About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
March 2004
Walking Tall: An Interview with The Rock (Dwayne Johnson)

By Todd Gilchrist

Walking Tall: An Interview with The Rock (Dwayne Johnson)

In only three starring vehicles, the Rock has established himself at the box office as the same formidable stuff of his namesake. After leaping from a cameo appearance in "The Mummy Returns" to a lead role in "The Scorpion King", The Rock (whose real name is Dwayne Johnson) went on to star opposite Seann William Scott in last year's exhilarating "The Rundown", and returns again to the silver screen with this week's "Walking Tall". In the film, The Rock plays Chris Vaughn, a retired soldier who returns to his hometown to discover corruption and crime running rampant. The Rock recently spoke to Blackfilm.com about his latest role, and the challenges of moving back and forth between the world of television wrestling and big-screen brawls.

Is this the first real character you've played?

Rock: Sure, sure. For me in my small world of trying to take little steps as an actor, is to try and get better, sure. And what actor wouldn't want to play this role I think. It's just a great role, simple story, an inspiring role, a great true story. At least a lot of the elements in the movie were kept from the original.

Were you a fan of the original at all?

Rock: A very big fan, yes. I first saw it when I was 8 years old so yes, I was a very big fan then, but then when I was 8 I didn't really appreciate what it really meant to walk tall and what had gone through. I was just a big fan of this guy, the hero of the movie was kicking ass with a 2 by 4 and for me that was great, as a kid.

Was it like to be directed by an 18 year old?

Rock: Well, you know, he's like 39. It's amazing. The first time I met him I was like "Hey man, how you doing?" I thought he's the assistant and the next thing he brings out this lap top and he's looking at all his notes and Michael Nathanson, the president is like, "oh, so anyway Kevin, tell Rock" and it's was like 'oh man'.

Do you relate to a guy like this?

Rock: Can I relate to Chris? Yeah, I think so and I think all of us can in a way where you're forced into a position where you should stand up for yourself. Whether it's on a level - like you're at a 7/11 and someone gets angry, cuts in line or just something like that but on a lot of levels there are moments in life where, I know - well first of all I could walk tall and didn't, didn't take that step and I hate living in regret and then there were moments in my life where I stood up for myself regardless of the circumstances or the consequences.

I was just wondering, you've done exceeding well as far as picking smart action movies which haven't really existed at all except for a couple of smatterings since the 80's and I was just wondering 1) how are you doing this 2) what do you do as far as your requirements of the movie and how are you also involved in shaping the story?

Rock: For me, like I always just look for a good story and not only that but I like movies of that old fashioned era from the 70's as well as the early 80's. Like a walking tall, like a Billy Jack. Clint Eastwood is my favorite actor, some Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, movies like that where they take time in telling the story as there is not passion just for the sake of acting so the Rundown was like that in it's own little comedic way, it was still funny but at the same time there was still the other underlying message which was not using guns and being forced in a position towards the end where you absolutely have to, backed into that corner. So for me I can only say those are the roles that I'm attracted to and it was great to have to opportunity to. And I'm not too sure when I'll have the opportunity again to play.

Is Get Real kind of a complete departure for you. You play a gay bouncer?

Rock: Be Cool you mean?

Be Cool, sorry. This gay character and ...

Rock: Gay villain, yeah.

First of all, why did they pick you to ...

Rock: Well it was so funny because Elmore Leonard wrote it and when he wrote it, in the original draft Chili Palmer who is John Travolta's character, looks across the room and he sees Elliot Wilhem, Samoan, 30, can raise one eyebrow, trying to act, wants to be - can sing - and gay, and I was like "Wow, that's interesting" and I didn't actually speak to Elmore but according to those who have already talked to him it was like "No, no, I wrote that, based on The Rock, not necessarily the gay part but based on him, never ever thinking that he would ever play the role and before you know it, here I am, playing the role.

How has that experience been?

Rock It's been fantastic. I get a chance to work with John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Vince Vaughn. It's great. It's great for me.

A different action role right?

Rock: Well yeah, there is no action actually in the movie and it's fantastic. You get to test again your comedic timing off some really, really good actors. Yes, I'm having a blast with that.

Does comedy come easy to you?

Rock: I guess in a way. I know that self-deprecating comedy comes easy to me. I don't think I can go out and do stand-up or anything like that. I can tell bad jokes but that's about it.

