Tapping The Rock

The Rock is actually much smaller in person. And friendlier than you’d expect after his days with World Wrestling Entertainment and his tough-guy roles in recent films such as “The Rundown” and his new release, “Walking Tall” (MGM), which hits theaters next Friday. The Hatchet sat down with The Rock to talk about his wrestling past, his transition to acting, his new movie and where he’ll go from here. Thankfully, no one was hit with a steel chair during this interview … although it came close to that once or twice.

Hatchet: What do you say to people who say, “Oh, The Rock, he’s a wrestler, he’s not an actor”?

The Rock: Some people are going to think that, and that’s OK. I’m prepared for that … The thing for me to do is hopefully try to dispel that with the roles I choose, the performances I give. Not that I’m trying to get an Oscar nod or anything like that, just give the best performance that I can give. “Walking Tall,” that was for me, that’s my small step towards a dramatic role … Plus, I love wrestling and I’m proud of what I did. I would never hide that.

H: At some point in your career would you prefer to be billed as Dwayne Johnson, your real name?

R: I’m not going to make an issue out of it. Like, starting out, I thought about it, like maybe I’d want to do a romantic comedy one day and that’d be different: Halle Berry and “The Rock?” … And here’s the thing, too – it’s interesting – what I found after I did “The Rundown” and, now going into “Walking Tall,” is that it’s almost taken on that change on it’s own. Like, everywhere I see it as ‘Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,’ and that certainly didn’t come from the publicity team on my end. I think what’s going to happen is, eventually it’ll just happen that way.

H: What made you decide to go from wrestling to acting?

R: Just being in the entertainment industry. In wrestling, being out there every night in front of a lot of people, that was my theater – like, the ring was my stage. There’d be, like, 10, 20, 30, 60 thousand people sometimes, and I would test myself. I’d deliver these monologues that nobody knew I was going to say and see how people would react in a live forum. And I knew like 3, 4 – actually like 5 years ago – that I wanted to break into film, and my thought was that I wanted to make a movie. I didn’t think I wanted to make movies and become this huge actor, I just wanted to make a movie. So I was waiting for the right role to come along … and it wasn’t until I got the role for “The Mummy Returns” that I thought, “Wow this is a great opportunity. I can get my feet wet, I can work with a really good director, Stephen Sommers, and be part of something that’s really big, the “Mummy” series. And, hey, small role, no English dialogue, don’t have to worry about messing up.”

H: Do you ever get star struck by actors or actresses you work with?

R: I will say this: when working (on the upcoming film “Be Cool”) with Uma Thurman, who is beautiful, sexy, strong. Just before that, before our scene together, I had just seen “Kill Bill.” I don’t know if you’ve seen “Kill Bill,” but I was blown away, being a fan of action. And I had to go on with her, in like, 15 minutes. And so now I went from watching her “Kill Bill” in that great performance and now I’m in this scene with her and I’m like, “Wow, just look at her.” I had to try not to look at her too much.

H: Did she catch you checking her out?

R: Yeah, probably. It’s all good.

H: In your last two movies you played characters who had a distinct aversion to guns. Is that intentional? Do you look for that in a script?

R: I look for elements that make a character interesting. And here’s the thing, too – I’m drawn to those reluctant old hero movies, like old-school movies with Clint Eastwood. Movies like that where the word “reluctant hero” might get thrown around but the reluctant hero in the movie, more times than not, they’re not really reluctant (to be a hero). They’re out in the first scene shooting guys. So you have to find elements like that to help the movie earn it.

H: Is Johnny Knoxville, who you worked with in “Walking Tall,” really that crazy in person?

R: Yeah, absolutely. He would turn your school upside down – him and all his buddies. Or you guys might show him a thing or two, who knows? He’s got great energy, too. It’s eight in the morning, eight at night, midnight, doesn’t matter. Whether we’re in Morton’s Steak House or Taco Bell, he’s the same across the board, which is really cool ’cause he’s unaffected. And I give him a lot of credit for his very first big role like this. He chose this role when he could have easily have done something that was a lot more comical.

H: Do you have any good stories about him?

R: Give ya a clean one. What he’d do is, like in off-scenes, he’d eat. I don’t know what he’d eat, it seemed to be like tuna fish, peanut butter, soy sauce, whatever else. And then he’d drink soda before we went on and he’d burp in my face, right as the director yelled action and I’d find myself in … UGH! Just terrible. I was like, “OK, you do that one more time, I’ll get Steve-O. He’ll whoop your ass off the set.”

H: How were the fight scenes done for the movie?

R: There were about three to four months of pre-production on that. The thing I love about the stunts in the move is, in our world today there’s a lot of CGI, the “Matrix” of it all, which is really cool. I like that kind of stuff, but I prefer to make things that are more realistic and that I can relate to. We decided to make this as real and raw and intense as we possibly could. The movie was a hard “R” (rating) when it was first cut and shown. We really wanted to show what would happen if someone were left for dead and then came back and wanted to right the wrongs.

H: You’ve made $33 million off your first three films – more than most actors make in their entire lives. You can’t still be doing this for the money. What are you going for?

R: Growth, for sure. That’s what drives me. And it’s exciting ’cause it’s such a big commitment when a studio green-lights a movie … Don’t get me wrong, I won’t go out there and do it for free.

H: But you’d never have to work again if you didn’t want to. You’ve got to have some kind of motivation.

R: That, and I’ve got a baby girl. I wanna make sure she’ll never go without.

H: What would you say if she wanted to be a pro wrestler? Particularly with the way women are treated in the WWE?

R: Wow. Well, if I’m still around, she’ll never get treated like that. Honestly, I would be big-time hesitant at first. Some of the female wrestlers now are great and tough and athletic. Then there are some that, well, aren’t. But I would say I love wrestling and say, “OK, do what you got to do. I’ll teach you, yeah, and I’ll call Vince McMahon and say, ‘Boy, I’ll whoop you’re ass if you mess with her.'”

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