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September 2006
GRIDIRON GANG: An Interview with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

GRIDIRON GANG: An Interview with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
By Stacey Chapman

With his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) championship days behind him as “The People’s Champion”, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has strategically steered his life towards a notable film career. First, he portrayed Mathayus, The Scorpion King, in “The Mummy” franchise. Since then, he has parlayed his breakout success into other action hero movies and has even ventured into the comedic genre as gay bodyguard, Elliot Wilhelm, in the John Travolta vehicle “Be Cool”. Now, moviegoers will experience Dwayne as serious probation officer turned football coach, Sean Porter, in “Gridlock Gang”, a film chosen by Johnson specifically for its inspiring content and powerful message. Based on a true story, “Gridlock Gang” proves that one man can make a difference, when Officer Sean Porter consciously decides to assemble a football team with the disparaged and wayward teenage inmates of Camp Kilpatrick. Although, faced with authoritative and competitive resistance, the tide eventually changes when the youth begin to learn teamwork, loyalty and self-respect. Blackfilm.com caught up with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to talk about his current project as well as past and future endeavors.

How did the script come to you, Rock?

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: The Script came to me by Neal Moritz, the producer of the movie. He said, “The only thing that I ask you is to watch the documentary first before you read the script.” I watched it that night, and I was moved to say the least. I called my agent and told him I would love to do to this, and that’s what happened.

How did this first happen and when did they first put the football team together?

DJ: It happened in ’91 and it was on going. Neal told me, “I have this project that I have held onto for a long time now, for many reasons. Number one, I don’t feel like I’ve found the right actor to portray (Sean Porter) and in reality, since the guy who you would be portraying, if you decide to do the movie, is still alive, you would have to meet with him and speak with him. Number two, there have just been a lot of football movies that happened since ’91.” So, it’s been around for some time.

Does the movie in any kind of way make you want to go out within the community?

DJ: I work a lot with young kids, whether they are young, underprivileged kids or After School All-Stars, my own foundation Rock Foundation or Make-a-Wish. What this movie did, it re-affirmed a feeling that I had that it’s just nice to see people out there who really, really care. A guy like Sean Porter, who is in a thankless job and a selfless guy, still works to this day at a prison for kids. He is a probation officer who just really wants to change their lives, who really, really, really cares.

Often times in football, you’ll find a coach that will motivate by kind of knocking kids down. When you read the story and saw the reactions of the actors and when you saw the documentary, did you relive any of your days as a pee-wee football player?

DJ: Yeah, I had my own Sean Porter. By the time I was fourteen, I was arrested seven or six times; by the time I was seventeen, it was nine. But, I had a guy who cared. He was my arresting officer. He said, basically, “You are going to stop f***ing up right now! You’re going to go out and play football!” So I had that guy who cared about me in my life. I played football for ten years, from fourteen to twenty-four, and I realize the invaluable tool that coaches have to be teachers.

Everyone was extremely excited about the film “Doom”. Can you give any meaning to how it ended up not being as good as everyone wanted it to be?

DJ: I think it’s a matter of conjecture. I thought it was not as good as everybody wanted it to be. I thought the movie was as good as it could have been. We made a movie that catered to the fans of the video game. That was it. It was just that myopic in view. It wasn’t like I am going to cater to kids and I’m going to cater to women. As long as the majority of them were happy, the big fans of “Doom”, that was it. If it had a chance to crossover and other people liked it, then great!

Hollywood has an interesting history of portraying young black urban men on screen. What do you think about the way these urban kids are represented in the film?

DJ: I think it’s great and it’s true and it’s real. This is their life, and this is the way they lived. We had a couple of kids in the movie that were from Watts and South Central who never acted, they came onto the set terrified, petrified and had no idea what this world was. Now this is Hollywood and suddenly, just like that, they are on the set. Bill, one of the directors said, “Listen, you are living the life we want to portray. So, let it come from here!”

