“As a wrestler, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson asked you to smell what he was cookin’. Now he just wants you to take him seriously as an actor.”
How did you find the transformation from ring warrior to action hero?
It went pretty well. Naturally, I miss things about my “previous life” – there’s nothing quite like the “pop” you get from a live audience. But I’d been looking to get into movies a long time before I actually made my move, so the process was smoother than had I immediately jumped from wrestler to actor.
You put a high price on doing your own stunts, don’t you?
Yes, I do. Today’s movie audience is a savvy audience – they understand about angles, editing, CGI and stunt doubles. There’s nothing worse than when you’re watching a movie and you’re suddenly reminded that what you are seeing is false. It completely takes you out of the film. So, whether it’s Faster, Doom or Welcome To The Jungle, I’ve tried to take on as much of the stunt burden as I can. It’s just a credibility thing. But, hey, if you see me around fire or explosions – that’s not me, baby!
What’s been your worst experience in film to date?
Probably getting sick in Morocco while filming The Mummy Returns. Morocco’s not a good place to get sick – you’re so far from home, you can’t get any of that TLC you need when you fall ill. How did I get sick? I ate the wrong thing. Arnold Vosloo who played Imhotep said to me, “Rock, don’t eat the chicken”, and so, like an idiot, I ate the chicken. Come my first scene, I was so ill, I was freezing – even though it was 100 degrees outside and I was wrapped in three blankets. And I continued to be sick for the rest of the shoot. Of course, having to be up at 1.30am in order to be in make-up at 3.30am wasn’t a great help.
Looking back at your career, can you identity a defining moment?
As an actor, it’d have to be the day The Scorpion King got greenlit. A lot of people had been wondering whether I had what it took to carry a film. But then producer Kevin Misher took a look at my scenes from The Scorpion King and decided, yeah, I can see that man making that character his own. As for wrestling, it was when I decided to turn heel – become a bad guy – and join a faction called The Nation. Up until then, I’d been going down really badly as a “babyface” – I was all but booed out of the building. Becoming “The Rock” gave me the opportunity to be a lot more creative. It gave me more scope to put a personality across. And even when the heat turned to cheers, I was still able to push a lot of buttons.
When Hulk Hogan returned to the WWE in 2002, he was amazed that I even wanted to work with him. He looked at me like I had three heads when I came up with the idea.
You’re not the first wrestler to turn to acting. Did the crossover failure of other grapplers – Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper – worry you at all?
Not really. To be honest, I tried not to think about it that much. If there was a difference between theirs and my experience, it was that I wasn’t coming to movies to play either myself or an extension of myself. Sure, the odd aspect of “my past” crops up in my movies, but I’m playing original characters rather than playing myself.
Did you discuss your career change with Hulk Hogan? After all he’s got 10 or 12 films to his name.
No, we didn’t talk about it. Actually, when Hogan returned to the WWE in 2002, he was amazed that I even wanted to work with him. He looked at me like I had three heads when I came up with the idea. But my feeling was that the two of us fighting would be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime, icon vs. icon event which everyone would want to see. My only proviso was that I’d have to win!
You’re a big screen ‘icon’ now. Who are your heroes?
It’s hard to look beyond Clint Eastwood. With Faster, we’re trying to get back to those Dirty Harry era, knockdown, drag-out movies that made Eastwood’s reputation. He was so good in those pictures. As for in the ring, my father and grandfather – Rocky Johnson and Peter Maivia – are both hugely important to me. But for in-ring excellence, personality and knowing how to work an audience, it’s gotta be Ric Flair. I’ve always been a big fan, so it was a major thrill when I finally got to work with him.
Flair’s still wrestling in his sixties. Can you see yourself returning to the ring once you’re done with movies?
Not really – I’m having such a great time acting and learning about the profession, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. But, yes, Ric’s shown you can have longevity as a wrestler. After all, it’s a fiction and strange things happen in fiction as the movies often remind us.
If not wrestling, then, what does the future hold for you?
Well, after Faster, I’m starring in Fast Five, which is the fifth movie in the Fast & Furious series. Hopefully, critics will come to see this as my ’speed’ era.