CAN THE KING OF WRESTLING PIN HOLLYWOOD?

Interview Magazine, April 2002

BY Scarlett Johansson

Climbing out of the ring and onto the screen, Dwayne Johnson, better known by his World Wrestling Federation moniker, The Rock, is April's biggest breakout story. In fact, measur- ing 6'5" inches tall and weighing 265 pounds, Johnson may be the biggest breakout story of the year. Later this month, he stars in the action/adventure blockbuster The Scorpion King, a tale of war, love and honor set in ancient Egypt. The film is an offshoot of the enormously successful Mummy franchise, in which, in The Mummy Returns, Johnson made his feature debut, playing the aforementioned arachnid ruler. Here, the wrestler/actor goes a few rounds with actress Scarlett Johansson. Last seen charming Billy Bob Thornton in The Man Who Wasn't There and frustrating Thora Birch in Ghost World, she's one of Johnson's biggest fans. By the end of their conversation it's clear that the admiration is mutual.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: My first question is should I call you Dwayne or The Rock?

THE ROCK: [laughs] Dwayne's fine. Now let me ask you this: How was working with Billy Bob (Thornton]?

SJ: He's great. He's one of those actors that you're in a scene with, and it feels almost effortless. You don't have to think about it.

TR: Oh, cool. The reason I asked was because I've always admired him, especially after seeing Sling Blade [1996]. I had lunch with Dwight Yoakam about a month ago, and they're pretty good friends, so I was asking him questions about Billy Bob, too. Actually, I just picked up Billy Bob's CD-I don't know if you've got it.

SJ: No, but he told me about it. Is it good?

TR: You know what? He put it out there and it's like, "This comes from me, it comes from my heart, and that's it."

SJ: I'll have to pick it up. So I have all these questions for you. I guess I should start by asking-

TR: Wait, let me ask you another one.

SJ: Sure. Go on.

TR: Are you still in school?

SJ: Yeah, it's my second semester of my senior year in high school, so I'm almost done. I'm ready to go on to higher learning.

TR: How old are you now, 18?

SJ: 17.

TR: At 17, instead of trying to procure a place in college like you, I was like, "Where can I get drunk tonight?" [both laugh] So you're doing fantastic. Be proud of yourself.

SJ: Thank you. Now I have some wrestling questions and a bunch of acting questions, and I guess I should start with the acting questions because you probably get a lot of the wrestling questions.

TR: All the time. But that's slowly changing, which is fantastic.

SJ: That's exciting, huh? You'll have to come up with a whole new routine. [The Rock laughs] I know that The Scorpion King was written for you. Tell me how that happened.

TR: It's an interesting story. I was filming The Mummy Returns, which was my feature debut, over in Morocco, playing a character called the Scorpion King, and I was sooo sick over there, Scarlett. I had a combination of food poisoning and sunstroke.

Sf: God, what a nightmare.

TR: SO anyway, I get this phone call from my agent and he's like, "I've got great news. .."

SJ: He says, "I've got great news" and you're like, "Ugh, hold on!" [both laugh]

TR: He says, "Listen, they're watching the dailies at Universal, they're just so happy, they're thinking of writing a movie based around your character." And I was like, "That's great, but I'm sick and I've got to go!" [both laugh] So when I got back [to the U.S.] we got into heavy talks and then we went with it.

SJ: Man. I'm so interested in Egyptology and I would think that it would be so fascinating to work on a project like that. I've read a whole bunch about what happened on the set, like the scene where you knocked Michael Clarke Duncan in the jaw-

TR: Whoa, whoa, whoa! I didn't just knock him in the jaw, I knocked him out!

SJ: OK, you knocked him out. [both laugh] I read about all these things, wind machines, smoke, sand, and I know this is an awful question-I can never answer it-but do you have any crazy memories from the set?

TR: There's a fantastic scene in the movie where I'm riding up against an army of hundreds of men all by myself. It's one of these great fights-it's like an O.K. Corral gunfight-but instead of the two guys standing still, it's-

SJ: -It's you against hundreds.

TR: Exactly. And I know I'm going to get my ass kicked, but I'm going to get my ass kicked swinging. So I see this huge sandstorm coming behind me, and I utilize it. That's my men, my army. They used a little bit of CGI [computer- generated imagery], but in order to get the sandstorm effect, they used real sand. We were in a canyon, and they were blowing it everywhere. It was brutal.

SJ: You found it in every crevice, didn't you?

TR: Every orifice you could think of. [both laugh]

SJ: And were you wearing a skirt? I mean. what kind of costume were you in?

TR: Luckily I was wearing pants. And underwear. [laughs]

SJ: You know. I've always been sort of fascinated by what methods people use [in their performances]. What worked for you?

