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December 16th, 2018

Dwayne Johnson & Cast Interview, San Andreas

After the infamous San Andreas Fault finally gives way, triggering a magnitude 9 earthquake in California, a search and rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their only daughter (Alexandra Daddario). But their treacherous journey north is only the beginning. And when they think the worst may be over, it’s just getting started. The action thriller directed by Brad Peyton also stars Ioan Gruffudd, Paul Giamatti, and Archie Panjabi.

At the film’s recent press day, Johnson, Gugino, Daddario, Giamatti, Panjabi, Peyton, producer Beau Flynn and screenwriter Carlton Cuse talked about how the recent tragedy in Nepal connects to the themes in their film, why the movie is intended to entertain as well as raise awareness about earthquake preparedness, the three concurrent storylines that place the characters front and center against a backdrop of incredible spectacle, the strongly written female roles, why Peyton wanted the actors to do as many of their own stunts as possible, the personal responsibility Johnson felt to portray first responders authentically, the concept of personal heroism, and why it was important to show real heroes in a grounded way.

Here’s what they had to say:

Q: When you made this movie, you had no idea there would be a destructive earthquake in Nepal, but the recent news headlines seem to mirror what we see in this movie. Can you talk about the relevance and real world implications of a disaster like what took place in Nepal and how they connect to the themes in this film?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: We made the movie knowing and understanding the content of it and what we were making. In the world we live in and the life we have today, these things happen. It was incredibly unfortunate. Prayers and thoughts continue to go out to everybody in Nepal that was affected by that. The truth is you go into a project like this with everything you’ve got and your heart and your soul and you just want to make a good movie. Again, you understand the content of it, but I think if there’s one correlating factor or connective tissue if you will would be the ideology of family and strength coming together through a tragedy like this. I’ve been through natural disasters. I lived down in Miami and was down there for Hurricane Andrew which was a Category 5. There were members of my family that thought they were going to die. Everybody was in the bathtub. It was a tough, tough thing, so I think the idea of coming together like we were showcasing in our story resonates with people, and if there is any connection, for me, it would be that.

BRAD PEYTON: I also would say that the movie doesn’t make light of these things because we realize there are real world implications to an earthquake. It’s not aliens or superheroes or robots, and I felt like the movie’s tone respected that. I respected it. I’m sensitive to people that have been through tragedies. I don’t want to portray that. The movie is really meant to entertain you. It’s not a documentary. Actually, the movie is not necessarily about earthquakes. It’s about a family that’s trying to put itself back together. For me, the purpose of making this movie and what it’s really about is perseverance. As we all know, if you get knocked down in life, bad things happen. That’s life. But the most important thing is how you come together with the people you love to get back up and move on. That’s really what the movie is about. I feel like as a filmmaker, and I felt as a collective group, we respected what the movie was about in terms of the theme, but also the earthquake and natural disaster aspect of it, and we really didn’t make that much light of it. We took it seriously. I’d actually be more nervous if it was silly or fun because it’s real world. I feel like this movie has something more akin with Jaws where that’s real. Sharks are real. Again, it’s not the Mayan calendar and the world ending and getting in gigantic robotic ark ships and whatever happened at the end of that movie (referring to Roland Emmerich’s 2012. It’s more grounded than that. So, I felt like we needed to respect that and pay homage. One good thing that comes out of doing a movie about an earthquake is that you do bring awareness through entertainment to how to handle this thing. Dwayne did these amazing PSA’s that bring awareness about preparation. As someone who grew up in Canada, earthquakes were fantasy to me, because growing up in Newfoundland, you’d only hear about it in the news. Suddenly, you research it and you put it out there in the culture, and more people go, “You know what, I do need to be prepared for this.” My friends’ wives are now bringing over earthquake kits to my house. Thank God because I’m totally unprepared. There is some positivity that comes out of doing a movie like this, in light of it, that we can move on, that we can be prepared for when something like this does happen, because it happens.

Q: Beau, this story started with you. Can you tell us how this all came about?

