Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Interview, The Game Plan

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline recently sat down with Dwayne "The Rock” Johnson and director Andy Fickman at the Los Angeles press day to talk about their new film, "The Game Plan.” Emanating a unique screen presence that combines his undeniable charm and self-deprecating humor, Johnson further establishes himself as the consummate leading man and one of today’s surprisingly new masters of movie comedy with his role as superstar quarterback Joe Kingman in Disney’s "The Game Plan.” The film also stars Madison Pettis, Kyra Sedgwick and Roselyn Sanchez.

Joe Kingman (Johnson) is famed for being able to handle any hit, no matter how ferocious, but he’s about to meet his greatest match. Just when he doesn’t see it coming, Joe is knocked silly by the hardest-hitting challenge he could ever have imagined and his dream of winning the long-awaited championship is suddenly sacked for a loss when he discovers Peyton (Pettis), the daughter he never knew existed, on his doorstep.

In this hilarious and heartwarming fish-out-of-water tale, "The Rock” gets a chance to showcase his unexpectedly funny, not to mention fatherly side while still mixing it up in scenes of fast-paced football action, as the last guy you’d ever expect to find a way to become a great new dad. From the minute he first heard the concept for "The Game Plan,” Johnson was thrilled to face a challenge unlike any he had taken on in filmmaking before. "When you have the chance to create a character like this from the ground up, that’s a lot of fun,” he says. "Having had the opportunity to play football for 10 years, I knew I would be able to bring some of that swagger to Joe as well as some of the invaluable lessons from the game that I’ve taken with me through life.”

But even more than the football action, Johnson relished the chance to show off his comedic chops. He especially enjoyed allowing this tough, confident man’s awkwardness and terror in the face of parenting shine through. "For Joe, being a father requires a whole new playbook,” laughs Johnson. It also means going into a whole new world, one that includes such unlikely pursuits as ballet, which meant Johnson had to dive into his own Ballet 101 lessons.

"The Rock” admits he rather enjoyed it, especially once he realized the different-but-equal set of athletic skills it requires. "One thing I realized is just how difficult ballet is,” says Johnson. "You’ve gotta be disciplined, you’ve gotta be on your toes, literally, and you’ve gotta have total body control. It’s a great thing to learn. And when else am I ever going to get a chance to wear a one-piece spandex outfit in green?”

Dwayne "The Rock” Johnson conquered the high-impact world of sports before venturing into acting, a transition he has accomplished with characteristic ease and charm. In "The Game Plan,” moviegoers will see a side of him they have rarely been treated to: his rollicking sense of humor. Building on a film career that began with the small but pivotal role of The Scorpion King in Stephen Sommers’ 2001 blockbuster "The Mummy Returns,” the actor created several memorable screen characters in a very short amount of time.

His first starring role in 2002’s "The Scorpion King” heralded the arrival of a vibrant new action hero. His subsequent roles playing a tenacious bounty hunter ("The Rundown”), a war hero turned vigilante ("Walking Tall”), and an interstellar alien tracker ("Doom”) led to three very different and challenging assignments: a gay Samoan bodyguard in "Be Cool,” a football coach in "Gridiron Gang,” and a futuristic movie star in director/writer Richard Kelly’s "Southland Tales.” He will next be seen starring as Agent 23 in Peter Segal’s screen version of the classic super-agent comedy "Get Smart,” alongside Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

Through his own charitable entity, The Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, he has created a platform of hope and possibility for children nationwide by providing programs designed to enrich and empower the lives and self-esteem of under-served, at-risk youth and children hospitalized for medical disabilities, disorders and illness.

Andy Fickman most recently guided the hit comedy "She’s the Man” starring Amanda Bynes, which won the Teen Choice Award as Best Comedy. Certainly one of the busiest filmmakers working, he brings a wealth of experience creating, directing, writing and producing television, film and stage projects to his position on "The Game Plan.” He also directed the acclaimed film version of "Reefer Madness” for Showtime as well as the independent comedy "Who’s Your Daddy,” starring Brandon Davis, Christine Lakin, and Patsy Kensit. Currently, Fickman is working on a myriad of film and television productions that include projects for Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray’s Mayhem Pictures, The Weinstein Company, Walt Disney Pictures, CBS, Twentieth Century Fox and Columbia Pictures among many others. Dwayne and Andy are fabulous guys and we really appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about their recent collaboration:

Q: Is "Southland Tales” anything like you imagined when you made it?

