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The Game Plan - Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson interview

The Game Plan

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DWAYNE ‘The Rock’ Johnson talks about returning to the world of American Football for Disney’s new family movie The Game Plan, developing an appreciation for ballet, singing and wearing leotards and mascara.

He also talks about inducting members of his family into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame, his approach to movie-making and some of his next projects, including Race To Witch Mountain and The Tooth Fairy.

Q. What was tougher – returning to the world of pro-football or ballet?
Dwayne Johnson: I would have to say the ballet. I had the opportunity to be exposed to ballet, with The Boston Ballet, and I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of discipline and well-mannered children that are out there. I’m sure we’ve talked in the past about children getting involved in sports and how important that is in teaching commitment and sacrifice. But I tell you, the arts – and especially ballet – the discipline is extraordinary. So, I was extremely impressed. And it was the only time, by the way, that I could put on a green leotard…

Q. Was this the first time you’ve been a man in tights?
Dwayne Johnson: [Laughs] Well, there’s many ways to go with that answer but yet, that was the first time that didn’t involve alcohol!

Q. How did you prepare to play father and daughter with your young co-star Madison Pettis and who was the worst for giggling?
Dwayne Johnson: Well, because I have a little six-year-old daughter of my own, who’s the light of my life, that relationship I have with my own little girl just made it very easy and made the transition a very seamless one. And within five minutes of meeting Madison, she’s very easy to like, get along with and love. She’s smart, she’s precocious, she’s all those wonderful things. So it was very, very easy. It’s very easy to be a fatherly figure around her, so that’s the way the crew always treated her – like she was our little girl. But every once in a while I’d slip up and go from dad to being a brother and right before the take, for her serious scene, I’d look at her and go: “I’m going to do this scene drunk… go with it.” She’d ask: “What’s that mean?” It was highly inappropriate for an eight-year-old, of course [shrugs and smiles].

Q. Madison describes your singing voice in the film like that of being a wounded moose. But you actually have a very nice singing voice. Any plans to record an album?
Dwayne Johnson: Well thank you, but there’s no Grammys in my future, I don’t think. I was very lucky that we were just able to sing and have a good time. But maybe one day… With my own little girl, when I start breaking out my guitar and singing to her she would just literally get up and walk away from me [laughs]. But with Madison, she wouldn’t. And it was a cool visual. Everyone would say: “Oh, look at Dwayne singing to Madison as if she wouldn’t leave…”

Q. You were a Gridiron player yourself with a shot at the big time before injury curtailed your career. Do you ever look back and wish that you’d maybe had that chance to pursue a career in the game?
Dwayne Johnson: It’s hard to say. You like to live life without regret but that’s what the good Lord intended for me – that’s just the way it was. My goal was to make it in the NFL, I played with a lot of great players in college who went on to have illustrious, incredible careers and in the end it just didn’t happen for me. I failed at that. But one of the unique things about the movie for me, on a personal level, was that I never saw the dream come true of being a professional football player. So, in the movie, I’m there, we go to the Superbowl, I become MVP, so it’s very ironic for me. I remember being in the middle of the football field, which is the field of the New England Patriots who were the Superbowl Champions at that time, and thinking: “God, I’m standing here at the 50 yard line, I’m quarter-backing this team…” So, it was wonderful.

Q. What were you like around the pro-footballers in the film? Did you resort to becoming a fan yourself then?
Dwayne Johnson: I’m just a big fan of football and sports [in general] because I know what sports did for me. But specifically football, I played football for 10 years and it taught me a lot in terms of commitment and learning how to deal with losses and things like that. So, it was great. But any time you get a bunch of guys around like that there’s great camaraderie and whether you’re on the football field, or a soldier, or a player a bunch of guys together generates some guy humour – but we always had to be very careful because Madison’s ears were always listening.

Q. What’s the mascara under the eyes all about with football players?
Dwayne Johnson: That’s to detract the light, especially out of the quarter back’s eyes or out of the receiver’s eyes – to draw what could be bright lights from the stadium to the black marks.

