First off, he's no longer The Rock. Well, at least he seems to have shed that moniker from the billing in his film roles. Five years ago it was The Rock, three it was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and now it's just Dwayne Johnson. But the former wrestling star and current box office champ seems more practiced and ready than ever for the challenges of 360 degree stardom; after forays into more obvious tough guy territory with The Scorpion King and the minor action classic The Rundown, he migrated into comedy before settling in his current genre of choice, family films.
The Game Plan and Race to Witch Mountain successfully introduced him to the pre-teen audience (and their parents) that stayed away from his adult fare, and now he hopes that lightning will strike a third time with Tooth Fairy, a comedy in which Johnson plays an aging hockey star taught a few lessons when he's sentenced to a two-week stint as the titular bicuspid barterer. Cinematical recently caught up with Johnson via telephone, where in addition to talking about the challenges of wearing wings and a tutu, he discussed the development of his career, and hinted at the possibility of a return to his early history of violence -- on screen, anyway.
Cinematical: What enables you to be as fearless enough to put yourself into situations as an actor where you have to be broad and silly, or are perhaps less typical of the roles that we'd expect from a tough guy like you?
Dwayne Johnson: Hmm, good question. Well, two things, I think. Number one is the material -- am I going to have fun? Am I going to have a great time? Is this a character I'm going to enjoy playing? Can we have fun? Can we make people laugh? Can we entertain them? But not only that. It's also important to have heart -- what's the message, is there subtext to it without getting too heady. In this case with Tooth Fairy, it's the impossible is possible -- the power of belief. That always resonates with me. The second part to your question would be to approach material without ego. If you check your ego at the door when it comes to comedy, you've got a pretty good shot at making a great movie that you can commit yourself to, you can jump off the proverbial cliff with, and have a great time, and the audiences respond to that. You can see that in performances with a lot of actors who check their ego at the door because, and this is my perspective on comedy, you can't be funny and cool at the same time. I think that oftentimes cool can be the antithesis of funny, and this is why for me it's important to check my ego at the door. When I sign up to do Tooth Fairy, that means that requires a pink tutu, it requires a blue fairy outfit with blue wings, and a collision of worlds.
Cinematical: When I talked to you way back in the days of Scorpion King, I remember you saying that even though when you wrestled you lost more matches than you won, that seemed to build more interest and sympathy from your fans. Have you applied that strategy to your acting career -- acknowledging that being a little more silly might make you more accessible to more people?
Johnson: Honestly, I don't think about that to that degree. I'll go back to finding material, and again, let's just say in the genre of comedy, whether it's action-comedy or family comedy, but it's still comedy and it's still done in the interest of making people laugh and feel good, the degree to which I approach it is 'am I going to have fun?' If I'm going to have fun, I honestly believe that the audience is going to have fun too in the process. But the same thing applies though, too, going into an action movie: if I'm going to have fun, I'm going into it being committed and kicking ass. I think that when everything comes together like that, then you have a shot at making a pretty good movie. But I can tell you that has helped me. [But] you brought up wrestling -- wrestling has helped me [because] now I guess it goes back to checking your ego at the door. I didn't have to win, and winning wasn't important to me. Being world champion wasn't important to me. What was important to me was entertaining the audience, and whether that meant winning, losing, singing, or whatever it was on the live show we were doing every week, which was awesome, I was game for it. So I think you check your ego at the door, put your audience first, make sure you love your material, and then think about how much the audience is going to enjoy it as well.
Cinematical: What was the thing you loved most about Tooth Fairy when they came to you with it?
