that going in. I just wanted opportunities and then [to] surround myself with good people and continue to work with good acting coaches and hopefully get better."
Up next for The Rock is Gridiron Gang and two video game movies, Doom and Spy-Hunter. The Rock hopes to continue mixing it up and playing varied characters. "I've always wanted to just continue and diversify and, you know, take on movies that were entertaining at the end of the day and I've been really, really, fortunate to have decent material and make good movies really, and work with some really, really good actors. So to continue to do that, there's an inspiring drama that I'm going to do this summer [called Gridiron Gang]. I'm excited about that. And Doom, of course…"
After WWE, Rock Focuses On Movies — And Country Music
'People's Champion' steps out of the ring, but doesn't rule out a comeback.
Can you smell what the Rock is cooking? We can, and according to the freshly minted movie star, it doesn't leave enough time for the body slams, turnbuckle blows and flying elbows that made him famous.
While promoting his new film, "Be Cool," the Rock has confirmed that his ties have been severed with World Wrestling Entertainment. The powerful wrestling company, formerly known as WWF, had been his home since 1996.
"As far as wrestling ... it's at a different place now because I'm not under any contracts — so contractually, there's no ties, there's no relationship," said the man once known for such finishing moves as the Rock Bottom. "It's not there. It kind of ended abruptly. It ended without me even knowing; nobody contacted nobody. It was one of those weird things. All of a sudden I was getting phone calls from my own team saying, 'Congratulations on an amazing career!' I was like, 'Wow, OK.' "
Ever since his youth, the star has always been a chip off the old Rock. Born Dwayne Johnson, he took on his wrestling moniker to honor his father, former WWF tag team champion Rocky "Soul Man" Johnson. Dwayne's grandfather, the late "High Chief" Peter Maivia, broke ground in the '60s and '70s when he wrestled as the first Samoan combatant in the WWF. The Rock himself, with his iconic slick hair and arched eyebrow, won the WWE World Championship belt multiple times while being affectionately dubbed the "People's Champion."
Now, after three generations and thousands of matches in the squared circle, the WWE and the Maivia/Johnson family have officially parted ways. "It's one of those things. It ended with the company last year," the Rock explained. "I wasn't approached about re-signing or anything like that, and the contract just kind of came and went and finished and ended. It was kind of surprising — actually, it was a lot surprising."
WWE spokesperson Gary Davis confirmed the divorce, calling it "an administrative oversight. Everybody here feels bad about it. The Rock is doing phenomenally well with his movie career and is going to keep that momentum going." Davis added that WWE honcho Vince McMahon hopes to sit down with his former star soon to discuss future opportunities.
McMahon may have a hard time scheduling that meeting. These days, the Rock is busier than George "The Animal" Steele at a turnbuckle-eating contest. Upcoming movies include "Doom" (based on the famously bloody video game), "Spy Hunter" (another game adaptation), the football tearjerker "Gridiron Gang," the reincarnation comedy "Instant Karma" and "Johnny Bravo," culled from the Cartoon Network series about an Elvis-loving lothario.
As if all that weren't enough, the former "Scorpion King" is in talks for everything from a biopic about Hawaiian warrior King Kamehameha to a big-screen incarnation of comic-book hero the Silver Surfer.
In a possible attempt to one-up Jennifer Lopez, he has also recently launched a blossoming third career. As gay cowboy Elliot Wilhelm in "Be Cool," the Rock displays vocal talents so impressive that they earned him the coveted final spot on the film's soundtrack (see "Christina Milian, Black Eyed Peas Heat Up 'Be Cool' Soundtrack"). "I love it. I'm on the soundtrack; I made it," he laughed. "That's my dream, being a singer now."
When Loretta Lynn composed her classic statement on female determination, she probably didn't imagine a 6-foot-5-inch muscleman belting it out. " 'You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)'," the Rock proudly exclaimed. "She sang it, and then Sissy Spacek sang it in 'Coal Miner's Daughter'. Me, Aerosmith, Andre , Christina Milian — we're all going to the Grammys. The video is so funny."
Due to this determination to sing cowboy songs and bring video game characters to life, the Rock's wrestling fans will have to get by without one of their favorites. "I'll miss the fans," he laments. "I'll miss that live interaction with them. There's nothing like it."
