Dwayne Johnson: “My life has been wild and crazy”


By María Estévez, MWN

“Young Rock” takes a comedic look at the formative years of professional wrestler and actor. The show centers on Dwayne Johnson growing up in a resilient family and surrounded by all the wild characters of professional wrestling, playing football at the University of Miami, and becoming the person he is today. Indeed, Johnson has had a pretty amazing life. But every famous figure has to come from somewhere, and that’s exactly what “Young Rock” explores. The Rock appears in every episode with bookending flashbacks to earlier points in his life thanks to younger actors (Uli Latufeku, Adrian Groulx, Joseph Lee Anderson) who portray him.

Metro sat down with Dwayne Johnson to learn more.

Since the premise of the show starts off with you running for president, I’m wondering if your friend Elizabeth Warren would make a cameo at some point in the show?

Elizabeth does not make a cameo in this one, but if we’re lucky enough to come back for a second round, then she might.

As a longtime wrestling fan, did you cast wrestling legends for the show? 

Yeah, it was an amazing and incredible challenge. It was truly a love letter to professional wrestling, which is a business that I grew up in, a business that I’ve loved all of my life and learned some of my most valuable, while very unorthodox, lessons. These men were, in essence, my superheroes. All the actors who we cast truly embodied these professional wrestlers. They were so committed to these roles and had to learn how to wrestle professionally, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do.

How much of the original pitch for the show was just that iconic fanny pack photo?

That was the entire pitch of the show. It was just me and the fanny pack and NBC said, “We’re in. That’s all we need. Now let’s work backward from there.”

How important was it for you to sort of subvert the perfect sitcom-dad trope and portray something that was really quite complicated and real? I think anybody who’s ever lost a parent can attest that that can be a really vulnerable place to dig at.

Two years ago I thought, well, let’s not take the easy route. My life has been wild and crazy. Those are great sizzle words we use as we promote this thing, but it was incredibly complicated, and it was tough growing up. We specifically went with these timelines in my life that were very defining times at 10 years old, 15, and 18. If we are, universe willing, lucky enough to come back for another round of this series, there’s a lot of other things in between those years that took place.      

Dwayne Johnson stars in “Young Rock” as himself. PHOTO: Frank Masi/NBC

What is the plan for future seasons of “Young Rock” from a casting perspective?

I think we have a real opportunity if we were to go on after this. There are 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11, 12, 13, 14… Those were years when I was getting arrested all the time, so, we have so many stories there. And, of course, the University of Miami and playing there. Then I made the decision that I might have something to offer the world of pro wrestling and then we got into the WWE. There’s a good amount of stuff. All along, I’m bringing the fanny pack, though.

I found the pilot incredibly relatable as a minority from a mixed family, and I loved seeing the diversity in the show. Tell about the importance of telling stories about these kinds of families.

It was important for us to showcase the diversity, but, also, it was important to be real and authentic. It is my life and it is who I am. And I’m half Samoan and half Black. We have the Iron Sheik from Iran. We have André the Giant from France. We have the Junkyard Dog. We have my dad. We have the Wild Samoans from Samoa. And these are the ones that we just showcase in the pilot, and there’s more to come down the road.

How much do you relate to the three actors playing you in the show?

I met with them individually. There is a kid who’s playing me at 10 years old. That little, innocent boy who just needed guidance I loved the bad guys of pro wrestling. I love my dad. He was my hero. 

And then, I’m looking at Bradley at 15 and it’s a kid who had some anger issues but also thought he was really cool. Clearly had an identity crisis. I didn’t want to be known as Dwayne when I moved from high school. I called myself Tomas. Girls used to call the house and ask for Tomas and my mom would go, “I’m sorry. There’s no Tomas here.” And I would run, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s me. That’s me.”

And then, of course, Uli at 18. I remember telling Uli, just remember, I was just so determined to make something of myself. That was so important to me. You know, these guys nailed it, so I’m just – it’s so surreal and I want to give these guys so much credit. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever had the career that I’ve been lucky enough to have. So, these guys did such a tremendous job.

Pictured are (from left) John Tui as Afa, Fasi Amosa as Sika, Adrian Groulx as Dwayne, Stacey Leilua as Ata Johnson, and Joseph Lee Anderson as Rocky Johnson. PHOTO: Mark Taylor/NBC

When you look back on your life, when was the hardest time?

Well, I think there’s a few layers to that answer. I would say, at first blush, the hardest time would probably be in that era of being 15 years old and starting around 13. Thirteen is when I started to veer off the tracks and do a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been doing  I started getting arrested in Hawaii. And the talk of us leaving Hawaii because times were too hard started coming up and I was so adamantly against leaving the island. And I fought tooth and nail with my mom and my dad because I did not want to leave.

Times were hard for us here and it became harder and harder for us to pay the rent. I wound up going to Nashville. We were forced out of there. That summer I had already just turned 15 years old. We thought we were going to make a home in Tennessee. It didn’t work out that way. Things happen. And then we left for Bethlehem. So, within the course of about nine months, I was in three different cities, from Hawaii to Nashville then to Bethlehem. So, I would say around that time period.

The show tells the difficult relationship you had with your dad. Was it difficult for you to talk about this? 

I had a tough-ass relationship with my dad. That’s the tricky thing about this, to find that balance of the complication of who he was as a man and the tough love he raised me with. But one of the anchoring elements that you’ve got to understand about my dad, is he had a lot of friends. And he had a lot of enemies. But he had this unique ability to always make someone feel good. And those are the special people out there in the world who just have this unique ability to make you feel good the moment you come into the room.                               

How did you get the nickname Dewey?

When I was a little baby I was with my godparents. And my mom had asked my godmother, “Is his diaper wet?” And she goes, “No, he’s just a little dewy.” And for years, when my parents would come around in front of my girlfriends or friends or anyone, “Hey, Dewey” came automatically. And people were like, ‘Oh, God.’

“Young Rock” is on NBC and is available On Demand. 

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