BEAU FLYNN: I moved to Los Angeles from New York in the end of 1993. I went to NYU and I came out here with a dream to tell stories and make movies. Three weeks later, the Northridge earthquake happened. I’ve never been in a tremor and I wasn’t even familiar with an earthquake. Like Dwayne, I’m from Miami. I’m very familiar with hurricanes, but we do get a notice when a hurricane is coming. Unfortunately, you don’t with an earthquake. Northridge was a very scary, sobering experience. But, at the same time, Dwayne always said throughout making this movie that you have to respect Mother Nature, and that’s what happened to me when I experienced that. I felt very small, very humble, and really grateful just in terms of how things can change so quickly, and I had incredible respect for that. I always wanted to tell a story about a family persevering. After that earthquake, I called my mom and said, “I’m moving back to New York.” And she said, “Why don’t you settle down,” and that was incredible advice, and I’m very happy that I did. With that, and what Brad and Dwayne were talking about, is I really wanted to tell a story about the myths of Mother Nature and how these things do happen globally, about people coming together as a community and family reuniting and staying together and persevering and fighting through this. That’s really how this has been percolating for the last 20 years. It’s an amazing feeling to be up here with this extraordinary group of talented people who made this whole thing happen. That’s the genesis of this.

JOHNSON: We were in Budapest actually shooting Hercules at that time, which is another movie that Beau had produced, and I read the script then. I read it all the way through at 3:30 in the morning and I loved it. I texted him and said, “I’m in.” It all came together fairly quickly in terms of the amazing actors who had their hands up who wanted to come in and play in the sandbox and hopefully redefine a genre that has been around for such a long period of time. Also, I think collectively the group here wanted to create something special because it’d been a long time since there’d been an earthquake movie. I think 1971 or 1972 was the last earthquake movie. Everyone came together and the script came together very quickly and here we are.

Q: The Hollywood Sign is a copyrighted piece of artwork so when it appears in movies that artist receives some royalties. When we see the sign with the letters turned over, shaking and falling apart, does that give you some wiggle room?

PEYTON: I want every artist to get every royalty they can get. Let’s give artists more money. I want the guy to get paid. I’m not trying to wiggle room out of some guy who designed the Hollywood Sign not getting his money.

FLYNN: We are extremely thorough in clearing everything. We have a really intense clearance department, and when we fight for something we do, then obviously we pay out and let other people participate. We’re happy that we can create that for him.

Q: Dwayne, when you were in the wrestling ring, you created a character that is still now an icon of that world, The Rock. And then, in action films, you are now constructing an action hero that everyone has certain expectations for. I’m curious if you have detailed conversations with people who are writing, producing and directing your films about what Dwayne Johnson as an action hero should be doing, his limitations, and his expectations. Is that something that is a conscious effort on your part?

JOHNSON: Sure. It’s such a collaborative effort. There are so many different moving mechanisms obviously to making a movie and I think when you’re trying to construct a heroic character, one that can play a part in being an anchor in a big movie like this that’s a real world movie playing real men and women who live and exist today in terms of first responders, the level of detail and the deep diving that we do is really extraordinary and the level of conversations. Brad flew to Budapest a few times for detailed conversations with me, with Carla Gugino and with Alex (Alexandra Daddario) to understand the relationships. You have a responsibility I think when you play first responders which I’ve learned. This is why I say this particular role has been a life changing experience for me. Also, there’s an expectation I think that fans globally have with what we have been used to delivering. So now we want to take that and then we want to raise the bar, which is honestly why everybody came together with the script. The script was very well written. We had an opportunity to create something that was very special and unique but also grounded in heart and anchor it with amazing heart and science on that end with Archie (Panjabi) and with Paul (Giamatti). We have producers, actors, and certainly a director who was ready to raise the bar. So yes, we had a lot of drilled down conversations. Again, there’s an expectation, so we want to meet that expectation in terms of heroic characters across the board. All of them have the core of heart but also exceed the expectations too as well. I think we did it in the movie. Everyone is playing a hero.

Q: For all the actors, each character that you played was a hero in whatever they were doing and trying to save lives. If you ever experienced that kind of emergency in real life, what heroic things did you do personally?

ALEXANDRA DADDARIO: The thing that I first thought of when I was auditioning for this job and then booked this job was, I grew up in New York City and I was in Manhattan during 9/11, and that was really the only thing that I related to as far as a disaster on a grand scale. It was really interesting to see on that day and in the weeks afterwards how people came together, and what people were able to do for each other, and what I found myself feeling and thinking and doing for the people around me, whether it was strangers on the street or my own family. I really related to it in that way. It was really an experience that you can’t fake. It was a very interesting experience.