As any wrestling junkie worth his "Austin 3:16" T-shirt knows the only thing as inevitable as a retirement is a return. The Rock offers an "I would love to" to the comeback question. In the meantime, however, the superstar urges his fans to be cool.
The Rock To Star In Doom?
Exclusive: Videogame movie quandary for Dwayne Johnson
Is The Rock Doomed? No, it's not what it seems. He's doing alright for himself, thankuverymuch. However, yesterday The Artist Formerly Known As Dwayne Johnson popped into town and we pitched along to ask him some questions. Frankly, after he flew all that way, it would have been rude not to.
Naturally, we asked him about his next project, Spy-Hunter, a computer game adaptation in which he'll play a secret agent who drives a seriously souped-up, weapons-packed vehicle (think KITT from Knight Rider if he'd subscribed to Guns & Ammo). And it was then that he dropped the bombshell: there's another videogame flick just itching to smell what The Rock's cooking.
"Spy-Hunter’s great. John Woo’s on board to direct. The script should come in, in about two weeks," The Rock told Empire. "I'm very, very excited about that. It's supposed to be shot in Prague and Amsterdam, but…" But? "You know how movie-making is. If we have to push it because of the weather and the Christmas vacation, then I'll probably take another movie with Universal called Doom."
Well, knock us down with a feather. If you're a gamer, and you haven't played or heard of Doom, then frankly you should be banned from going near a joypad ever again.
One of the most successful videogame franchises ever, Doom is the king of the first-person shoot-'em-ups, an incredibly tense and violent series of games set on an alien base in which one man (it's always one man, isn't it?) must make his way through labyrinthine levels to freedom, all the while shooting his way through hordes of nasty space beasties.
The film, from early reports, will be a lot more complex than that, with interesting innovations like, you know, a plot. And characters. So, Mr. The Rock, what can you tell us about it? Not much, as it turns out. At least, not without triggering an almighty spoiler. So we've bleeped out the offending bits.
"It's based on the game. Where, without giving the movie away, I play the ultimate [censored]." Wow. The ultimate [censored]? "Yeah, it'll be great. But you don't know I'm [censored]. Without giving the movie away."
Still, either way gamers will be in Rock nirvana. The game-to-movie tree hasn't been laden with treasures thus far, but with The Rock's undoubted star power and charisma (not to mention that freaky arched eyebrow) driving Doom or Spy Hunter (and maybe both if schedules permit), the trend could finally be bucked. Seems like The Rock may not be so Doomed after all…
Do You Wanna Be In Dwayne's Gang?
The Rock's Gridiron Gang
The hardest working former wrestler in showbusiness is clearly a glutton for punishment. Not content with starring in two films already this year, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is to play a gay, sensitive bodyguard in Get Shorty sequel Be Cool, take a role in reincarnation comedy Instant Karma, and star in the long-planned game adaptation Spy Hunter. He is also slated to play the live-action role of cartoon chump / hero Johnny Bravo if that goes ahead – and as if all that weren't enough, he has now signed on to star in Gridiron Gang.
Gridiron Gang is based on a true story about a group of teenagers in a juvenile detention centre whose guards formed them into a successful American football team and sent them out to compete against other teenage teams. The team lost their first three games, but went on to have an incredible winning streak – and what's more, they gained confidence, self-respect and an understanding of teamwork along the way. Of course.
No director has signed on yet, but work on the script is well underway. The Rock would play the counsellor who forms the team, and we're guessing he won't be playing a touchy-feely Robin Williams type. A former college football star himself, expect Dwayne to bring a certain degree of credibility to his role as the team's coach. For a further touch of realism, the film will be shot at the Los Angeles County Probation Department facility where the events took place. Expect an inspirational sports movie coming your way sometime in late 2005 / 2006.
The Rock: Tall, Dark And Inked
In "Walking Tall," former pro wrestler Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson plays a man who returns to his hometown only to find things aren't quite the way he left them. So he gets his hands dirty while cleaning up the corruption, and he brings along "Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville for a little help and some comic relief. As the tattooed action star explained to MTV News' Ryan J. Downey, Knoxville's antics weren't limited to what was spelled out in the script.