TR: A great thing about this story is how my character goes through this tremendous arc. It's not just all about kickin' booty. He goes on a fantastic voyage of discovery, of revenge, of love. There was one scene, in particular, when I realize that I will stand against this tyrant who's enslaved a nation. I was so excited to be in a scene like this, and I thought, OK, I want to kick ass in this scene. It's a big moment.

SJ: Yeah. I know what you mean.

TR: I was told that I did it well, with flying colors, and it was great to hear. Going into the project I didn't want to get into acting just to capitalize on my popularity, so to speak. It was important to me to showcase a myriad of emotions at the appropriate time, as best as I could. I talked to Universal about this, and we got together with a coach, Larry Moss, who was great. We were getting together and practicing, and one day we're doing these scenes, and I'm crying.

SJ: It was like a therapy session.

TR: I walked out of there and I was drained, and I was like, "I'm The Rock! This is bullshit!" [laughs]

SJ: Hey. we all cry.

TR: Oh, it was great! Before that I'd only cry during movies like Beaches [1988] and It's a Wonderful Life [1946], and now I'm crying with Larry.

SJ: And it's a great feeling, isn't it? It's really cleansing to get that emotion out.

TR: Sure, I completely agree.

SJ: Do you think you'll take your acting career further and pursue a dramatic film?

TR: Yeah, I'd love to try something dramatic. And I can't wait to work with other actors and directors.

SJ: Like who?

TR: I'd love to work with [Steven] Spielberg, with James Cameron. ...

SJ: Who wouldn't?

TR: Yeah exactly, those are easy. Actor wise, I would love to work with Mel Gibson and Denzel Washington. They're just fantastic.

SJ: Yeah, I love 'em both. Especially Mel. He's great. So I have a couple of wrestling questions. You know, I've been watching WWF for a really long time.

TR: Have you ever been to a show?

SJ: No, never.

TR: Oh my God. We've got to get you to the [Madison Square] Garden or something. I'll make sure the next time we're there we'll hook you up.

SJ: Absolutely! That would be fabulous. I would make signs, are you kidding? [both laugh] I read that your father and your grand- father were both wrestlers and that you played football until you were 23...I know your whole life story-did you always assume that you'd get into wrestling?

TR: I always knew that I was going to get involved in the industry at some point, because I was always very close to it and I had an affinity for the dramatic, physical story that wrestlers are able to tell in the ring.

SJ: People really get into the story. I mean, people follow the whole evolving storyline.

TR: I know. And that's what I fell in love with, all those forever changing, forever evolving storylines we have. When I got into it, I told myself that I wanted to become the best storyteller.

SJ: This is a silly question, but if you could have any movie star as your tag team partner, who would it be?

TR: Hmm. That's a good one. Let me think.

SJ: Oh, I'll bet 1 could think of a couple. Al Pacino would be good. Just his screaming alone could blow somebody out of the ring.

TR: [laughs] AI Pacino's great. Robert De Niro's another great one.

SJ: Definitely. So how does The Rock feel about boxers or briefs?

TR: [laughs] I do both. Boxers I sleep in, and briefs I wear during the day.

SJ: Nice.

TR: Not just any kind, though. The boxers have to be Calvin [Klein] and the briefs are DKNY I wore them during the movie. Here's a Hollywood tidbit: The Scorpion King was wearing DKNY underwear underneath his costume! [laughs]

SJ: I don't know about the DKNY briefs, but I agree with the Calvin Klein boxers. I think they're very sexy-not like I would know or anything. [laughs]

TR: Well, in a self-serving way, I can vouch that the Calvins are sexy.

SJ: [laughs] There! We agree on something- that and Mel Gibson. Hey, maybe you and I and Mel could do a movie together. You could play the bad guy.

TR: Why do I have to be the bad guy?

SJ: Because Mel can't be the bad guy-you have bigger muscles. You're more threatening.

TR: Yeah, but he would be a terrific bad guy because he's smaller than me. And as a bad guy he would have endearing qualities.

SJ: Wait-I have a better idea. How about you and I play the bad guys against Mel?

TR: I love it.

SJ: But you can't use your muscles at all.

TR: No. You use yours, and I'll use my mind.

SJ: Yes! It's going to be great! I'm calling my agent right now. [both laugh]

TR: Me too, right now! Rock, Scarlett and Mel. I love it!

SJ: Maybe we could fit Michael Clarke Duncan in there somewhere.

TR: Nah, he's too big.

SJ: Oh yeah, that's true. We only need one big guy. [laughs] Listen, Dwayne, I am so psyched to see The Scorpion King. I'm going to buy my ticket, sit there with a big bag of buttered popcorn [Rock laughs] and watch with a giant grin on my face as I see my friend, Dwayne Johnson, kick some ass.

TR: Thanks, Scarlett. I appreciate that. I really enjoyed talking to you.

SJ: Yeah, me too. It's been a pleasure.

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