Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson gets to do a little bit of everything in his newest starring role, as a tough and stern but caring and good-humored stepfather to troubled teen Josh Hutcherson in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” which opens Friday.
The Rock is an imposing figure, standing at 6 feet, 4 inches and weighing in at about 270.
His arms are the size of your legs, and the left one is covered with a detailed tattoo that’s a direct nod to his grandfather, the late, extremely tattooed wrestler High Chief Peter Maivia.
The Rock could come across as a fierce monster, as he likely did to his opponents when he wrestled for the WWE. But sitting across from him in a Honolulu hotel room, he’s nothing less than genial.
He’s quick to laugh, to share a self-deprecating joke and to flash a smile as wide as his massive shoulders. And he likes to be called Dwayne.
Dwayne Johnson had a long run as the WWE’s biggest baby-faced star in the late ’90s, but in 2002, he began to move from the squared circle to the big screen, as the title villain in “The Scorpion King.” He’s since played good guys (“Walking Tall”) and bad guys (“Faster”) and goofy guys (“The Tooth Fairy”).
“Let me correct you,” said Johnson, in mock menace. “I’ve never played a goofy guy.”
He gets to do a little bit of everything in his newest starring role, as a tough and stern but caring and good-humored stepfather to troubled teen Josh Hutcherson in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” which opens Friday.
“I enjoy playing intense guys who hunt bad men down,” said Johnson. “But I also enjoy making a movie that the entire family can see. In the case of ‘Mysterious Island,’ it’s a big epic adventure. I’ve always felt that when you do a family movie right, there’s a character onscreen that every member of the family can relate to. That’s a cool and special thing.”
But he readily admits that the transition from the ring to the screen wasn’t all that easy.
“You have to dial way, way down for film,” he said, referring to the art of acting. “In pro wrestling, it’s essentially Broadway. It’s a stage, a big stage. You’re playing to 20,000, 30,000, sometimes 70- or 80,000 people. It’s big, and the movements are big. When I started acting in film, I was trying to find subtlety, or understand subtlety.”
Yet his bigger-than-life portrayal of unwitting adventurer Hank Parsons in “Mysterious Island,” on which he served as co-producer, gave him plenty of opportunity to dial things right back up again.
“Hank is a man who wanted to make his family whole, and be a great father figure for Josh’s character. I thought that was an important layer to establish in the beginning of the movie, because once you establish something like that, where the central figure cares deeply about family and the notion of family, then we can go on this crazy adventure.” Part of the craziness includes some fast-paced, banter-filled comedy that Johnson plays against both Michael Caine and character actor Luis Guzman. And he gets to use the film’s 3-D technology for a wild effects sequence that he refers to as “pec popping,” a practice he developed in his wrestling days.
Because his co-producer status allowed him to contribute ideas about his character from the ground up, he was trying to think of a way to use the 3-D and his body together for a good gag.
“I was on an airplane, with one of our producers and I said, ‘What if I made my pecs pop in 3-D? It would be funny and entertaining.’ The producer was eating nuts on the plane and he said, ‘I’ve got it. We can bounce nuts or berries off of you and right into the audience.’ I said, ‘Great, and let’s do it rapid fire. Let’s have audience participation off my pecs.’” The impressive trick wasn’t very hard for Johnson to pull off. Even though he quietly retired from full-time wrestling, he stays in fighting shape.
“I still work out every day,” he said. “It’s a combination of weights and cardio. But physical activity just helps me ground my day. Like someone would do yoga, or whatever it is you do that helps you find that peace and that Zen, and getting in that space. For me it’s that two hours of maybe getting away from whatever craziness there is. I’ll put on my headphones and generally go to a local gym, where people are serious. That anchors my day.”
Johnson will soon return, albeit briefly, to the WWE, headlining in a fight against John Cena at Wrestlemania XXVIII on April 1 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami.
“The goal was to go back for one night and create the biggest match in the history of the WWE,” said Johnson. “I wanted to create something for the fans, and I’m passionate about that business. I love it.” But, he’s asked, does he still have the moves to get back in the ring? Johnson smiled, cocked an eyebrow, and said, “Of course!” Is there anything else, besides wrestling and acting, that he’s as passionate about? “Three things,” he said, and he sounded serious. “I’m into big, badass trucks. I have one down in Florida, and I’m having another one made. Adrenalin-wise, there’s nothing like hunting down bad men in movies. I love that and I don’t think there’s a lot of guys who can do that.
“And the third thing that really gets me going” – that smile came back, and now it was mischievous – “is something called the horizontal hula.”