DJ: Nothing like I imagined, and much better than the cut we showed at the Cannes Film Festival.: Yes, we shot all of that about a month or so after we wrapped "The Game Plan.” It was an attempt to synergize the movie with those shows and with the Disney Channel. It was a very big collaborative effort, which was great. That’s the way Disney is. Therein lies the power of that brand, and Disney.

Q: Did you shoot all of those shows for the Disney Channel after this project? Are they all related?

ANDY FICKMAN: And, Madison [Pettis] got cast in "Cory in the House” after we cast her in "The Game Plan.” When we found her, she had just done some commercials and a couple episodes of "Barney.” So then, that helped because "Cory in the House” was happening and the movie was coming out at the same time, so it really was great. A lot of times, your bigger stars don’t necessarily want to get involved with cross-promotion and, from the very beginning, on the set, Dwayne was very excited about the notion of that. It was a big deal for Disney to have Dwayne wanting to do that.

Q: Can you talk about the general appeal of this character?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: From the get go, I thought, "Wow, what a great character to play, and from scratch.” It’s great when you can create a character like this, from scratch, and be collaborative with the director and everybody on board. For me, personally, I love comedy and I love self-deprecating comedy. Physical comedy is great, dark comedy is great, but self-deprecating comedy, for me, always takes the cake, so to speak. It’s great, when you just have the ability to laugh at yourself. I think we all should. There are different moments. For me, putting on the ballet outfit to the bubble bath, and you name it, is funny. That appealed to me. And, selfishly, for me, being a proud daddy – I’ve got a little 6-year-old girl at home, who challenges me every day, just like Madison challenged me in the movie -- I wanted to make a movie that she could come and see. Of course, the goal is to make a big family comedy, a big broad comedy, but for me, personally, selfishly, I had the opportunity to take her to go see a Disney movie [I’m in], and play a character like this. There were a lot of elements that fell in place that made it very, very comfortable for me to make that.

Q: Did you take anything from your wrestling experience for this?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I’m just naturally like that. I’m just very naturally arrogant, basically. [Laughs]

ANDY FICKMAN: There were no rehearsals. We just turned on the camera.

DWAYNE JOHNSON: All the photos in the movie are from my house. As a matter of fact, I have them all up on my ceiling. When I wake up, I like to look at myself.

ANDY FICKMAN: When you’re trying to mock up photos, you have to get the actor on the set to take the photos. And, we asked his mom to supply us with some. We had endless numbers of Dwayne photos. If you look in the movie, some of them are of Dwayne’s bad decision to grow a weak mustache. [Laughs] It was the worst look ever on him.

DWAYNE JOHNSON: [Laughs] The worst. It was awful.

Q: How was it to look at that huge wall-size photo, every day?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: That was great. Let me tell you something, that’s wonderful for the ego. Every day, to come to the set and see a huge picture of yourself that covers the entire wall, it’s absurd, but you’ve got to love it. Now, I believe it’s in your room, right? (He asks Andy Fickman)

ANDY FICKMAN: Yes. It’s actually on my ceiling, so I can blow darts at it, every day.

Q: Can you talk about your, and your character’s, Elvis obsession?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I love Elvis. The moment I sat down with Andy, I said, "Andy, do you love Elvis?” He said, "Absolutely!” And, we went for it. It was another fun way of adding a layer to the character that might be interesting. Again, self-deprecating comedy is great. I love the fact that he was singing to her, in a very sweet and tender moment, and she says, "I think you sound like a wounded moose.” I love that type of comedy, and how the joke falls back on me. For an actor to sing in a movie, and play the guitar, it’s really not funny. You’re like, "Oh, he can sing and play guitar.” But, the joke makes it funny, when it falls back on him.