CARLA GUGINO: I actually was thinking the same thing because I was also in New York where I lived at 9/11. I used to be able to see the Towers from my apartment. By the time I got the call of what was going on, one Tower had gone down and then the other did shortly thereafter. As we know, Mother Nature is incredibly powerful, and that’s one thing, and in this case, this was obviously caused for a different reason. But there is something in these moments of crisis that is really extraordinary about humanity and human beings’ resilience and the way in which everyone naturally comes together. I think you see the best in people in those moments for better or for worse and you find your best self. Certainly, that’s what happens with these people in this movie. That day, I wanted to tell everyone that I love that I loved them. All of the notion of sweating the small stuff seemed so ridiculous. Immediately, we got out and started bringing supplies and trying to help every single person. That’s the amazing thing about New York, of course, is that you’re all in it together. So, the second you walk into that street, you’re helping whoever is just right in front of you. I went down and at that point, with a gas mask, you can’t see anything. The whole experience was absolutely life changing. I really thought about it a lot during this movie actually. I think because it’s those moments are such wakeup calls and such affirmations of how amazing people are and how we do all come together when it really matters. I’m an eternal optimist, and that, to me, is very encouraging.

DADDARIO: And the same thing happens I think when in New York City or somewhere else every few years there’s a blackout or a Hurricane Sandy, even if it’s just the neighbor that you never talk to offering you flashlights or food or whatever, or getting back in touch with someone who you haven’t thought about in a long time. All the things that you worry about on a day to day basis drop away and they don’t matter.

PEYTON: You can sometimes see the extremities of human nature and humanity. You can see the best and worst in people. We show that in the movie with different characters. Some people really step up and are there for each other.

GUGINO: It’s how you respond in a crisis. You won’t know until you’re in it.

PEYTON: That’s right.

FLYNN: Brad spoke a lot about the concept and talked about it every day on set and instilled it in his incredible cast of what makes a hero. I loved what Brad did and brought to this movie in terms of really showing how everyone had a special strength and was almost like a superhero in a grounded and real way. It’s really fascinating the kind of fight or flight mechanism that we all have. It was just an area that Brad continually brought up and all of the cast contributed in a way and made a difference. Everyone can make a difference, and I love that Brad really focused on that and focused on people in a movie amongst incredible spectacle obviously, but really put the people first. Every single day on set that’s all he said. It was about how performance and actors bring out who these people are. He showed them as true heroes in their own real grounded way and showed the heart and what makes a real genuine hero, and not necessarily like a Marvel hero. That was really impressive and I believe that came through in a big way in the film.

JOHNSON: I saw the movie last night for the first time in its final completion. There’s the element of the first responders and the family element, but then also just as important if not more important is the anchor you have with the scientific side of the movie. I believe it was prior to Paul (Giamatti) coming on board, we had had the best seismologists, the top earthquake scientists at Cal Tech and USC pour over the script and challenge the script and then ultimately walk away from it saying, “This could happen. We hope it doesn’t, but it could happen.” I think when you have that in a script and then you have the top scientists say that and give it that stamp, then you have to have equally someone to come on board and apply it and enact it, but then also act it in a way as these guys were saying with such conviction and incredible heart. By the way, this is the first time I’ve met Paul, literally 15 minutes ago.

PAUL GIAMATTI: We’ve never met before because we were in different scenes together. Those scientists are not just intellectuals. It’s a real concern for those guys. They’re genuinely concerned. It’s not just a discipline that’s sort of interesting intellectually. They’re deeply committed to trying to figure out a way to deal with these things. They’re extraordinary guys.

CARLTON CUSE: They don’t do that for money. They do it out of passion. I talked to a bunch of seismologists when I was first working on the script and I felt that it was really important to have this sort of spine in the movie be this seismology story where we’re actually framing and contextualizing all the disaster that’s going on around a character who, weirdly I was saying to Paul, I had kind of imagined him when I was writing the character. Then, he was cast. It was kind of an amazing coincidence. All these seismologists, to a person, I think everyone appreciated the fact that this movie was going to come out and raise awareness of what they do and how important it is.

DADDARIO: And I think that brings it back to the fact that this movie will help people learn what the proper precautions are to take and what kinds of things could happen in a situation like this.

ARCHIE PANJABI: Until I came to America, I hadn’t really been through any disasters. And then, as soon as I moved to New York, I experienced Hurricane Irene and then Hurricane Sandy hit me in quite a big way. I had 12 days without any electricity or any water. The thing that I realized the most from it was that we’ve become so dependent on technology. There’s so much accessibility to information that suddenly when everything is cut off, you’re completely lost, and you start asking deeper and more profound questions which hopefully people will ask when they leave the film about how powerful Mother Nature is, how short life is, and how grateful we should be for things.