MTV: How do you think Johnny Knoxville did in this movie, especially doing those stunts? I would imagine everyone would be like, "Oh, you're the 'Jackass' guy."
The Rock: He did great, and he had a stunt double. And to his credit he was like, "Nah, no way, no stunt double!" And that guy, he was getting his ass whooped and still got up with a smile and was like, "Let's just do it again." Plus I expected that from him. I spent a lot of time with him anyway prior to us filming, so I knew. You know, you gotta be a little tweaked and twanked a little bit if you're Johnny Knoxville, and he did an awesome job.
MTV: Did he crack you up on the set?
The Rock: Oh yeah. Yeah, well, that's the thing. You know, we'd be in this scene together and it's somewhat of a dramatic scene and he's telling me, "Listen, I went to jail, I was on drugs" and things like that. And I'm trying to listen to him, and until right before the director would yell "Action!," Johnny would be eating something crazy like tuna fish and peanut butter or sour milk and who knows whatever else — dirt and salamanders, whatever — and he'd drink, like, soda and right before the take, he'd be like [he pretends to throw up] and blow it in my face. I'd be like, "Oh God!," and I'd chase after him, but you know, that wouldn't work.
MTV: In your last few movies, you've had an old-school tribal tattoo. What's the story behind that?
The Rock: In Polynesian culture, Samoan culture, tattooing is very big and it's very spiritual and it basically tells a story. It tells a story of love and loyalty and protection — protecting people around me. You know, failure, successes, things like that. And it covers my chest. It kinda goes everywhere. But I'm completely done now.
MTV: So no more?
The Rock: Um, maybe a little bit more. But you know how it is. Everyone out there who gets ink and gets tattoos, it's like it's never-ending. You always find something else to do.
MTV: In "Walking Tall," the tattoo is covered up.
The Rock: Yeah, and it probably takes about two hours to cover everything up, so it just requires you to get up at like 2:30 or 3 a.m. in the morning. [He laughs.] That makes everybody happy. They're like, "Oh, Rock, wow, you got an amazing new tattoo. That's another hour and a half [earlier] that we've got to get up ..."
MTV: You must get a lot of respect wherever you go because of who you are, and your tattoo ties into your heritage. But not just anyone can get away with one of those, right?
The Rock: I've had two very spiritual artists work on me from over on the islands who have that vibe and have that ability to symbolically tell, through tattooing, the story and what story you want to tell. And whether you're white, whether you're Asian, whether you're Puerto Rican, it doesn't matter. When you go over there to the islands, it's pride. And it's [because of] that island pride that they would take pride in tattooing you and any story you wanted to tell symbolically through Polynesian art. They'd do it for you. Yeah, in a second, sure, because to get a tattoo like that, it makes you proud, so it would make us proud to put it on you, for sure.
The Rock: The Scorpion King
To millions of wrestling fans he is simply The Rock, but Dwayne Johnson, his real-life counterpart, is adding movie star tag following his brief, supporting role as the Scorpion King in Mummy Returns. Now The Rock has his own movie, once again playing The Scorpion King in the action adventure of the same name. Paul Fischer visited the set of the action adventure where he spoke to Hollywood's latest action hero on location near Universal Studios.
A few miles north of Universal Studios in one of many grand canyons, home of the stunning Bronson Caves, tall Amazon women gather in bountiful numbers to shoot a pivotal moment in Universal's action adventure The Scorpion King. But is the dynamic presence of celebrity wrestler Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson who remains an insurmountable force. Dressed in leather, ancient-looking garb, his thick, black hair loose near his shoulders, the muscular athlete-turned-movie star walks through this dusty set, surrounded by an array of goats and other animals. "I kinda feel like Noah minus the flood", Johnson laughingly. There is no sign of the wrestling bravado that was once his trademark. Quiet, intelligent and having the time of his life. "It's all make believe", he says, referring to the wrestling he has put on hold to firm up a promising new career on film.
