Knowing Your Roles
Knowing Your Roles
Know your role" was one of the Rock's most famous catch-phrases. In the wrestling business, this meant the other wrestler should know his place, be himself, and not get out of line. In the Rock's brash way, this statement was something of a put-down for his opponents in the ring. As Dwayne Johnson made the transition into acting, though, "Know your role" took on several different meanings. In fact, Johnson is involved in a number of different kinds of roles. In acting, Johnson has to know his character and his lines. Additionally, his roles as an actor and a celebrity, as well as being a full-time father, will keep him a busy man for many years to come.
With being a star of the wrestling world, writing a best-selling autobiography, and appearing in movies and on television, Johnson had been maintaining a grueling schedule. Between wrestling commitments and movie offers, he worked long days and had to spend a great deal of time away from his home and his family. This was the most difficult part of being an in-demand celebrity. The long separations were hard for Johnson and his family.
More movie roles awaited him, and he was invited to host Saturday Night Live a second time, but he also had the remainder of his WWF contract to honor. As busy as his schedule was, though, he managed to make it work and honored his many obligations.
For instance, in February 2001 he beat Kurt Angle to win the WWF title and defeated Booker T at the SummerSlam in July 2001 to win the WCW title. He won the Tag Team title with Chris Jericho at RAW in October of that year and took back the WCW title he lost to Jericho in early November. However, in December 2001 he once again lost the WCW title to Jericho.
With the direction his life was taking, Johnson had already begun to trim down his wrestling schedule. He began to cut back even more in 2002. As Johnson began to phase out his life as a wrestler, the WWF was going through some changes of its own. On May 2, 2002, the WWF officially changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. During this year, the Rock had some memorable matches with Jericho, the Undertaker, and Hulk Hogan, whom he beat at WrestleMania X8 in March of that year.
Johnson's second appearance on Saturday Night Live took place the following month. Comedian and actor Ray Romano had originally been scheduled to host the segment but had to back out. Johnson was called on to host a second time, and the event made SNL history. Johnson became the first athlete to host the show a second time.
In 2002 Johnson also had his first lead movie role in The Scorpion King, the prequel to The Mummy Returns, which was released in 2001. In The Mummy Returns Johnson's character had a smaller role. In The Scorpion King, though, Johnson's character, Mathayus, is the lead role. Mathayus, the leader of assassins, is supposed to kill a sorceress who has been using her powers to help the evil Memnon rule most of the world. However, when Mathayus captures the sorceress, he learns that she has not been Memnon's helper, she has been his captive. With the sorceress out of Memnon's clutches, Mathayus is able to rally the leaders of the free tribes and defeat Memnon. The film was financially successful. It grossed $91 million in the United States and $165 million worldwide.
Johnson's next wrestling successes in 2002 were in July, when he defeated both the Undertaker and Kurt Angle to take back the WWE title. However, he lost the title the next month to Brock Lesnar. Wrestling was taking more and more of a back seat to Johnson's acting roles, though. In fact, in 2003 Johnson took part in only a handful of matches. In February he beat Hulk Hogan in the No Way Out event. His next win was against Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIX on March 30. His winning streak ended, though, when he was defeated by Bill Goldberg on April 27 at Backlash.
In the meantime, Johnson's next movie The Rundown was released in July 2002. In this film Johnson played Beck, a repo man who is sent to South America to locate a treasure hunter. Though it had some favorable reviews, the film did not make as much money as The Scorpion King. In fact, it grossed just over half as much as the previous film. Despite this, it was another film role to add to his résumé.
By this time Johnson was being compared to earlier action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. One critic remarked on his performance in The Rundown, "For fun and money, this is The Rock's biggest [role]. . . . And this time he scores at more than just the box office."19Some critics seemed to be surprised that a wrestler could make such a successful transition into acting. In fact, some of these critics said he was a better actor than some other action stars. It was not such a surprise to Johnson, though, who had used acting skills in the wrestling ring for years.
On March 14, 2004, Johnson entered the ring in WrestleMania XX. In an event billed as the Handicap Match, the Rock and Mick Foley tag-teamed against Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista. The Rock and Foley lost. This was the Rock's last match. It was the end of his wrestling contract, and Johnson was now free to pursue acting without having to split his time with wrestling.
His next movie Walking Tall was released in April of that same year. Walking Tall was a loosely based remake of a 1973 film. In this movie Johnson played Chris Vaughan, a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Johnson's character returns to his hometown in Washington State after an absence of eight years to take over his family's business, which he finds has been closed down. He discovers his once-peaceful hometown has been overtaken by drugs and violence, thanks in part to the presence of a crooked gambling casino. Vaughan becomes sheriff and proceeds to clean up his town the hard way, with much violence.