GIAMATTI: I’m from coastal Connecticut so the only disasters are purely economic. 9/11 is obviously… I was there that day and I also lived near the Towers. I was close enough that I could see all the stuff. I don’t know that I did anything heroic. I’m not a terribly heroic person. But it was insanely inspiring. And the people’s response to it was ridiculous. I still will have moments in New York City just feeling that New Yorkers are extraordinary. The love in that city, in that place, is still extraordinary. I didn’t do anything very heroic but everybody else did.

Q: For the ladies, I was very delighted that none of you were running and falling down and breaking legs. For each of you, would you consider yourself a smart, tough girl?

DADDARIO: I do consider myself to be a smart, tough girl. Growing up when I was younger, I didn’t feel all that tough or smart or strong, and I think that as I got older, I was able to discover my own strength. It’s really amazing when you discover how strong you actually are and what you really can accomplish. I’m 29 now and I think I’m reaching that point where I see what I can do, and I feel confident and strong and powerful, and that’s an amazing feeling. Being able to portray a character like this is even more amazing and to do it authentically and it’s really quite a wonderful feeling. It’s wonderful that we’re portraying women in this way so that young women can see that women actually are strong and you are capable of accomplishing all kinds of things.

GUGINO: I think one of the things when I first read the script that jumped out at me immediately was that there were these three very strong female characters that are leaders and instigators, and that the women were as well taken care of as the male characters, which unfortunately is not the case that often. When we say strong women, I also think that that almost makes it even smaller than it is. Women are strong. Women are complex. Women are smart. And the thing that I loved about this film is that this felt like a very honest representation of what women are certainly capable of in a situation like this. I was thinking about this with this movie because I’ve played a lot of roles where I was a contingency analyst or a neurosurgeon or a U.S. Marshal or a cop, people who are actually very well equipped to deal with the situation. Obviously, Dwayne’s character is a first responder who has some prowess in this area, although this of course takes it even further. I really loved playing a woman in this particular case that isn’t defined by those particular things in this context, and therefore is a woman who is like any of us put in this situation. She has to think fast. She has to think on her toes and she’s very smart and responds quickly, but in a way that [makes it clear] she’s not a superhero. She is a woman who actually just goes, “Okay. We gotta get our daughter. Nothing will stop me.” And these two characters (hers and Johnson’s) are also able to reconnect in that and find their own power with each other. Certainly I feel very excited about the fact that people really are feeling that way, that the women in this movie are really well represented and super smart and strong.

PANJABI: It’s definitely one of the things I noticed when I read the script was to see not just one woman was strong, but that there were three strong characters. Obviously, coming from a diverse background, we so rarely see women from my background playing such strong, intelligent characters.

Q: Dwayne, you were born in Hayward, earthquake country. You have an attachment to Florida, hurricanes. And you have an attachment to Hawaii, tsunamis. When you were a little boy, did you imagine yourself growing up to be this hero icon?

JOHNSON: I’m a tough and smart girl. A big, bold woman. (Laughs) I love these responses. That’s one of the things that for me I was raised by strong women. I love this. I love that we’re sitting here talking about this and these incredibly articulate answers. It’s awesome. That DNA is in my daughter and wife. I was born in Hayward and raised a lot in Hawaii and down in Miami. Did I ever think I would be in this position? I just told this story the other day. When I was 8 years old, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in Charlotte, North Carolina. I walked out of there and was so inspired. I loved the movie and I knew I wanted to be that guy. He’s charming, cool, kicks ass, and cool with the ladies. But I had no connection to Hollywood. So, to be sitting here today, I’m grateful and very happy. I will say, just for the record, I received a letter from that gentleman who directed Raiders of the Lost Ark. Very cool. You guys know who that is. I’m not a name dropper. (Laughs) Steven Spielberg. He reached out and he said a lot of cool, inspiring, motivating things.

FLYNN: Brad Peyton in my mind is the next Steven Spielberg and that’s why Brad is in this business. Steven Spielberg was a huge inspiration on both Brad and Dwayne and this whole cast.

JOHNSON: That’s very true. When we went into a movie like this, we sat in Budapest and we started chopping things up and said, “Wow, this feels like a Spielberg movie.” And then we just talked about it. We had this private conversation, the three of us, in a hotel about how much Spielberg had inspired us. We didn’t write him or call him. It’s just that we’re such big fans of his movies.

FLYNN: Paul even told me who worked with Spielberg that he thought that Brad was more talented.

PEYTON: This is amazing! Tell me more, Beau.

Q: Carlton, can you talk about writing this screenplay? What was your thought process in approaching this and was it different than what you would normally write for something like Lost?

