Be Cool: An Interview with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
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By Wilson Morales
HOW MUCH LEEWAY DID YOU HAVE WITH YOUR CHARACTER AND DOES IT REPRESENT A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN YOUR CAREER?
The Rock: Actually I had a lot of leeway and latitude with Gary Gray, especially with a character like this, where we were starting from scratch basically, and although Elliott was written in the novel by Elmore, still nonetheless, we had to start from scratch. As for the second part of the question, I think so. I didn't take the role specifically to get away from the action genre. I took the role because for me it was a meaty role, it was a challenge, and you guys get this all the time with actors, how they always wait for that role to be fearless, where they can jump off the cliff, and for me that was this role when I saw it; an opportunity to play a guy who was conflicted in a world that he didn't want to be in, and still at the same time felt that he had something to offer the world through song and through dance, and he was a gay man who was proud and by the end of the movie embraced even more him being gay. And not only that, but in terms of drawing from things in my own life, I connected with Elliott. Here's this aspiring actor, and that was me five years ago, probably about the time where I met a lot of you guys. And this is a guy who doesn't have any money and that was me eight years ago. I was lucky in my life because I had a lot of positive gay influences, and my mentor for many, many, many years is a strong, steadfast, truthful gay man, who by the way I've literally seen kick a lot of people's asses. . . he was a former professional wrestler.
WHO IS HE?
The Rock: His name is Pat Patterson.
HAVE YOU WORRIED OR THOUGHT AT ALL ABOUT THE FAN REACTION - ABOUT PLAYING A GAY CHARACTER AND ALSO THE FACT THAT ELLIOTT IS A STUPID MAN?
The Rock: Number one, I think the audience that I have and my fans, no, I think they're going to be very supportive because at the end of the day I have always wanted to entertain, and I think they would just appreciate (my) taking on the role. And as far as being stupid, I've got to disagree with you. I don't think Elliott is a stupid man. I think he's an earnest man who's genuine. And by the way, I'm sure you guys have come in contact with them. That's the reality of Hollywood and the entertainment business. There's a lot of people like Elliott out there right now. You can go outside and they are those aspiring actors who'll drop a monologue on you at the drop of a dime. And by the way I live it every day, people who come up to me and say " "Hey, I got this idea, I got a cd, you want to . . . I got a script . . ." so I've seen that before. And by the way that is my favorite scene in the movie.
WHAT WERE THE SIMILARITIES TO THE WRESTLING WORLD?
The Rock: I think there's a lot of similarities. I think over-all the entertainment industry, period. There's a seedy underbelly to the movie business, to the music business as well. I wasn't that familiar with the music, or at least that side of it. Speaking to John Travolta over the months of us filming, as well as Andre, knowing a lot of musicians, it's a pretty accurate depiction of what goes on. We made it funny, we poked fun at it, but the reality of it is true.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT USING YOUR EYESBROWS IN A HUMOROUS WAY?
The Rock: I love self-deprecating humor, I've always been a big fan of that, and to have that joke run through the movie " look, I've got talent!" .. I thought that was a great joke too. But no, if there's another creative way to throw that in there to make fun of myself, sure.
EVER SUNG BEFORE AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
The Rock: No, I've never sung before, certainly not in movies. I drive my family and my friends crazy every time I think I'm going to win a Grammy or something like that, but the source for this song, that was another way of trying to think. I sat down with Gary and we talked about how can we make Elliott more interesting? I told Gary: "What if he wants to sing?" And he says: "Well, what do you think he would sing? Like R&B?" "No, he's an artist and he may have an old soul he might like to sing "Loretta Lynn." I came up with that because one of my favorite movies is Coal Miner's Daughter . . . so I thought, yeah he might want to sing "You Ain't Woman Enough". It makes sense, a gay man singing to another gay man. And as for the dance at the end, again, Elliott is now completely out and free living his dream on stage for millions of people. He would do his customary Samoan slap dance. I called my cousins from Hawaii who are professional dancers. They were there with me, they came up, and we recorded that number. It was so exciting. Of course here Elliott doesn't want to leave the stage.
