Interview: “The Rock�

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("The Rock" leading his charges).

Born in San Francisco but raised in Hawaii, Dwayne Johnson was a High School All-American defensive lineman who went on to star for the University of Miami Hurricanes football team which won the national championship in 1991. However, his plans for an NFL career were cut short by a shoulder injury. So instead, he followed in his father’s (Rocky Johnson) and grandfather’s (Chief Peter Maivia) footsteps by embarking on a career as a professional wrestler.

As “The Rock,� he went on to be crowned the WWF World Champion seven times before leaving the ring at the top of his game to try his hand at acting. He made such a splash as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns, that his character was spun-off into his own adventure the very next year. Since then, Dwayne has shown his versatility playing a variety of roles ranging from a chef in The Rundown, to a flamboyant gay blade in Be Cool, to a vengeful vigilante sheriff in Walking Tall.

Here, he reflects on his work in his latest picture, Gridiron Gang, a bio-pic based on the 1993 documentary of the same name. The film chronicles the real-life exploits of the person he portrays, Sean Porter, a probation officer who whips the hardcore delinquents at his juvenile camp into a football team in four weeks.

BSN: Now that you’ve successfully made the transition to movies, do you still want to be known as The Rock?
DJ: I never wanted to say five years ago, “For now on, please call me Dwayne Johnson. I want to be known as Dwayne Johnson, the actor, and not The Rock.� I loved the Rock. The Rock was a nickname. What’s happened is that it’s naturally progressed into Dwayne “The Rock� Johnson. If it becomes just Dwayne Johnson, as it will in my next movie [Southland Tales] where I’m only being credited as Dwayne Johnson, that’s fine, too. They’re kind of interchangeable. I never wanted to make that defining statement. It just didn’t feel right to me.

BSN: What interested you in remaking Gridiron Gang as a bio-pic?
DJ: What moved me about the documentary, in particular, was the battle that the kids and Sean had to go through, and the fact that here’s this probation officer at a place that virtually nobody knows about. Nobody knows that up in the hills of the Malibu Mountains there’s this prison for kids. And it’s a fairly thankless job that he was doing every single day. And the fact that these kids decided they weren’t going to be called losers anymore. “We’re not going to be called losers anymore. We have been called losers our entire lives, and now someone is standing up for us, in our faces, and challenging us to be come winners.�

BSN: What made you want to portray Sean Porter?
DJ: Watching the documentary, the impact it had on me was great, because I was one of those kids. I’d been arrested multiple times by the time I was 17. When I was 14, my arresting officer said, “You’re going to stop screwing up. I want you to go out and play football for your high school team.

BSN: Did it work?
DJ: I was a work in progress. I continued to get in trouble. I continued to get arrested. Now that I’m older, I realize the value and importance of having somebody like that, my own Sean Porter, who cared enough about me to get me off the streets. Trying to help me make the right decisions, and providing me with those tools. That’s the one thing I was so impressed with about Sean Porter. It’s an uphill battle, because these kids, and I was one of them, all think he’s full of it. They don’t believe anything he’s saying, but then there’s that trust factor. That’s earned. And the respect factor. That’s earned. It’s a tough battle for one man, and to continue to see that vision, by the way. So, I appreciate that in him.

BSN: I never heard about your being arrested before. How did you turn your life around?
DJ: I was 17 years-old the last time I was arrested. My mom had come to get me out of jail, and like all the other times she was crying and there were tears. I was expecting the big tongue-lashing that I would usually get. Only this time, she’s crying, but there were no more words. Just silence. That hit home because life was tough enough back then, between evictions, and repossessions, and everything threw at her. And I thought, “Wow! Now I’m adding to it.� And I was her only child. I realized then that I had to stop screwing up and do my best to make the right decisions, to try to be a man, or what that meant to me. So, that was a defining moment for me.

BSN: How do you think audiences will respond to this picture?
DJ:  When an audience watches this movie, what I’m hoping is that they are inspired by it. [Chuckles] It’s funny, I laugh because the word “inspired� is thrown out there with a lot of movies and a lot of events. And there are a lot of movies that are inspiring, truly. And there are a lot of events that are inspiring, and a lot of people who are inspiring. But with this particular movie, my goal, as well as [director] Phil Joanou’s and everybody involved was to capture the emotion and the inspiration of the documentary.

BSN: Do you think you achieved that goal?
DJ:  We did that a hundred times more. I’m so proud of this movie, because every once in awhile, a gem of a movie just comes along. One, not with a lot of fanfare, not the hundred million-dollar budget, not the huge movie stars, yet it comes along and it rocks people, no pun intended. But it comes along and it really, really moves people. That’s what I hope people get out of this movie.

BSN: How was it working with Phil Joanou?
DJ:  He’s a very astute director and, as an actor, I couldn’t ask for a better director to work with who understands character and understands every element of a movie. Not only that, but when you get a guy who is hungry, and passionate, and inspired, and on top of all those things, talented, then you’re a lucky actor to be able to work with a guy like that.

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