Is it a way for audiences to see that you can do more than just action

Rock: Well yeah, for sure. Even when I took the role it's like "Wow what a great opportunity to work with great actors", take a role that wouldn't necessarily expect me to play being a bad guy, being gay, poking fun at myself, raising my eyebrow to John Travolta like "Look, I got talent!" Like this is it, I got talent. It's just a lot of fun.

Great to physically transform yourself?

Rock: I do, sure. And that was important to, to take a role like this to try and transform myself as best as I possibly could - Afro, the goatee is a lot thicker.

Do you know when you start Spy Hunter?

Rock: Yeah, you bet, in July.

What is that? Do you have any details about that?

Rock: Oh man, you bet. I was just up in the room and there was this awesome secretive meeting. We took out all of the concepts and what it looks like - the care It's a movie based off a video game, and the video game - it's with Universal - it's a hunter of spies, hence the title, the car - this awesome car GM is making this amazing car that breaks off into a boat, into a 3 wheeler, into a motor cycle - it's really incredible. So for me that would be like my ...

Can you talk a little bit about how you feel that you've gone farther in your acting from the Rundown to Walking Tall because we were told that you had an acting coach on set? Were there certain things that you wanted to achieve that you felt you didn't get in the Rundown or was it just going to a higher level?

Rock: No not necessarily the things that I didn't achieve in the Rundown or that I didn't get in the Rundown like even with the Rundown I had a really good acting coach there, really actors director in Peter Berg but it's a different dynamic with the Rundown. With a movie like this where it's inspired by a true story and we're true elements and trying to contemporise them as well and for me having a really good acting coach on the set with me daily trying to make sure that everybody believe like this is Chris Vaughn and he is a solider and he just came home from war and he did almost die and he is running for sheriff and he is trying to convince the jury to acquit him so it was a lot of things. Again for me in my world, like I said, I'm sure Denzel would have taken this role Oscar nomination but like for me again small steps.

What about working with Johnny Knoxville?

Rock: In terms of comedy, that's a great guy to bounce a ball off of. When I'm basically being straight and he's not but the great thing about him is something that I realized and even in watching Jackass, after watching it like the 3rd and 4th time, once I knew I was going to work with him, like you notice in Jackass he's a charming guy and a smart guy in terms of the decisions that' he's made and taking Jackass and working it and milking it, getting all that out of that and then taking on a role like this and I thought that he was very likeable. I saw it for the first time 2 months ago and I called him up immediately and I said "Man I can't tell you how proud I am of you. You did a great job. Very likeable, charming. You did a good job" And Johnny's got a twinkle in his eye. He's really good.

How have you been able to balance your - your family has always been the most, still the most important things in your life. Is it becoming increasingly difficult to balance a good family life with this very hectic work schedule that you've got?

Rock: Yeah. I mean its not easy that's for sure which is why I love the fact that my entire family, everybody, we all live in a very small town in Florida, it's a country town, they ride their horses to Burger King, it's that country. I got a place out in LA out here when I'm working it's easier for me to stay there but other than that it's a sacrifice and it's those checks and balances that you try find.

Take them everywhere with you? Your family goes with you when you're on location?

Rock: Sure, sure. And that's a luxury of being in film because you're on location in one spot. Back in the days when I was wrestling on the grind and in different cities every night and it was just impossibility.

Have you left the wrestling behind you completely?

Rock: Well because of the responsibility you have when you take a role like Spy Hunter or like this movie, we have a responsibility to the studio, to the actors, to the crew, to production to be 100% focused, but I love wrestling, I've always said that and that's why I went back to Westlemania, we had a big show like a couple of weeks and it was awesome.

You looked like you were having a lot of fun on Rock a few weeks ago.

Rock: I had a blast, sure because I could go on there and for me that's like my theatre. A lot of my buddies go back to theatre I understand that because they go back to get that live interaction and for me that is my theatre, like wrestling and the ring is my stage and I was having a lot fun.

Did you have to work on the deal at all for - I realize when you're shooting a movie they don't want you probably wrestling.

Rock: I don't, I would never do that.

So you just do it in between when you have

Rock: If I have the time. Like it just so happened by the time that I was done with Be Cool from the time I started promoting this I had a 2 and a half week window, so that 2 week window I was like "Oh, you know what, I'm going to go back I could have fun" selfishly I can have fun and then I could help out the company and get back to the business. Business has been good to me.

This is another PG13 movie and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about ... Is that important to you to have them PG13? business. Business has been good to me.

Rock I think so. If you're able to capture the story, the story that you want to keep it PG13 then that's really, really important because I've got a lot young fans out there and I realize that so for me it's a great opportunity that I can show them what walking tall is and introduce it to a whole new generation.