Johnson: The opportunity to create something really cool and special and to create a character that is known worldwide, been around for generations and generations, and for the very first time, we're going to introduce the world to our version of the tooth fairy -- which I thought was really cool. You probably know the idea of Tooth Fairy has been around forever, especially in Hollywood. There's been many versions of this, from Schwarzenegger to Bruce Willis to Jack Black, but what happened over the years, over the decades, was, [people asking] okay, what's the story? And what's a story that makes sense? What's a story that is appealing to people? I was fortunate when it came to me that it had the right combination of the right studio who really does well, really well in terms of high-concept comedies; some great writers and a great production team who came up with some solid storylines. So I think it was the opportunity to create something really cool and fun and then the challenge of knowing that we were going to introduce an iconic figure to the world of the tooth fairy. So it's almost like Tim Allen did with The Santa Clause, he was our generation's version of Santa Claus, but we had it with Miracle on 34th Street years ago -- they probably had the same anticipation.
Cinematical: This guy is an athlete, and certainly your athletic background notwithstanding, a lot of your past roles have had a connection to sports or athleticism. Is that an easier entry point for you into characters, or is that maybe just something that by virtue of your, uh, girth, that people use to get you into a movie or story in a believable way?
Johnson: I'm not quite sure what people's perception is. But I can tell you that with the movies that I've done that have had a sports theme to them, I think it was just a matter of how much sports have meant to my life and how much sports resonates with me. The idea of a man or a team wanting to be better or wanting to challenge themselves, and then inherently failing, and then coming back from that failure and going back on that type of arc, with tooth fairy, again, there have been many versions of Tooth Fairy. To give you an example, I believe he was a boxer, and then he might have been a baseball player, but he was always physical; [in] all of the versions, even before me he, was involved in some sort of physical activity like a sport, because then also it goes back to the collision of worlds. Oftentimes in really cool comedies, the collision of worlds sets up a great story, and I think the tooth fairy, if he were an accountant and the accountant's world was colliding with the tooth fairy world, well, that's boring. I think the fact that this man is a man's man, he knocks out teeth for a living and he's called "the Tooth Fairy," and that collision where he comes up into the world of Tooth Fairy land, well, that's pretty funny.
Cinematical: You've been able to expand your fan base by doing series of films that put you in front of different audiences -- going from straight action to grown-up comedy and now to family-oriented material. How much of that is strategy, and how much is your work in a certain genre driven by initial success and the studios subsequently sending you more of the same as opposed to something different?
Johnson: Those are all great points and I think it's a combination of a lot of things. For me, the first part of the overall strategy was to work in as many different genres as I possibly can. This dates back years ago, with The Scorpion King, for example, but knowing even during The Scorpion King that I wanted to branch out and I wanted to challenge myself as an actor and I wanted to become really good. I felt then to become good I wanted to work in all different genres, and hopefully find some success, or maybe not, but it was important to me to have a really solid base and a solid foundation of working in a lot of genres. Success wasn't as important to me as much as the experience was, so oftentimes in success, that often breeds material coming out of that particular genre. So getting into the family genre was important to me, and I was just waiting for the right opportunity to come along, and it came along with The Game Plan. The Game Plan was made at Disney, which we enjoyed success there, and that success bred Witch Mountain. But the interesting thing about Tooth Fairy was that it came to me about six years ago and I loved the idea then, but I hadn't been in the comedy genre at all and ultimately at that point I believe it went to Jack Black. For whatever reason, it fell apart, and then it came back to me, so it was always just a matter of working in as many different genres as possible, and in the family genre we've had some great success. We've made some good movies, but it's nice to switch it up; I'm about to shoot an action movie with Billy Bob Thornton in a month.
Cinematical: Are you ready now having done several of the family-themed films to venture back into darker or more action-oriented stuff?
Johnson: Absolutely. I've enjoyed -- I really have -- the success in the family genre and making these family comedies; it's really been awesome. There's nothing like kicking ass, though (laughs). I mean, really; I love making people laugh and feel good, and that's awesome and special for me to be able to do that, but there really is nothing like kicking ass whether it's on a major scale, or whether it's in more of a dramatic fashion. Being physical and taking care of business the old-fashioned way is something that I love doing.