As The Rock, Dwayne Johnson became the most popular wrestler to emerge since the sport exploded to new heights in the 1980’s with Hulk Hogan. However, by the 2000’s, he had done what very few in his business, a colorful mix of larger-than-life heroes and villains, theatrics, and athletics, ever manage to do, achieve Hollywood stardom with a string of popular films including The Scorpion King, The Rundown, The Game Plan, The Other Guys, and Fast Five.
Now the 39 year-old professional wrestler and actor hopes to continue to extend his mass appeal to the adventure film Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The film is a sequel to the 2008’s 3D film version of Journey To The Center Of The Earth, both of which were originally written as books by Jules Verne.
In this modern-day version, Johnson plays Hank Parsons, a stepfather who leads his family on an adventure to the Pacific island of Palau find the fabled Mysterious Island. He tells of how his role as co-producer served to shape the film’s script and direction, including the already-talked about scene where Hank pops his pecs.
“It’s funny,” Dwayne says, laughing, “When I first read the script, it was fun. And I wanted to do a big 3D adventure, but it needed some work, so it all made sense that I was going to co-produce and get involved. So, I was on an airplane and I was thinking, gosh, we have James Cameron’s first advanced 3D technology post-Avatar. So he did Avatar; he worked on it some more, advanced it more, and we were the first movie out of the gate to utilize it. So, I thought, ‘Well, how can I take his 3D technology and utilize my body in a fun, entertaining way that’s appropriate?’ [Laughs]
So, I was with our producer on the movie,” he adds, “And I said, ‘What if I did something and made my pecs pop in 3D? It might be funny and entertaining, but there’s another level to it, what is it?’ And he was eating nuts on the plane. And he goes, ‘I got it. Throw the nuts, boom, right off into the audience.’ And I said, ‘Great, not only that, but what if we created the scene and it was rapid fire, multiple berries going off into the audience.”
Dwayne was asked how many takes it took to perfect Hank’s pec-popping.
“Well, it’s not much of a gift,” Johnson replies, “Who’s counting the takes? Multiple takes. Method pec-popping. Stanislavsky would be proud. Audience participation off my pecs might equal a fun time with the audience.”
Co-starring respectively as Hank’s troubled stepson Sean and his love interest, young tour guide Kailani are Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens. Johnson recalls his experience of working with the two of them.
“They’re great young actors,” he says of them, “I think both of them have had great success. Vanessa, big success early, and both of them very impressive. What was great about Josh was I was able to really have a partner in terms of the action in the movie.”
“He’s coming into his own,” Dwayne continues, “He’s becoming a man, and he’s got great poise as an actor, too. That really impressed me. And young actors always impress me. Making movies is a lot of fun but it’s a lot of hard work, and there are a lot of variables to it. I like those guys a lot and loved making the movie with them.”
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island was shot in the island of Oahu in Hawaii, which Dwayne says he pushed hard to make happen.
“I definitely campaigned for it,” he says, “There’s just a texture where we shot in the rainforest, in those mountains where Jurassic Park was shot, where you really can’t simulate on a soundstage. And there’s a scope that was out there and a vastness in the beauty of it out there.”
“We shot there before,” Johnson adds, “We shot The Rundown with Pete Berg out here. And personally, for me, it was great to come back in this capacity. I was a kid here, 14 years old, getting into trouble, getting arrested. And then finally to be able to come back and bring a movie here of tens of millions of dollars to the locals and the local businesses is very special to me.”
Johnson talks about coming back to Hawaii, where he grew up as a teenager.
“It was a bit of a stir, but it’s all hometown love,” Dwayne says, “And there’s just a great spirit that everyone talks about, the Aloha spirit, which I’m always very proud of. Visiting my high school was awesome. I haven’t been there since I was 14 or 15 years old. I visited my high school unannounced.”
“I wanted to go to where the football field was and where the weight room was where I spent so much time and where I understood the value or started to understand the value of discipline and hard work,” he continues, “I went there and word spread very quickly. All the students gathered around and I had a quick word with them afterwards.”
Dwayne talked about how driving around the haunts of his teenage past welled up old memories for him.
“It did,” Johnson says, “It became my reflective moment as I’m driving through town and looking at all the places I got in trouble at and got arrested at for a multitude of things. And I was very fortunate at that time that I had great parents who were patient.”
“And I also had a couple of coaches at that time who believed in my potential, even when I didn’t,” he adds, “And that’s an admirable thing to do, I think, in any coach or any adult figure in someone’s life to a kid who’s getting in trouble. ‘I see your potential.’ As we take our handcuffs off you, we still see your potential, so, I’m grateful about that.”
It was brought about how Josh Hutcherson’s character in the film and his relationship with Hank mirrors Johnson’s own teenage experience.
“Leadership and guidance, too,” he says, “And seeing the potential of that relationship and really seeing the potential of having a father figure in his life when he didn’t have one.”