Q. At one time in your wrestling career you were becoming really big in that world. What were the chances of you becoming a self-centred star like the person you play at the start of The Game Plan? Did you have to work hard to avoid them?
Dwayne Johnson: I am now! [Laughs] We see that constantly, though. Every year there’s a new flock of professional athletes around the world who make poor decisions. But I think for me, even though I was always very athletically driven and sports-driven, I was a pretty selfish guy to be honest with you. I was an only child, I never had much and I was very selfish, I’d only take care of me. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I realised – and this happens to a lot of us when we have children – what being selfless is all about.

Q. You’re inducting your dad and grandfather into the Hall of Fame. How much of an honour is that?
Dwayne Johnson: The WWE has a Hall of Fame and my grandfather wrestled for that company in the 1970s, and my father wrestled for that company in the 1980s, and they’re going to be inducted into their Hall of Fame. I’m going to fly down to Orlando a couple of days before shooting my next movie and induct them into the Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful honour. It’s an honour for me to induct them. But more importantly, my grandfather passed away in 1982, my dad is still around and for them it’s just a nice exodus from something that they loved and a great honour to give them. I think it’s happening on March 29.

Q. You mentioned your next movie…
Dwayne Johnson: Atonement 2 is my next movie [laughs]. It’s going to be wonderful. It’s me and James [McAvoy].

Q. But you’re remaking a classic in the form of Race To Witch Mountain. Can you tell us a little about that?
Dwayne Johnson: Yes, it’s Race To Witch Mountain and it’s a big action movie. You may or not remember but originally there was Escape and Return To Witch Mountain and we’ve upped the ante. The action is going to be incredible. The script looks fantastic, it’s with the same director as The Game Plan, Andy Frickman, and we start shooting in about five weeks.

Q. Are we talking franchise?
Dwayne Johnson: We are indeed – that’s the goal [laughs].

Q. Can you talk about another of your forthcoming releases, The Tooth Fairy, and is that part of your continuing evolution as an all-round actor?
Dwayne Johnson: Well, with The Tooth Fairy, after Witch Mountain I wanted to go back to comedy. I’ve always been drawn to comedy. I think it’s unique and special when you can just make people laugh and feel good. For me personally, I’m always drawn to that. But The Tooth Fairy is a very high concept comedy. I love the idea. It was around about four or five years ago and we’d been toying with the idea, but all the pieces finally came together. I got the same producers from The Game Plan on it. But the goal with me, and the way I challenge myself as an actor, is to go from genre to genre. I like that. A lot of actors always challenge themselves. But for me the challenge lies not only in getting better, but going from drama to comedy to action or whatever the case may be, and having a wide array of movies in terms of my filmography.

Q. Was there any advice you were given when starting out that you’d pass on to your young co-star?
Dwayne Johnson: Well, I think you have to create an environment for yourself where you constantly understand the importance of hard work and that there’s no substitute for hard work. Period. Madison knows that. To her credit, she has a wonderful mum and she’s still a little girl. There’s a lot of actors and actresses that sit up here before you in this crazy world that we’re in who could find it daunting, especially someone so young. So the advice is always that there’s no substitute for hard work.

Q. What was the best advice you were given?
Dwayne Johnson: To stop sucking my thumb… at 10! Seriously! I would say that the best advice I was given was to treat people kindly. It should be easy just to treat people kindly and work hard. I always think it takes a lot of effort to be a jerk and yet some people do it so effortlessly.

Q. Why do you think so many successful sports stars move so seamlessly into acting?
Dwayne Johnson: A lot of professional athletes always ask me about getting into acting and I say: “Great, I’d encourage you to do that. I’d encourage you to study. But all the elements that made you a great athlete, from your commitment to your desire – all those things that make a great athlete great – you take those same elements and you have to apply them.” It’s interesting, there are a lot of great athletes – Burt Reynolds, for example, who was phenomenal in college and a great actor… but a lot of pro-athletes when they try and make the transition for some reason don’t apply everything that makes them great in one field to the acting world. For me, it was just a matter of surrounding myself with great acting coaches, good actors and good directors – and to really find good material because it’s not easy finding good material.

Read our review of The Game Plan