Like do you have any concerns about getting into R films? business. Business has been good to me.

Rock No, I don't have any concerns about as longs as the story is really, really good. Like for example I think when I do which is sort of based on the King of that is viscous - he was like Brave Heart only worse in terms of his viciousness and his temperance.

When is that happening?

Rock: Probably hopefully maybe 2005. There is no rush for that for me as an actor I just want to be ready. Like the script is ready and now they're just working it and tweaking and making it right so there's no rush.

When you go back to wrestling now and you talk about it as being your theatre do you approach it a little bit differently now that you've had experience?

Rock: Completely, sure, yeah. The great thing is it's like you go and there are times when I would really be over the top in wrestling now I try and be a little bit more subtle because a lot of times you play 360 degrees you could be a little bit more subtle and get your point across more.

Rock: You never thought a wrestler would say that?

Were you concerned that the film might in a way sort of glorify vigilante violence and that sort of may reflect the black and white, good and evil sort of culture that we ...

Rock: Sure, that's a good question. Honestly I wasn't concerned because the violence in this is justified violence and we go back to what really took place 40 years ago he was cheated out of his money and kicked and stomped, his face mangled, left for dead and he did go back. So there were a lot of things - I mean in this it was all very justified to me and not only that I think there is still a nice non-politically correct way I think that's attractive to the audience today about this movie that the bad guys are getting their comeuppance through just old fashioned justice. And that's a good thing.

Pinning the flag on the character's lapel.

Rock: Well I think 'thank God we didn't do that'. But that's what directors do, you know, they play devil's advocate and they think and they think about all this crazy stuff and they have a great idea and they think well, let me try and make it better and maybe it might make it worse and Kevin Bray is the same guy who thought well, maybe it's better if we change the stick to a aluminium bat and that's like ok yeah that won't work. That's just crazy directors.

Are you developing a lot of other stuff at the moment? Are you talking about a lot of other stuff?

Rock: Sure. There is a comedy that I'm excited about. Probably after Spy Hunter I might probably shoot it. It's a comedy called Skip Tracer and it's from the writer of Big Daddy. Stevie Franks wrote it. It's very, very funny.

And about?

Rock: It's an action comedy, a lot of comedy. More like a comedy action. It's a two-hander so it's a buddy movie and my buddy is as of now is a 9-year-old girl.


Rock: Yeah.

Casting the girl.

Rock: I don't know. Well, they were talking about Keisha? because we're of the same decent but I think she's a little older.

She's about 18 now isn't she?

Rock: She can be 21.

Repetitious Peter Gunn music?

Rock: Oh no, it won't be over and over.

More serious type role?

Rock: "It has to be part of the movie, sure, a contemporary version of that, though. Well you know what it is. It's like what Mission Impossible was, like for Tom Cruise and like that but it is smartly written which is important.

Is that vulnerability that you show in your film, is that something that carried over from the wrestling stuff and how do you develop that for yourself

Rock: No, no. It's important because I think the initial instinct - yes by the way it did carry over from wrestling. When I was wrestling I always wanted to make sure that I was vulnerable and flawed and by the way I lost a lot more than I won which interesting enough still elevated me because I was always attracted to that, what I could relate to. A lot of times when the writers were writing their initial instinct is to be just straight on ass kicking where in reality it's important to showcase that. [Laughter]

Rock: Yes, so anyway, it's important. It's important to me. It might not be important to others, not that I'm right and they're wrong or whatever but in movies it's important to me to show that jeopardy and when we fight there are moments where I get whooped and it's real.

Yet surely not the sequel withstanding do you want to do a non-action - is there a genre that you're interested in?

Rock: Sure yeah, I would love to. I would love to try just a straight out broad comedy like a Get Shorty, sorry Be Cool. I'd try anything, absolutely. As long as I continue to take small steps and not bite off too much than I could chew and things that make sense, like Gone With The Wind II. {Laughter]

Is there something you're producing or has that followed you around?

Rock: I bought them. No, no, no they already have there at Columbia but they weren't going to do anything with it because - I don't know why but it's really an amazing story that hasn't been told properly because they haven't found the right guy who can pull it off. Not just in acting but who could probably be believable as (inaudible). But I can't wait for that. That would be like Ali was to Will Smith for me not that I'm looking to get nominated but just that project that you hold.

Who will direct that, do you know?

Rock: I don't know. Somebody awesome.

Q: Do you have a director in mind?

Rock: For that? Sure, yeah. Stephen Spielberg (laughs).

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy