After appearing in a number of family films (‘Tooth Fairy,’ ‘Race to Witch Mountain,’ ‘The Game Plan’), comedies (‘The Other Guys,’ ‘Get Smart’), and films without being credited (Tyler Perry’s ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?,’ ‘You Again’), Dwayne Johnson is returning to the genre that started his career.
In his latest film, ‘Faster,’ the California state native stars in this high octane action drama in which he plays Driver, an ex-con looking to avenge the murder of his brother during the botched bank robbery that led to his imprisonment.
Directed by George Tillman Jr., the film boasts a big cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Moon Bloodgood, Mike Epps, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Tom Berenger, Michael Irby, Jennifer Carpenter, Julia Pace Mitchell, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Julius Tennon.
BlackVoices.com recently spoke with the former wrestler, who started his film career under the name, ‘The Rock,’ but has since dropped the moniker.
What led you to get back into the action genre and with this film?
Dwayne Johnson: The enticement was the material. I read the script and loved it and I knew immediately that this was a man that I wanted to become. All the characters were very well written characters that had great layers and great depth against a very simple backdrop. And that backdrop is, ‘You took something from me that I loved. My family. My only family and my brother. You ripped him away and you killed him. And you tried to kill me, but I lived and I have to go away for ten years in prison and when I get out I’m going to find every single one of you, hunt you down and I’m going to make you pay with your life.’ That simple driving forceful storyline with well written characters really attracted me. The idea of that, the idea of protecting family resonated with me and landed on me. So that was a big reason why I wanted to do the movie, and I have to tell you that I signed on to do the movie and we had a multitude of directors who were raising their hands throughout Hollywood to make this film. And George Tillman and his producing partner Bob Teitel came in and they were so well prepared that they blew everybody away, myself included. Obviously the director is such a pivotal piece of your puzzle with his vision. He came in and blew me away with his vision, but very specifically how important heart and emotion was to it, through the movie. So it was script, sitting down with George and I knew that we were off to the races.
As the star of the movie you get to work with so many of the actors in the film. What was it like working with this cast, from Mike Epps to Adewale (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to Billy Bob [Thornton] and even Tom Berenger?
DJ: The cast was incredible to work with. Tom Berenger was great to work with. Mike Epps was phenomenal to work with. Here’s the challenge, I’ve known Mike for some time now and I’ve always loved and appreciated his work. Mike coming in, Mike is a naturally funny man, obviously, because he’s so successful at what he does, but he was very keenly aware, and this speaks to Mike’s intelligence because he was acutely aware of the subtlety that he had to bring to the scene and wanting to make sure that the tone of tension was held throughout. Often times those comedians, they want to go big because they’re used to performing big, but Mike was acutely aware of that even in that one scene because it was a pivotal scene. Adewale was wonderful to work with. I’d first met him about ten years ago when we were shooting ‘The Mummy Returns’. We didn’t have any scenes together but we were over in Morocco together shooting the movie. I didn’t get to know him that well then. I got a chance to get to know him very well on this movie and spend some time with him. He is a very intriguing guy and a powerful actor and a great presence. He plays and an evangelist in the movie who has impacted in a positive way the lives of hundreds and hundreds of kids and the movie culminates, one of the final moments of the movie is this really powerful scene between me and him. He’s a man of God and before God he asks me if I can forgive him. Being presented with that opportunity, forgiving somebody, is very powerful. I was very proud of him and the depth that he went in that scene. It required a lot. You always need a great partner in these scenes to make it work and my scene with Adewale at the end is my favorite scene in the movie.
You are having a big year this year with ‘Tooth Fairy,’ this film and a few un-credited roles. How did you end up being in ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’?
DJ: I had gotten a call from Tyler (Perry) and he said, “Hey, I have this part for you. What do you think about it? Here’s the story and here’s the part. Here’s the scene,” and I said, “I love it. I’d love to do that.” I love Tyler and I appreciate our friendship and I appreciate even more the career that he’s had and that he continues to have and the lives that he continues to impact. I’m very proud of him. It was very easy to say yes to that.
I read that you guys might be working together on a comedy called ‘Take My Wife.’ Is that true?
DJ: Absolutely, sure. That’s the goal. I would love to work with Tyler and we have a comedy in development. I would love to work with him on a variety of projects, but it all comes down to the script like with all movies. So we know that we want to work together. That’s for sure. The studio loves the idea and we’ve got our writers and they’re writing away. Now this is the fun development time.