Q: Do you have a favorite Elvis song?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: "Are You Lonesome Tonight” is my favorite. "Love Letters.”

Q: Do you like the live version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight”?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I love the live version. There’s many live versions. There’s this one where he laughs, and he can’t stop laughing. It’s great.

Q: Are you really that bad of a singer?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I am. I can’t hold a tune. It was movie magic, in the studio.

ANDY FICKMAN: A lot of times, you have an actor who wants to pre-record their song. With pre-recording, you can go in and fix everything. That’s him playing the guitar, and that’s him singing, and he was spot on. We didn’t go in and do any mixing. All of the Elvis estate and Graceland, everybody, has seen this performance and everyone’s just been so happy. It blew everybody away.

Q: Did you have to fix anything with the green leotard, or did it fit right away?

ANDY FICKMAN: There were a lot of visual effects. You can do a lot with CGI now.

DWAYNE JOHNSON: Yes, you can. What’s funny is that I put that outfit on and the moment I put it on, we were about two hours away from shooting, and I was like, "Wow, it’s really tight.” It was made for me, but it was the first time I tried it on. I tried it on and it was very thin and very tight. I was like, "Well, this is a Disney movie.” I went to see Andy and I said, "Andy, can you come and look at this really quickly?” ‘cause we were about ready to shoot. And, he said, "Okay, let me see.” And then, I opened it up (the robe over his costume), and he said, "Can we start to cover this up?” So, we started to add layers where we had to.

ANDY FICKMAN: We went smaller. The first version we had wasn’t small enough. We went a size smaller. And, that was also the very first day of filming, so that’s a great way to ingratiate yourself with your cast and crew. The very first day, you’re walking around in your ballet outfit.

Q: What did you take from your experiences with your own daughter that you brought to this? Any moments?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: Sure. You bet. I’m very, very lucky to understand what that blessing is, to be a parent. And, not only be a parent, but there’s a very, very unique bond between a daddy and his little girl, and I recognize that now. Every day, I recognize it and live it and embrace it. That bonding process, and understanding that, made it very easy for me. I could easily take scenes from that movie and translate them right into my own real life, and from life into the movie as well. It’s because of those experiences that I’d had that allowed me to easily bond with Madison. And, not only that, but easily appreciate Madison, appreciate her silliness, appreciate her crankiness when she gets tired, appreciate everything like that. Six years ago, before my little girl was born, if Andy had approached me about doing the movie, I still would have loved to have done the movie, and I think it would have been just as funny, but I don’t think, however, that the emotion would have been there. I think that type of emotion, especially when it comes to kids, you have to have a kid, if you’re going to act it that well, emotionally.

Q: Your character’s apartment is so clean, and then this kid comes in and messes everything up.

DWAYNE JOHNSON: That’s the way life is. It’s the exact same way. I could clean my place and have it completely clean and spot free, and then, as soon as the little girl comes around, that’s it. There’s toys everywhere and everything is left open. That’s what happens.

Q: How patient are you?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I’m pretty patient. You have to be. The thing that I love struggling with is the fact that it’s a dictatorship in my house, and there’s no democracy. As adults, we can control a lot of things. But, with little kids – she’s 6 -- democracy is out the window. That’s the way it is. To see her actually strategize, and I see it happening in her mind, I turn to mush.

Q: Did you have any input into the football scenes?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: Sure. I was very lucky. I had a chance to play 10 years of football with some great players. And, we had a great football coordinator to help and to make sure that the football was very real, and looked very real. Also, to Andy’s credit, because he comes from the world of theater, he wanted to show football a tremendous amount of respect. More importantly than that, he wanted to make sure that he showed ballet a tremendous amount of respect too, and to make sure that you saw the parallels of the difficulty of both sports, and how both of them are equally difficult.