The action in The Scorpion King takes place a decade before the prologue sequence for last year's summer blockbuster, The Mummy Returns, which featured The Rock as a warrior leading his doomed army under the name the Scorpion King. This 'prequel', is inspired by the legendary Egyptian warrior, The Scorpion King and set 5000 years ago in the notorious city of Gomorrah, where an evil ruler is determined to lay waste to all the nomadic peoples of the desert. The few remaining tribes, never natural allies, have to unite or perish. Knowing their enemy relies on the visions of a sorcerer, they hire a skilled assassin, Mathayus (The Rock), to eliminate the visionary. "I'm really excited about this", the always polite and articulate Johnson enthuses. "There are all these elements that are going to make it a wonderful story. It is about vengeance and discovery, and it's about love. It's a wonderful story about a man's rise from being an assassin with a heart of ice to a leader of thousands of men, a man with a heart of gold." Johnson also loves his character's fallibility. "I've always been a huge fan of any hero who was able to show vulnerability," Johnson further explains. Cinematic heroes such as Rocky or Indiana Jones comes to Johnson's mind. "When I was younger, I didn't know how to describe it, but there was just something appealing to me when the guy is so big and so strong and he kicks so much butt and yet he can get his butt kicked."
Johnson has no illusions about "being the next Jimmy Stewart" but maybe the Arnold Schwarzenegger? Now that is another matter entirely. "I could be the next Arnold -only better looking," he laughingly insists. Comparisons with Arnold, however, are inevitable. "I get the Arnold comparison, often," he says, "and that is fantastic." Schwarzenegger has passed along personal words of encouragement, as has Sylvester Stallone. "Here are two guys who have made it in this industry," Johnson says in appreciation. "They are very successful and don't have to be supportive but they have been." With that, Johnson insists on doing a spot-on Arnold impersonation. You had to be there. Asked if he aspires to be the next Arnold or Bruce Willis, Johnson feels that he may well be a natural successor to these guys. "Actually, it seems like it's headed in that direction, a natural progression, so to speak. But, you know, Arnold has done his thing, and Bruce Willis has CERTAINLY done his thing, especially with the Die Hards, and everything else he's done in the action genre."
It is evident that that the 30-year old Hawaiian native is equipped with a self-deprecating sense of humour. He says he needs it for Scorpion King, which he insists is far from your standard action fare. "It's a cross between The Magnificent Seven and Raiders of the Lost Ark and has lots of comedy. It is about vengeance and discovery, and it's about love. It's a wonderful story about a man's rise from being an assassin with a heart of ice to a leader of thousands of men, a man with a heart of gold."
Johnson adds that the film "will have a lot of special effects, but certainly not to the extent of The Mummy Returns." By reality-based, he means that "the fight scenes are reality-based. That was so key to me. I just wanted to make sure that the character of the Scorpion King-that this warrior who ultimately turns into the Scorpion King-was somebody that people could relate to, [who] kicks ass and at the same time shows his fragility and his vulnerability." The day we met, Johnson was preparing to shoot "this amazing fight sequence with Michael Clarke Duncan. Trust me, you'll never see anything quite like it; we've been preparing for days." Looking physically taut, Johnson was clearly unconcerned about staying in shape for the physicality of Scorpion King. "From a physicality standpoint, it didn't concern me, because of my background in football and the WWF. So much of the WWF is theatrical: physical theatricals."
Comparing acting to his other one time day job, Johnson enthuses: "Oh, I love acting. It was a long-term goal of mine and it was something I've wanted to do. We were just looking for the right time to be introduced to the film industry as well as the film audience. We felt The Mummy Returns was the perfect fit. And of course, it spawned The Scorpion King." Johnson had no idea that he would be crowned Scorpion King in the self-contained prequel to Mummy Returns. "And, quite frankly, nobody even knew, including the executives. But they would watch the dailies, saw the Scorpion King there and decided to make a movie out of his life."
Johnson was paid an estimated $5m to take on the mystical Scorpion King, yet feels no pressure in carrying this Hollywood spectacle on his very broad shoulders. "I'm just really excited and just as excited as I was with The Mummy Returns. It's that same energy, that same vibe, that same passion. I'm very fortunate to co-stars like Michael Duncan, Bernard Hill and Brent Hessloff, not to mention a beautiful actress in Kelly Yu. It's also good to have the support I have, because I certainly need that. I'm sure I'd be a little trepidatious if I didn't have the good people I have around me," he points out.