DO YOU ANTICIPATE ANY CRITICISM FROM THE GAY COMMUNITY?
The Rock: Well, I'll tell ya. I hope I don't because it was important to me from the get-go? Because I didn't want to turn anything really into a mockery or Saturday Night Live skit, but try and play it as straight as I possibly could, no pun intended, and again it goes back to my ideology. In my interpretation of what being what a gay man is, and the strength of that, so again, bringing that over to Elliott, so no, the temperature that I'm reading from the gay community and the gauge from the gay community has all been very, very positive. So hopefully, it will stay that way. But my intent was just to play a guy who wanted and whom I could connect with, and not only that, but he just happened to be gay. . .
HOW WAS WORKING WITH VINCE VAUGHN?
The Rock: Vince was great to work with, and I've known Vince for a little while now. We had talked about doing something together, and we had this opportunity. . . You don't quite know, especially with two crazy characters like this, with Elliott, and he's a bad ass during the day and a gay man at night; not a gay man at night, but in his private time he likes to put on the blue outfit, the cowboy outfit, with the red boots; and Vince Vaughn, who is one of the few actors in Hollywood who is taller than I am. He's all of 6'5, and looking up at him, he's this Jewish character, dressing like a pimp, walking black, talking black, and so funny. And Gary had given us a lot of leeway in the scenes to improvise and ad-lib, and just go for it. This was you guys and we prepared for so long . . . and Gary was great with everything, and there was one particular scene where I finally had enough of him using derogatory terms, calling me names, so I stopped the car, and we started running around the car. I think pretty much all that was ad libbed. And it was great for me, because I just had to sell tin my face. I had no idea what Vince was going to say from twinkle, twinkle little star to stop hating, you gotta stop participating. Vince was great.
HOW WAS WORKING WITH TRAVOLTA AND THE SCENE WHERE HE KIND OF TAKES YOU DOWN?
The Rock: Well, John is great. As you guys know, John is such a warm guy. He's very, very supportive. I obviously had never worked with John before. I met him at rehearsals. He was so kind and supportive then. You know, (he was this) iconic legend and working with him was a thrill and a pleasure for me. And it's interesting how quickly he was able to take me down too. When I saw a cut of the movie it's like (makes swooshing sound) and I'm just down. Going back to the earnest(ness)of Elliott and turning him around, I've got an audition! But John was absolutely great. John was fantastic. And by the way . . . probably by day 18 of working, remember in Grease when he did this? Or Urban Cowboy . . . He was great, very patient. HOW LONG TO GROW AFRO?
The Rock: The Afro was a wig. I grew out my hair to probably about an inch or so and then put the Afro on. I looked good, right?
ABOUT TIME SPENT DETERMINING HIS LOOK.
The Rock: There were many, many days on the look of Elliott, starting from scratch, unlike with Chili Palmer. John obviously slipped right into that role like a glove. But it was everything from how he would dress to how he would look to the earrings, wanting some juxtaposition between how he looked during the day, this badass, and then his private time, what he would put on.
WERE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE NOVEL?
The Rock: I was familiar with Elmore's work, for sure. . . . It's interesting because the script was sent and my agent said, "Hey, you should check the script. It's an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, and it will be the sequel to Get Shorty, and the character's name will be Elliott . . . I think it would be fantastic." So I said okay . . . I'm reading it, and it says Elliott Wilhelm, age 30, aspiring actor, talented, raises one eyebrow, and gay. Okay. And I read it, and it was fantastic and well written.
DID HE EVER SAY IT WAS WRITTEN FOR YOU?
The Rock: Absolutely, yeah. I was just going to say that. I met Elmore, which was actually a thrill, it was great. He'd come in from Detroit and he had said: "Oh, thank you so much for doing the movie. I wrote this for you about six or seven years ago or whenever it was, I can't really remember when he wrote it, and I thought of you, this aspiring actor and he wanted to make a joke about the eyebrow, and I said: "Where'd the gay part come from?" (laughter) And he said, "Oh no, I just thought that would be interesting." I said: "I love it. It's great." He was great. He was really, really a great guy.