It was important to shoot at the prison with the kids, with the 130 inmates there watching us every single day, and it was important to get it right. It was important for me to get Sean right and the empathy he had for the kids and his desire. What was really motivating was to see the 130 kids watching us make a movie basically about them, and to see them get motivated. To see that it’s not BS, this did happen, these kids did change their lives around, and these kids are you now. Another thing you realize with these kids, they all know they did bad. Nobody wants to be in jail, and they all hope for a second chance.

What’s the possibility, you said this program has been going on since ’91, and you hear a lot of people say that so many of these films come out but still the problems exist. So my concern is, what’s next? What do we do?

DJ: Well, I think we continue to do what we do, which is care, number one. A lot of these kids, for example, were kids who got out of prison, and when they got out, nobody was there to pick them up, and nobody was coming to pick them up. The state just puts them right back in jail until they decide what to do with them. It’s just a vicious cycle. They live a life of neglect, and they live a life of hopelessness and failure. But at the same time, this program changes lives, and that’s what sport does too. As a former athlete, I can attest to that. I know what it did for me. It taught me hard work, discipline, failure, dealing with the failure and being gracious with the success.

urricanes and you played at the championship level. Was there any point in time that you said, “You know what, this is not the way I saw the part played.” Did they accurately represent what the football experience was like?

DJ: Yeah, I think from a shooting perspective I knew that we were going to be cool, because Phil is such a big fan of the NFL. We had an NFL camera, guys came in and shot NFL style, but as far as for the grittiness of what football is, it is what it is. Not only that, but what football does, it teaches you camaraderie and teamwork. I thought they were all on point. We all were.

What do you miss most about your football playing days?

DJ: The camaraderie with the guys and the team. I played with a lot of great players: Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis, just to name a couple. I miss that. I can tell you that I had some really good professors at (University of) Miami, and they always get pissed when I say this, but I can’t tell you 35 things that I remember out of their classes. However, I do remember sacrificing and getting up at 5 am and practicing for two hours before I went to class, and then going to class trying to apply myself to become a better student.

All the previous movies have been action or comedy roles or both. This is really your first dramatic role. Is there a specific reason why you wanted to do this?

DJ: It was the story that was great. I love doing action movies and when a great action script comes along, not “Doom”, (laughter) something other than that, no “Doom 2”, not for me, I felt your pain. No, but I was glad to do the movie and I would do another one. It was just the material. It was really great. It was awesome.

Did you have any problem where there were so many emotional scenes? Did you have any concerns?

DJ: I just wanted to be prepared, you know. Just be prepared, number one and number two was just to make sure I did right by Sean Porter, a guy who is very astute and keenly aware of what he does and is not interested in the fanfare of Hollywood.

Richard Kelly had a really hard time at Cannes…

DJ: We all did…but no you’re right…him more so than….

He took a beating with “Southland Tales”. What do you think about that?

DJ: Yeah, I thought so…It felt a little personal to me, considering we’re all in the business together…love movies…It’s tough to make movies, you know what I mean. It’s like different flavors of ice cream. Some people like chocolate, vanilla, whatever. Some of the reviews I read felt personal. I was like “wow” did something happen that didn’t come out. Why all that anger? It’s a movie. I know that he is in the editing room now. I liked the movie.

What was it like to work with Xzibit?

DJ: It was great. Xzibit’s great. When I was shooting “Doom” in Prague, there is another “Doom” reference (laughter), there was a lot of time that I had. So, I would get up at 4:30 in the morning and “Pimp My Ride” was on and I would watch it everyday. The thing that amazed me about Xzibit was, wow, this guy has an amazing personality. He goes in there and he talks to the white grandma, the Asian, the Black, the Mexican and all these moms and grandmas and Xzibit says, “ I’m going to ‘pimp’ your ride!” and he makes them feel good. He’s really got this infectious personality, not afraid to smile, not afraid to laugh or joke, not a guy to put on airs. He was great actually for the kids in prison and great for the kid actors. I love him. I thought he did a great job in the movie.

How did the casting come about, specifically your mom?