Johnson is having the time of his life, yet is not allowing his would-be movie stardom to get in the way of his passions. Now, wrestling fans may be wondering whether Dwayne Johnson will discard The Rock in favour of full time Hollywood glory. Not even the man himself is prepared to say at this point. "Maybe from a physicality standpoint in terms of the wrestling industry, the physical aspects are very demanding. So I don't know how long I'll be able to keep that up. But one way or another, The Rock will always be a part of the WWF, because that's where he was created, the character was created on the WWF, so there'll always be those ties, much like Arnold always has his ties to body building. I think as a performer, and as a person, you look to grow and so I'd like to continue to grow, progress, turn the pages and start new chapters."
For The Rock an important chapter is closing; for Dwayne Johnson, it's just the beginning.
The Rock: From Sport to Movie Stardom
The Rock - aka Dwayne Johnson - is beginning to make that seamless transformation from sports to movie stardom? Perhaps a worthy successor to Arnold? Based on early reaction to his starring role in the tongue-in-cheek period adventure The Scorpion King, The Rock, movie star, is a foregone conclusion.
You would think The Rock had been meeting the press all his life. Charming, unpretentious and seemingly oblivious to the level of stardom the ex-Dwayne Johnson has attained, The Rock now adds another role to his broadening repertoire: Father. No wonder the wrestler-turned-actor was in a good mood when we met as he begins to reflect on the seriousness of fatherhood. "Being a parent makes you selfless, in a way," he says. "You start to base your decisions in terms of how it will affect your baby." Those decisions include the kinds of movie offers he looks to. "I'm working on a new movie with Universal at the moment and in reading the script I want to ensure that all the elements are responsible, and not something that I'm going to be embarrassed about, so that six years from now when she's able to watch a movie, there won't be gratuitous love scenes", unlike those in the family-friendly Scorpion King. He is just getting used to fatherhood. After all, his daughter, one Simone Alexandra Johnson was born just last August 14 to his wife of five years, Dany Garcia, a financial planner. The Rock's parenting duties are far more hazardous than any wrestling foe, he quips. "My, friend, I can change diapers with the best of them, be it poop diapers or pee diapers," he laughingly adds. One would imagine that trying to balance his busy schedule as wrestler, actor and now father, is also challenging. "I'm just trying to be a responsible parent and trying to balance TWO careers at this point and being a good dad, so it gets difficult, but I have some good family support and good people around me to help me and make it all easier both for me and my wife."
The Rock has been a part of the public consciousness since he began professional wrestling in 1996. Three years later, while he was hot, the then wrestler began to act, showing a strong comedic side as well as a penchant for drama. It is more the former that is on full display in The Scorpion King, a rousing comic book adventure yarn set in Ancient Egypt. Inspired by the legendary Egyptian warrior, "The Scorpion King" is set 5,000 years ago in the notorious city of Gomorrah, where an evil ruler is determined to lay waste to all the nomadic peoples of the desert. The few remaining tribes, never natural allies, have to unite or perish. Knowing their enemy relies on the visions of a sorcerer, they hire a skilled assassin, Mathayus (The Rock), to eliminate the visionary. After infiltrating the enemy camp, Mathayus discovers that the sorcerer is in fact a beautiful woman (Kelly Hu). Rather than eliminate her, he takes her deep into the desert badlands, knowing that the ruler's henchmen will stop at nothing to rescue her and bring her back. Seriously wounded in the ensuing battle, Mathayus must find the strength to lead his scrappy band of allies back to Gomorrah for a final confrontation. With The Rock and company clearly winking at the audience throughout the film, it is clear that he had a great time making his first major movie. "I had a blast, but I also put a lot of heart and soul in the movie" which he saw with the press the night before its Los Angeles press junket. He was there, sitting at the back with fellow cast members, to see for himself, the first public reaction which was genuinely enthusiastic, to say the least. "I was really happy, and I'm really critical of myself and my performance because I didn't have anything to gauge it by," he says. Unlike The Mummy Returns, there was no Egyptian dialog to hide behind, "so he relied on [director]. Chuck Russell "telling me that I was doing a great job or [co-star] Kelly Hu telling me: You're doing a great job." The Rock had to judge for himself, "so I snuck in looking around, and it's very gratifying to see the work come to fruition, and even more so to see the audience react."