WHAT IS THE CRAZIEST THING YOU DID TO GET NOTICED IN HOLLYWOOD?
The Rock: I don't have any of those kinds of stories. I was really very lucky. After I finished my football I got into professional wrestling, so after that it was fortunate that because of wrestling and being on that stage of live television for four hours every week . . . it wasn't like all of a sudden like I was doing The Mummy Returns.
WHO IS THE COOLEST PERSON YOU KNOW?
The Rock: The coolest person I know. Ah, I would say the coolest person I worked with on the show would be Travolta. He's timeless. You'll see him . . . he'll breeze into the room, and he'll saunter, and he's just cool . . .
ARE YOU DONE WITH WRESTLING?
The Rock: Well, contractually, my contract was up, it came and went last year, at the end of the year last year. It was an interesting way it all came about. I wasn't contacted or notified or anything like that, and it wasn't until my old team had basically congratulated me "oh my god, what a wonderful career you've had, congratulations!" Really? So I wish it had went down a little bit different, and you know, that part I was sad about it.
YOU MEAN THEY JUST DROPPED YOU FROM WRESTLING WITHOUT EVEN SAYING, DO YOU WANT TO RENEW YOUR CONTRACT?
The Rock: It was never brought up, basically, and I was over in Prague . . . filming, and again it was just one of those things kind of like being hit with a ton of bricks. . .
YOU CAN STILL COME BACK . . .
The Rock: I'm sure the door's always open and I appreciate that.
DO YOU REALLY OWN THE NAME, THE ROCK OR DOES IT BELONG TO THE WRESTLING WORLD?
The Rock: Actually, I do. It's almost like a dual ownership, and we had made that agreement a couple of years ago, so I'm able to go out and use the name, The Rock. I can be known as the Rock if I wanted to in movies or anywhere else. It's interesting now how things have come and just taken a life of its own in terms of the name. Yeah, I do miss the fans, that part sucks, I mean I can't perform live . . . I love live interaction.
WHAT LOOKING FOR IN FUTURE?
The Rock: I've always wanted to just continue and diversify and, you know, take on movies that were entertaining at the end of the day and I've been really, really fortunate to have decent material and make good movies really and work with some really, really good actors; so to continue to do that, there's an inspiring drama that I'm going to do this summer. I'm excited about that. And "Doom", of course . . . it's funny, I love Ben Affleck. He said last year: "I don't want to blow anything up. I don't want to shoot any guns any more." And I love blowing it up and shooting guns. Doom is a video game adaptation that's basically like a sci fi film and it has a great writer, John Wells. I'm very excited about that and the writing is great. It's with Universal Pictures.
HAS NICOLE KIDMAN HAD ADVANCE WARNING OR IS SHE IN FOR A SURPRISE?
The Rock: Of course, she had to sign off . . . but I'll tell ya, it looks so good when I saw it on screen. There's magic there . . . we look good together.
AND THE DRAMA?
The Rock: The drama is called Gridiron Gang and it's going to be with Sony and it's a true story. It takes place in a teenage prison camp and . . . literally transforming all these kids lives. It's really, really incredible. It takes place up in Malibu. In the Malibu mountains there's a couple of prison camps up there, and when kids can't go to prison, say, for example, for murder, they get sent to these camps first.
WHAT IS CHALLENGE OF GOING FROM PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER TO ACTOR?
The Rock: I think the challenge at first, like five or six years ago, was just to, you know, there was a stereotype that the wrestlers before me had, and understandably so. In getting over that, it took a lot of the executives actually going to the show and watching me perform live, it took hosting SNL on a couple of occasions, it took the Scorpion King and movies like that, and for me it was just a matter of time, that's all. I knew that going in. I just wanted opportunity and surround myself with good people and continue to work with good acting coaches and hopefully get batter.
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