Q: How challenging was it to learn ballet?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: It was very, very challenging. I, like a lot of my guy friends, kind of dismissed ballet, for years. We were there with the Boston Ballet, and I was blown away by the incredible amount of discipline that those little girls, and little boys, had, [along with] the hard work and dedication. There was this amazing respectful silence when we were done. We would rehearse every day for two weeks. We essentially had a ballet boot camp for a couple of hours a day and, at the end -- six or seven o’clock, they had already gone through school, and then they stayed with me and Madison the whole time -- there was this respectful silence that would permeate the air, and then, they would all come and individually thank us for our time. I love seeing that in our children today. I love seeing that type of discipline, honor and respect.

ANDY FICKMAN: It’s pretty awe-inspiring to see it.

DWAYNE JOHNSON: It was unbelievable. I required Andy to do that, every time I came onto the set, too. [Laughs]

Q: Do you draw on your physicality as a football player and a wrestler when you’re doing ballet?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I learned to, absolutely. The incredible amount of body control that it takes to be a ballet dancer was mind-boggling to me. I never knew. I just didn’t know. So, I was very happy that I was exposed to that. And, it also reminded me just how for some of the greatest athletes in the world, ballet is part of their training regimen. For some of the greatest football players in the world, in skilled positions -- wide receivers and running backs -- ballet is part of their training regimen.

Q: Can you talk about your fitness regime now?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: Andy and I have the same fitness routine now.

ANDY FICKMAN: We get up in the morning, and that’s about it. [Laughs]

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I train every day. I have to. I do a different variety of training, whether it’s outside or inside. I have to get away and, for me, that hour and a half is a way to get away, and it’s like a little sanctuary for me, too. Specifically, I do plyometric work, which is some box jumps and sprints and quickness and agility drills, things like that. From that, I do cardio and weight work. With women, it’s more a lifestyle and a mental change. Specifically with women -- and I’m surrounded by women, from my mom to just everybody -- women have that great tendency to put themselves last, and to put working out last. They’ll say, "I’ve got so many other things to do.” It’s so true. You’ve got to change your mind-set and think, "I’ve got to do this first.” Make it fun, get a trainer, get a partner, get an iPod, do fun things. That’s my suggestion. I suggested the same thing to Andy, too.

ANDY FICKMAN: I was like, "Somebody’s got to direct the movie.”

Q: Have you seen the final cut of "Southland Tales” that’s coming out?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I’ve seen it. It’s fantastic. And, they’re showing it, as we speak, right now, to press in Texas.

Q: Is it anything like you imagined when you made it?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: Nothing like I imagined, and much better than the cut we showed at the Cannes Film Festival.

Q: Now you guys are doing a second film together ("Witch Mountain”). What is it that you like so much about working together?

ANDY FICKMAN: He’s dreamy. [Laughs] I look into his eyes and I think, "That’s The Rock.” [Laughs] Listen, a director’s dream is to get onto a set and have a collaborator. You can yell action all you want, but at the end of the day, you need somebody who is going to be there to work. Dwayne Johnson is an amazing actor because what he gives you is the comedy, the heart and the willingness to do all the things you guys are asking about. That’s not just something where a director can say, "Hey, do you mind going and doing this?” If it’s not coming from that actor, I’ve got nothing to play with.
 
And so, when you think, "What’s the next movie I want to jump into?,” it’s a rarity when you can think, "You know what? I just spent a year of my life working with this one actor and I had a great time. I want to do it again.” For us, it was the opportunity to work with Disney, who has been a huge partner for us, and to tackle a favorite of ours, growing up -- a re-imagination of "Escape to Witch Mountain” -- where we’re going to be able to have a lot of fun with the action and the comedy, and I think people that enjoyed "The Game Plan” are going to get an awful lot out of it. Honestly, for the director, you don’t work with an actor again unless you find that working with him is inspiring. For me, walking onto the set every day, I learned stuff, as a director, from him. I would never tell him that to his face, but I learned stuff from him, every day, that I’ll now be able to use on his next movie to teach him how to be good. [Laughs]

Q: On a political note, what do you think of Barak Obama possibly becoming the first ever African American President?

DWAYNE JOHNSON: I think that would be tremendous. I had the opportunity to speak with Barak, and I think he’s great. I’m very proud of him and all his success. If it does happen, I think it’s wonderful.

"The Game Plan” opens in theaters on September 28th.

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