One of the loudest reactions occurred at the conclusion of Rock's first major love scene. It would be fair to say that the crowd went wild. "I never anticipated the big cheer after it was done," he says laughingly. The Rock admits to having been reservedly comfortably shooting what was quite a long love scene, half naked and all. "My only concern and trepidation came in the audience, because I know how I am. I don't always get too excited to see the action guy kiss a girl for some reason," he says with a degree of self-mockery. "Sometimes it can be too gratuitous, especially in this day and age where nothing's left to the imagination, even sappy at times. Love scenes can also take themselves too serious, when they're 'doing it', "he adds laughingly.
There is a consistent sense of good fun that is the tone of Scorpion King, and Rock was hoping that the humour, at which he was striving, would filter through in the final result. "I knew what was funny to ME," he explains. "A lot of times, what's funny to me or you is not funny to somebody else, so I was hoping it was going to be funny, but I didn't think it would be THAT funny, and watching, I didn't think that the relationship I had with the little boy would be as funny as I thought it was, there were some funny parts with me and the little boy and the relationship with my sidekick, so that was great."
The Rock takes his acting seriously, and in preparation for his first starring role, he worked with renowned Hollywood acting coach Larry Moss "who helped me tremendously with the script, the scenes and putting me in those moments where at times there was a little bit of poignancy involved."
As for those inevitable comparisons with one Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Rock [who still delights in doing his Arnold impersonations], The Rock is flattered but plays down those similarities. "I think the comparisons have been great, and obviously Arnold's done fantastic. His shoes are a little big, though, to fill, and I kind of prefer just to make my own path and do my own thing, because we're completely two separate guys, not just by age." There is no rivalry between the two superstars, who remain close friends. "We and Sylvester Stallone have been friends now for some time, both of whom have been really supportive of me, which they didn't have to be, you know what I mean?"
As The Rock begins to enter that new world of movies, the time will come when he puts aside his wrestling persona for Hollywood. But first, he wants to make an impact in film "and continue to do responsible work which entertains. As my roles increase in film, and I do more and more projects, and my roles lessen in wrestling, then I can see that happening one day, because balancing both is tough." But The Rock is relishing this world of Hollywood just the same, and like so many other movie actors, he is fulfilling a childhood fantasy. "I've always been a big fan of film, and I always wanted to act one day but never knew how I was going to get involved in it. I never fathomed the success, I never fathomed that I would transcend from wrestling into acting. I just thought: Oh, I want to be an actor one day." The Rock is still juggling his WWF commitments to his new found film career, and is currently working on a new film. "It's a contemporary 2002 today action comedy set in South America. The working title as of now is called Helldorado and I think will be a lot of fun."
Now that he has succeeded in both arenas, The Rock has learned how to cope with superstardom, admitting that "anonymity suddenly goes out the window, especially for me. I try to wear hats, but it doesn't help," he quips. Seriously, he hates the whole idea of superstardom as a label. "I just hate the self-serving: You know, I'm a superstar, thing and I don't get it when you actually think of yourself as a superstar or any kind of star. It's so ridiculous." So The Rock keeps his life real and in check, "by going to Dunkin' Donuts every week which I've got to have, not to mention my pizza."
The Rock stars in "Walking Tall"
In Hollywood, they say, nice guys finish last. Then there's The Rock, the wrestler-turned-movie star whose presence on and off the screen is one of the bigger surprises of recent years. Promoting his latest movie, a more dramatic actioner called Walking Tall, Rock, or Dwayne Johnson, is genuinely charismatic, charming and, dare one say it, yes nice. When one talks about The Rock to his co-stars or other directors, you hear typical comments, from him being committed to his acting as well as his family.
The latter still remains a top priority, while admitting the challenges he faces in juggling a family life with an increasingly frenetic work schedule. "I mean it's not easy, that's for sure, which is why I love the fact that all live in a very small town in Florida, a country town, in which they ride their horses to Burger King, for instance. I got a place out here in LA when I'm working, but other than that it's a sacrifice and it's those checks and balances that you try and find," Johnson explains, adding that he tries to always take his family with him on location. "And that's a luxury of being in film because you're on location in one spot. Back in the days when I was wrestling on the grind and in different cities every night, it was just impossibility."