CUSE: It was really fun for me to get to play on this big of a canvas because, when you’re making television, it’s great, but you’re operating with certain constraints in terms of what you can do and only 10 days of shooting, for instance. So it was really fun to be able to do something that was this expansive. I really would echo some of these responses. I was raised by a single mother. I really understood how important it was. She was sort of an unsung hero. The movie has three storylines, and it was very important that all the characters in each storyline were being active and heroic and not being passive in the face of this. So, part of the construct was really making sure that each character had a mission and something that they were trying to accomplish. Alexandra’s character wasn’t just waiting around to be rescued. Or Carla wasn’t just a passive participant in Dwayne’s journey. I was trying to find those ways in which each character can express their heroism was an essential concept. And then, as Brad communicated, the other thing was this desire for all these people to, through this tragic event, this family is made whole again and that’s the silver lining. I think tragedies have silver linings. That was something that was very important. Also, in a way, the movie is about communication and how communication is an impediment that is overcome that allows these people to all come back together. Brad did an extraordinary job of directing it. I couldn’t ask for a better rendition of what I had in my head than what he gave and to see this cast pull it off has just been a fantastic experience.

Q: Dwayne, you’re in great shape. Was there anything you had to add into your physical regimen or a skill that you had to master for this particular role?

JOHNSON: The training part was pretty consistent. The difference was actually participating in something that I had never participated in before, spending time with first responders, spending time with the LAFD (Los Angeles Fire Department) rescue pilots operating a helicopter, spending a lot of again deep dives, drill down processes with these guys and girls for a pretty good amount of time. So, that was a different part for me. It was exercising a different muscle that I hadn’t before. We’ve played characters like this where you’re pretty proficient. You hope to be taking care of business, whatever that business is. But in this case, it was very different than anything I had experienced before. I spent a lot of time here in L.A. and a lot of time in Australia with those men and women.

PEYTON: There was a little bit of a challenge too that the script and the story and the style in which we wanted to shoot it posed to the cast, which I think they delivered on in spades, which was they were going to have to do a lot of their stunts because I wanted to see their faces. So Dwayne, in particular, repelled out of a helicopter that was at least 150 feet off the ground to rescue a girl that’s in a car suspended off a cliff face set that’s 50 feet off the ground. I wanted to get Dwayne into the back seat and chase him with a 150 foot techno-crane and not cut. This is in the first 15 minutes of the movie. I wanted the audience to know that they’re seeing Dwayne Johnson do this. This isn’t a trick. There’s no editing. This is him really doing it. What’s awesome about Dwayne and the entire cast was you presented to them, “This is the vision for the movie. I want to experience it. I want to see you guys do it.” And they’re all in. I remember in Australia seeing Dwayne practice that, which makes your heart palpitate because you’re just like, “Please do not fall right now. We need to roll cameras, sir.” But you see it and you’re like, “I buy this. This is legitimate.” Everybody stepped up. We had to drop Carla through that building when it collapses four stories. I have so much Canadian guilt still from hurting you on that. I want the magic of cinema to be the same way that I felt when I first saw Indiana Jones. Growing up again in Newfoundland, you get all your movies two weeks after it says, “Coming soon.” It has the date and then two weeks later you get it, and Batman came the day it was on the commercials and I’ll never forget that. I was like, “This must be a really big movie.” I walked out of Batman and, growing up lower middle class, I felt like a million bucks. For me, in creating movies, I want that again. I want that sensation. And so, when you get with really great collaborators where you’re like, “We can do it if we do it this way,” I feel like we’re going to have a really awesome experience here. So, with these guys, the physical training was all about being there with them, grounding the experience, being with Dwayne as he repels, being with Carla as she tries to escape, and not cutting, and having you sucked into those moments. There were new challenges for everyone in that way. Even at Cal Tech, where everything is shaking.

GIAMATTI: Archie and I dove under a table together. We actually did that.

PANJABI: I did that in 3-1/2 inch heels.

GIAMATTI: We were not doubled.

Q: Dwayne, they announced Furious 8. Is Hobbs going to be in it?

JOHNSON: Of course. It can’t go on without Hobbs.

Q: Is the Hobbs spinoff still something you’re interested in?

JOHNSON: We all are interested in it. I just had a big conversation with the studio. So we’ll see. I still think for me personally we’ve created a little bit of space in 7 and the gauge is set for what the audience will want. That’s my take on it, you know, but a lot of other people have to have input.

San Andreas opens in theaters in 3D and 2D on Friday, May 29th.


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