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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has biceps the size of my thigh. That’s a lie. His biceps are bigger. Born in California, the former pro-wrestler of Samoan extract could be intimidating with his shaven head, traditional tattoos and his height – 1.94m, but he goes out of his way to break the stereotype.
He smiles often, talks about his rough childhood and is self-deprecating. He is also a rarity among beefy former sportsmen who try to segue into film. After dominating the world of professional wrestling with 17 championships, the former pro-footballer made a brief appearance in CGI form in The Mummy Returns, but it was enough to make him a headliner in the spin-off film, The Scorpion King.
Since then he has chosen projects that play up his action status, but also films that have been unexpected choices, such as Tooth Fairy with Julie Andrews, where he portrays the tooth fairy in a tutu. He’s been most successful when paired with established stars, or as part of an ensemble.
Johnson, divorced and the father of a daughter, Simone, can be seen in the Michael Bay crime-comedy, Pain and Gain. Based on real events in the 1990s, it tells the story of a group of bodybuilders in Miami who are caught up in a kidnapping and extortion scheme that goes terribly wrong. It’s out in South Africa on Friday.
Your character turned to his faith to be rescued – what saved you from choosing the wrong things?
I would say my faith. I started getting into trouble very early in my life. I had a hard time staying on the right track. When I was14, I started getting arrested. I had faith in my relationship with God and, as important, I had some adult figures in my life who cared for me and saw the potential in me, even when I didn’t see it myself.
Something definitive happened when I was 14. We were living in Hawaii and when I got home, there was a lock on our door. We had been evicted. We didn’t have a place to live. I was with my mom and I saw her just break down. I was a kid and I thought: “I never want to see this happen again to my family. I never want to be evicted again.”
I thought about the heroes in my life. Some were men in my family and some were screen heroes, like Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I thought they were successful, and they built their bodies with their hands, so I started working out. That moment in my life, it drove me.
Your character bulks up – almost religiously. Do you feel sexier when you have muscles?
I play a guy who just got out of prison.
A lot of those guys spend all day just working out. I wanted to make sure I looked lean and conditioned; big, dangerous and just bordering on psychosis. But as Dwayne Johnson? It’s not necessarily about being a big guy, or a muscled guy; it’s a matter of what anchors my day. For some people it’s yoga, Pilates, or meditation. For me, if I can do it in the morning, it launches my day – and I feel sexy.
Were you aware of the events when they took place?
I’ve lived in Miami for over 20 years. I was here when the crimes took place.
It really rocked the city. Some of the things in the film are so unbelievable – except that they really happened.
Did you meet your character?
Daniel Lugo, the head of the gang, is played by Mark Wahlberg. Adrian Doorbal is played by Anthony Mackie. My character, Paul Doyle, is an amalgamation of the rest of the Sun Gym gang. There were multiple people involved in these horrific crimes – too many to represent in a film. I have this really complex character with all these shades and layers. It gave me latitude to delve into the role and is a departure from what I’ve done in the past.
I have often played characters who become leaders and make the people around them better. I was able to abandon that because although my character finds salvation, he spends a lot of time making mistakes.
What are you doing to combat ageing?
When I turned 40 I began training smarter. I try to educate myself on supplements, what I’m eating, and when.
I hired a great diet conditioning coach who helped me prepare for a variety of these roles and in between roles. Understanding what certain foods do. And I exfoliate.