How do you balance doing the family roles, the action films and even the small dramatic parts you’re getting? How do you decide what you want to do next?
DJ: It always just comes down to the material for me. When I read something regardless of whether it’s a comedy, action movie, drama or family film, when I read it, if I love it and I think that I’m going to have fun playing that role and I think that audiences are going to appreciate it and I can see the value in that then I go for it. I grab it and I go for it. I never wanted to be defined as an actor. This is my tenth year of acting, or pigeonholed as the actor who only did one thing. I just didn’t want to be the action guy or the comedy guy or the family guy. I wanted to be the guy who had a very diverse, varied career with the ability to transfer in genres and go back and forth and work in all of them and just continue to hopefully give consistently good performances that audiences would appreciate.
I know you’ve shot ‘Fast Five’ with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker . What’s it like to be a part of a big ensemble?
DJ: It’s great to be a part of that ensemble and to be a part of that franchise. That franchise is incredibly successful. The idea of me being in that movie just came from the studio wanting to find a formidable, believable man in Hollywood who would be able to hunt down Vin Diesel and take him out. Who could that be?
Not that many -
DJ: There are a couple of people, but Vin and I, I’ve known Vin for some time and we’ve always talked about doing something together but it had to be right. And this felt right. It felt right that we weren’t friends in the movie and we weren’t partners, that we were adversaries and that ‘I don’t like you and I’m going to find you and hunt you down.’ That’s what I like. I like that type of tension and that type of drive. I think that audiences will appreciate that, too. We wrapped that. We had a great time shooting that. We shot in Puerto Rico. We shot in Atlanta and Brazil. That’ll be out in April.
In ‘Faster’, people see you with the guns and with the cars. What was more fun to use, the guns or the cars?
DJ: Well, the car became my home and my family and the gun became my wife. I had a lot of fun. Both were a lot of fun. That car is a classic. It’s 1971 Chevelle with a super charger in it. I have gone through a lot of cars over the years and I can honestly say that there was nothing like bad ass American muscle. My favorite car to drive even today is my Ford pickup truck. The gun was obviously an important role in the movie. It had to be big enough that fit and connected to the driver and it had to be powerful enough, too. And it had to, I think, subtextually make sense. What I mean by that is that the driver is a man on a mission. There is no wasted movement. There are no big explosions. There is no big machine gun. All actions and all killings are fueled by great and powerful emotion. When that is carried out the driver finds his guy and he has one big bullet and that one bullet goes between their eyes. It’s that type gun. You wanted that type of gun.
As an actor do you feel like you’re hitting your stride in terms of the roles you’re getting? Is there anything else that you want to do, a biopic, a horror film, sci-fi?
DJ: This is a very exciting time in my career right now where I have this type of leverage and this type of flexibility. I also recognize that there are not a lot of actors in Hollywood right now who are consistently getting these types of varied roles. For example, from ‘Faster’ which is rated R to a big franchise movie like ‘Fast and Furious’ and then we go all the way to the other end of the spectrum with the big 3-D adventure that I’m shooting right now which is called ‘The Journey to Mysterious Island.’ It’s the sequel to ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’ It stars Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, Louis Guzman, Josh Hutcherson and it’s such a nice big cast. So having that type of variety and that type of diversity, I like that and enjoy it and I’m really grateful to have those types of opportunities. If it’s right I’d love to do a horror movie that feels good, if the script is right. I’d love to play a superhero if it feels right. I would love to do a biopic if the script is good. That’s the great part about the diversity and the great fortune that I’ve been getting to do such varied roles.
Are you comfortable now with being known as Dwayne Johnson as opposed to The Rock?
DJ: I’ve always been comfortable with it. I’ve always been comfortable with whatever they called me. I’m proud of my past and I’m proud of the wrestling career that I was able to have. People call me Rock all the time and I always say that The Rock is the brand, the brand of The Rock and Team Rock. I’m billed as Dwayne Johnson but sometimes headlines have and people call me The Rock. It’s always been very easy with me. I never wanted to make a big issue about it. I wanted it to be clean and simple and to say, “I’ll just be billed as Dwayne Johnson in movies, but you can call me Rock, The Rock, whatever it is you want.” I’ve always been very comfortable with that.