“And that’s one of the elements that I enjoyed,” Dwayne adds, “Working from the ground up with the producers, with the director, with the writers, about creating this character that could be a great father figure in a young man’s life and yet still could be funny and still be entertaining for a movie’s sake, but yet the key is the notion of family and how important that is.”
“The awesome part about my job is that I’m able to make a movie like this where we can explore Jules Verne’s novels, whether it’s Captain Nemo’s submarine or the mountain of gold or whatever it is, the giant bees and things like that,” he continues, “There’s enough of me being intense and hunting bad men down and doing bad things to them and I love doing that. But there’s also space for this.”
Dwayne was asked if he had any phobias that he encountered like dealing with insects and the wildlife in Hawaii.
“Well, sure,” Johnson replies, “The spider thing I’ve never liked, but who does though? Not really, no. I grew up in Hawaii, so I was used to everything that was there.
Johnson talks about how his incorporation of traditional Hawaiian music into the film reflects his own growing up with Polynesian traditions.
“I love music,” he says, “I grew up in a musical family, and that’s what happens, I think. In the Polynesian culture, people love to play ukulele. They love to sing. They love to dance Polynesian dances. And that was a big part of our growing up. With this movie, that was the fun part about creating this character from scratch compared to just dropping in and dropping out of the movie, trying to think of moments. What’s another fun moment for the audience. There’s enough tension in the movie when the island is sinking, so where can we find some nice levity.”
“So, it was my idea to sing, where we would play the ukulele, and, of course, we gave the ukulele to Luis Guzmán’s character,” Dwayne adds, “The fun part was coming up with the song. There’s a famous Hawaiian singer, his name is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, and he’s from here in Hawaii. He has since passed away,” It’s a very long name. But his name is Big IZ, beautiful voice. There’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that he did. His version of it is beautiful. He also did What a Wonderful World. So, I thought what if we took What a Wonderful World and played it in my tempo on the ukulele compared to picking it like he did, and change the second verse around to fit the riding on giant bees. ‘You look older than Yoda,’ or whatever the line was.”
Dwayne’s career has never grown busier. After last year’s surprising and much-heralded return to and occasional appearances in his old wrestling promotion, the WWE, he wrestles in the hotly-anticipated main event of the promotion’s biggest event, Wrestlemania XVIII, on April 1, against the very wrestler who has since taken his mantle, John Cena.
However, the man known as The Rock continues to already commit heavily to what is now his main job, film, with Fast & The Furious sequels after his role in last year’s highly successful Fast Five. He was asked whether the next two films, which are set for release beginning next year, will be shot back-to-back.
“I don’t know if they are going to go back-to-back,” Johnson says, “That was the idea. A lot of times, a movie of that size and where we would go with the story, it would make more financial sense to try and do them back-to-back. I’m not quite sure if we’re going to do them back-to-back, because I think we’re going to have an issue with the weather.”
“I know we’re going to do one,” he adds, “I think this time, we’re going to Germany. I can’t wait. That series was a lot of fun for me personally and just the notion of taking one of the biggest action stars of the world and hunting him down. I enjoy that. We’re going to start shooting mid-May.”
Dwayne says that Fast & The Furious is not the only movie he’s got going on this year.
“Then, I’ll probably do a movie with Michael Bay called Pain And Gain,” Johnson says, “It’s a smaller movie before he goes and does Transformers and I go and do Fast Six. It’s a personal project that he’s had for about a decade now and we talked about doing it together seven or eight years ago and I’m excited that it’s coming into fruition. I’m excited about it, true story.”
One particular film project he has been long attached to that was brought up was a biopic of Charley Pride, the first popular black singer in country music.
“The idea was about two or three years ago,” Dwayne reveals, “Hesays, “First of all, Terrence Howard and the director of Hustle And Flow, Craig Brewer, was originally supposed to do that. It fell apart. I had always been a big fan of Charley Pride, listening to his music when I was four or five years old, and I talked to my agent and said, ‘Let’s give it a crack.’ Then, we went down to Charley’s house, spent some great time with Charley down in Texas. And we’re currently working on it.”
With all that Dwayne has going on his career, it was asked what it is that he hasn’t already tackled yet that he wants to do.
“I want to do it all, as long as I’m passionate about it, it’s true, direct, produce,” Johnson says, “We got two great television shows now, one with [Jerry] Bruckheimer now, that I’m producing, another one with Ben Silverman, so when I’m passionate about it, I’ll do it. And the goal is to always be diverse and be broad in the approach, sometimes we hit homeruns, sometimes we don’t. Let’s swing for the fences.”
Johnson was asked whether or not he ever wonders if what has become his life and career is really happening to him.
“Every day,” Dwayne replies, “Every day in some form or fashion, I have a moment of gratitude. And I’m lucky, I’m lucky. I believe in hard work, and I believe hard works pays and that’s a mantra that I have, hard work pays, in many ways. There’s great value in that, but also a little bit of luck, too.”