The Esquire interview: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson
Everyone loves Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. That isn't an opinion, either. That's a fact.
He's the last truly bankable movie star, and a born entertainer. We sat down with the action star ahead of his new movie Skyscraper, where Johnson plays an ex-special forces officer (no surprises there) who is also an amputee (there it is) to ask what first attracted him to the role.
June 22, 12pm, On the phone from Miami, Florida, USA
I’m starving. Who better to ask for a food recommendation than Dwayne Johnson. What’s your favourite meal of all-time?
No question you have to go to Pizza Heaven in Broward Miami.
If you want a real reader’s tip from me, then go in and ask for what The Rock has – I’m not kidding, people do that – and you won’t be disappointed.
Well, you say, that, but the last time somebody said, ‘try it, you won’t be disappointed’ to me about food it was my dad trying to make me eat broccoli. It did not turn out well. What did you inherit from your dad?
I got his pure determination and will to succeed.
So he’s a badass then?
My dad is the baddest of badasses – one of the most incredible human beings I know.
He had a tough upbringing – and I mean real tough. His own father died when he was 13 years old, and just a few months later his mum moved her new boyfriend in. At Christmas that year the boyfriend got drunk and started acting up, so my Dad—who was still only 13 at the time—gave him a warning. Unfortunately, he didn’t listen, so, bang! my dad knocked him clean out. Long story short, the cops came and it resulted in him being homeless at just 13.
So, yeah, he’s not a man you mess with.
I imagine he was pretty tough on you growing up?
Oh, he was hard. I didn’t get it at the time, but now I know it was out of love.
He would whoop my ass in the gym – and if I got upset he would tell me to go home and cry in front of my mother. He turned me into a man, and I will be eternally grateful for that.
I was reading about Seven Bucks Productions [the company Johnson named after the amount of cash he had left after being let go from his Canadian Football League team]. Was that time pretty much all or nothing for you?
I think the 'Seven Bucks moment', if you want to call it that, was defining for me.
I had been sulking on the sofa just watching trashy TV until that point. I decided there and then that, even if it wasn’t in football, the world was still going to hear from me. That’s pretty much where my wrestling career started.
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That Rocky Maivia [Johnson’s original wrestling persona] was a not a well-liked guy was he — did that bother you at all?
Well it didn’t feel great. Hearing 10,000 people chanting “Rocky Sucks” is never going to make you feel good about yourself.
Then I started to realise it wasn’t me they didn’t like it was this character – who was nothing like me. The crowd want you to be real. While I was injured I had a conversation with Vince [McMahon] who said they hate you anyway, so let’s bring you back as a bad guy. At that moment The Rock was born – I came back as the arrogant, egotistical, wrestler – and a month later I was the most popular guy in the franchise.
Speaking of ‘franchise guys’, why do you think that the WWE universe refuses to embrace Roman Reigns [who is related to Johnson] like they eventually did with you?
Roman is a great wrestler, a great entertainer, and he gives it everything. The last couple of months might not have been the easiest – but he has a big future in the WWE.
So, where would you be now if it hadn’t worked out for you in the WWE?
By the time The Rock was born, I knew it would work out. Failure just wasn’t an option.
Talking of failure—or its potential, at least—how confident were you that acting would work out for you post-WWE?
Well, I don’t think anybody was going to come up to me and say, “hey, we thought you were going to be terrible.”
I just used the simple technique of making sure I’m always the hardest working person in the room. It doesn’t matter how much success my movies have, how many box office records they break, I will always be the hardest working person in the room.
You play an amputee in your latest movie, Skyscraper, so what’s the single biggest thing you learned during your research?
Oh man, it was inspiring, but the main thing I got from it is that we need to normalise disabilities. We need to get to a place where they are just totally looked past.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My dad used to say that respect is given when it’s earned. But he hasn’t said that to me for a lot of years now, because he knows I live by that advice every day.