DJ: Just trying to find someone who looks like they could be my mom (jokingly).

She did look like she could be your mom…

DJ: She did, she did, right…Someone who could carry that weight…an actress who could carry that type of weight, that heavy burden of dying…I found that out about Sean too. While filming the documentary, his mom passed away.

What’s the name of your personal Sean Porter, and which kid in the film do you identify with the most?

DJ: I couldn’t even tell you what his name was…Mr. Arrested…yes sir…okay. What kid did I identify with the most? All of them, two in particular, I would say Junior’s character. He was tired of being a f*** up and in the documentary that was what he said. “I am tired of f***ing up and making a mess of everything and not making my family proud.” Even though I didn’t have much growing up, I was that guy screwing up. Also, Kenny Bass, a kid who just cried and said, “I just want my mom to love me.” Not that my mom doesn’t love me. She loves me. I am blessed. I have a great relationship with my mom, but those guys moved me.

Along the lines of casting, the original coach, from what I saw wasn’t a person of color. Was there a distinct reason to cast a person of color as being the coach?

DJ: You talking about Sean Porter, right?


DJ: No, I don’t think so. When I sat down with Neal, he didn’t see color, you know. He just saw a guy. We sat and we talked about the role, talked about the movie, and talked about how it moved me.

In the movie, it seemed like your character could relate to the kids. He kind of came from a certain environment or something like that. Did Sean Porter have that same thing?

DJ: He did. He related to those kids, too. He was white; he came from a broken home and had an awful relationship with his dad. (Sean Porter) loved the game of football and thought there had to be a way he could get through to those kids. He cared about them. He would kick their asses, I mean, when you see the whole documentary, it’s tough and he’s tough. The real Kenny Bates and the real Junior Palaita came to the set and they were moved. Kenny cried and I even asked about his mom, and he said, “I still can’t find her.” Sean was that tough on them and I asked Kenny and Junior, “Did you ever think that Sean was going to change your life in this way?” And they said, “Never. We hated him, but it was the greatest thing for us. It was the best thing.” That’s what happens to us when we get older.

Was it hard to tell the kid to get down there to eat a piece of chicken? I felt kind of bad for him because he was really huge and you know…

DJ: Well, he told me he liked chicken. That was the thing. That’s one of those ad-libbing things when you start talking trash. In the documentary, I can’t remember if it was shown, but he quit. Evan quit. He was 350 lbs. I think he had a 3-year-old daughter and the coach, Sean Porter, was saying in his testimonial that this kid was going to die. He is going to have a heart attack, and he has a 3-year-old kid. He quits all the time and he would literally come out without his uniform. Sean would go, “Where’s your uniform?”

Are you going to go back to doing another action movie? What are you doing next?

DJ: I’m doing a comedy with Disney. It’s called “The Game Plan” and we start shooting in September.

That’s when you’re a football player and you have a kid?

DJ: I play a quarterback in the NFL. I am Super Bowl bound, and then I run into a problem; a seven-year-old girl calls me daddy.

Speaking of football, what teams do you like this year in the NFL?

DJ: I still like my Dolphins, and I live in Miami, and they got a shot.


DJ: Yeah. They got a shot. They got a shot.

I’m still waiting for “Hannibal”…

DJ: Well, you’re going to have to wait forever with me because that’s Vin Diesel’s movie. He’s really into it, and he would be glad to hear that.

What is up with “Spy Hunter”?

DJ: It’s the on going saga of “Spy Hunter”. We are continuing to write the script, but then you have the new “Bond” and “Mission Impossible” come out. It’s one of those scripts you can’t screw up, because the elements are so good. You have the interceptor. You have a guy who chases spies. So conceptually it’s great. You kind of want to get it right and if it’s not right, chances are you’ll have 100 million dollars trying to get it wrong.

Is that something you’re trying to franchise? Are you looking for a franchise?

DJ: Sure. I would love to. Who’s not?

GRIDIRON GANG opens on September 15, 2006




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