Dwayne's persona of The Rock has enabled him to carve a strong niche as one of the world's premiere wrestlers, and slowly, Hollywood began noticing. Not one to jump at his new found career, he likes to think of himself immersed "in my small world of trying to take little steps as an actor, trying to get better", and as exemplified by his role as an ex-soldier trying to right the wrongs in his boyhood home in Walking Tall. Dwayne, whose film career began in fantasy action roles, admits that his Chris Vaughn is his first real character. "What actor wouldn't want to play such a great, inspiring role, in a simple, great true story?"
Loosely based on the cult classic of the early seventies, Johnson says that he was a fan of the original. "I first saw it when I was 8 years old so yes, I was a very big fan then, but then when I was 8 I didn't really appreciate what it really meant to walk tall and what that guy had gone through. I was just a big fan of this guy, the hero of the movie who was kicking ass with a 2 by 4 and for me that was great, as a kid." Now, this tanned and muscular 32-year old says that he had no difficulty relating to his latest character. "I think all of us can in a way where you're forced into a position where you should stand up for yourself. On a lot of levels there are moments in life where first of all I could walk tall and didn't, didn't take that step and I hate living in regret. Then there were moments in my life where I stood up for myself regardless of the circumstances or the consequences."
Yet this version of Walking Tall is unapologetically violent, a film that often explores the nature of vigilantism in an amoral world. Johnson doesn't feel that the film really sets out to glorify vigilante violence. "Honestly I wasn't concerned because the violence in this is justified violence. We go back to what really took place 40 years ago when he was cheated out of his money, kicked and stomped, his face mangled, and left for dead. I also think there is still a nice non-politically correct way I think that's attractive to the audience today about this movie that the bad guys are getting their comeuppance through just old fashioned justice, which is a good thing."
Johnson has been acknowledged as the successor of Schwarzenegger, who literally passed the baton to the actor in his previous action comedy The Rundown. Yet Johnson has chosen to pick projects carefully, preferring to take the action genre to a new, smarter level. "I always just look for a good story and not only that but I like movies of that old fashioned era from the 70's as well as the early 80's, like a walking tall, like a Billy Jack. Clint Eastwood is my favorite actor, some Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, movies where they take time in telling the story. So for me, I can only say those are the roles that I'm attracted to and it was great to have to opportunity to."
Those opportunities are continuing for the actor who will don a goatee and an afro wig in order to play a gay bouncer with singing aspirations in Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty. "It was so funny because Elmore Leonard wrote it and when he wrote the original draft, Chili Palmer (John Travolta) looks across the room and he sees Elliot Wilhem, Samoan, 30, can raise one eyebrow, trying to act, wants to be - can sing - and gay, and I was like "Wow, that's interesting" and I didn't actually speak to Elmore but according to those who have already talked to him it was like "No, no, I wrote that, based on The Rock, not necessarily the gay part but based on him, never ever thinking that he would ever play the role. Before you know it, here I am, playing the role." He is clearly having a blast shooting this one. "It's been fantastic. I get a chance to work with John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Vince Vaughn, great for me." Dwayne says that certain types of comedy come natural to him. "I know that self-deprecating comedy comes easy to me. I don't think I can go out and do stand-up or anything like that. I can tell bad jokes but that's about it," he says, laughingly.
From Be Cool, Johnson returns to full-on action mode in Spy Hunter, based on a video game. Hearing him talk about this film reminds one of an excited kid eager to open his cool new present. "I was just up in the room and there was this awesome secretive meeting. We took out all of the concepts and what the car looks like. It's a movie based off a video game and revolves around this awesome car. GM is making this amazing car that breaks off into a boat, a 3 wheeler, into a motor cycle - it's really incredible," says Johnson, excitingly.
As for The Rock, wrestler, he is not about to completely abandon the profession that moulded his very real persona. "Because of the responsibility you have when you take a role like Spy Hunter or this movie, we have a responsibility to the studio, to the actors, to the crew, to production to be 100% focused, but I love wrestling, I've always said that and that's why I went back to Westlemania, where we had a big show like a couple of weeks and it was awesome. A lot of my buddies go back to theatre which I understand, because they go back to get that live interaction. For me wrestling is my theatre, the ring is my stage and I was having a lot fun."