Once again, a number of reviews of Johnson's acting talents was favorable. A reviewer for the Web site Celebritywonder.com wrote,
Casting-wise this is by far a one-man show for The Rock. Dwayne Johnson, aka "The Rock", has been called the most entertaining man in sports entertainment, and it shows in this film. Despite my reservations of his film project choices, there is no doubting that this man has a presence. You can't help but root for this guy as he's likable and a total hardcore action star.20
After appearing in several action films in a row, Johnson made a big change in character types to act in Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty. Released March 4, 2005, this was Johnson's first entirely comic role, which came as a big surprise to his action film fans. In the film, Johnson plays a gay, country-western-singing bodyguard. His job is to protect a talent manager played by Vince Vaughn. Once again Johnson had some favorable reviews. He was described as refreshing and witty, with a talent for comic timing, which brought some of the movie's biggest laughs.
In a few years' time, Johnson had made the jump from one successful career to another. First, he succeeded as a wrestler on his own, without trading on his father's or his grandfather's career. He had made a success of the Rock, the brash, arrogant character that fans loved to hate. He had also proved that he had talents other than those he had demonstrated so often in the ring. Although he was extremely grateful for all he had gained from his wrestling career, he wanted to keep the Rock, the wrestling character, separate from Dwayne Johnson, the actor. To do this, he planned to phase out the very role that had brought him fame and fortune.
With his full-time transition to acting, Johnson felt it was time to drop the nickname, the Rock. Just as a movie role, the Rock was a role—a character Johnson had played in the ring. The Rock was a character with a personality and attitude separate from that of Dwayne Johnson, and, although he was grateful for the success his wrestling persona had brought him, Johnson no longer wanted to be identified with that character.
In fact, fans and some interviewers appear to have more trouble dropping the name than Johnson has. It still crops up in the titles of articles, and some fans still refer to Johnson as the Rock. Johnson realizes the transition is difficult for some people to make, so he has patiently explained his reasons to a number of interviewers. In a 2007 interview, he explained it this way:
WWE Hall of Fame
In March 2008 Dwayne Johnson's father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather High Chief Peter Maivia were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. This institution has been honoring professional wrestlers since 1993, when it was called the WWF Hall of Fame and inducted its first honoree, Andre the Giant. The well-known wrestler had died earlier that year.
Since its beginning, the induction ceremonies have been held in many locations, such as Omni Inner Harbor International Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, the Hilton in New York City, Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, California, and the site of the 2008 ceremony, Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida. Although the WWE Hall of Fame is at present an event rather than an actual location, WWE executives are looking into acquiring a site so they can bring the wrestling memorabilia out of the warehouses, where they have been stored for years. At this time, a site and a construction schedule are still several years in the future.
From now on please call me Dwayne Johnson. I want to be known as Dwayne Johnson the actor, and not The Rock. I loved the Rock; The Rock was a nickname but what happened is it's naturally progressed into Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. When it becomes just Dwayne Johnson, as it will in the next movie, Southland Tales, that's fine. I never wanted to make that defining statement. It just didn't feel right to me.21
With the transition back to just plain Dwayne Johnson, he has continued to broaden his acting roles, playing less violent, more comedic roles such as quarterback Joe "the King" Kingman in the comedy film The Game Plan. In this film, he plays a hard-living football star who becomes responsible for an eight-year-old daughter, Peyton, he never knew he had. Johnson's character has to change from high-living and all-night partying to seeking out ballet classes, arranging playdates, and reading bedtime stories. In a further shock to Johnson's onetime wrestling fans, his character appears in tights in his daughter's ballet recital. Johnson did not have far to go to research for this role. He just had to draw from his own experiences with his daughter Simone.
Quite separate from the loud, brash, confrontational role he played as the Rock, Johnson conducts himself with courtesy and dignity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way he has behaved during his separation and subsequent divorce from his wife Dany, now a successful financial adviser. The two separated in June 2007 after ten years of marriage, and their divorce became final in May 2008. According to announcements made through publicists, the two will share custody of their daughter. Apparently, they have put their daughter's feelings and welfare first throughout this difficult process. For instance, when she is with one parent, she is free to telephone the other parent whenever she likes, and both parents will continue to have major roles in her life as she grows up.
Johnson and his ex-wife also behaved amicably and respectfully to each other during this time. They did not indulge in public accusations and insults that sometimes accompany the divorces of famous people. The two have avoided public battles and spiteful behavior. Whatever personal differences they have they have chosen to keep to themselves. In fact, a number of entertainment reports have remarked that all of Hollywood would do well to follow their example under such circumstances.
The two have apparently maintained a friendly working relationship and plan to continue working together on charity efforts begun during their marriage. Among these are donations to the University of Miami, the Red Cross, and some charitable foundations they personally started.
For instance, the Johnsons founded the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation. This organization was developed to improve self-esteem among young people, promote physical fitness, and provide obesity prevention education, including nutritional counseling. The foundation also helps young people in the United States and in other countries develop and achieve educational goals. Founded in 2006, the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation has supported such charities as The Rock's Toy Chest, a corporate sponsorship program designed to supply school supplies, clothing, and other necessities to children in impoverished countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, and Lesotho.
The foundation also sponsors Project Knapsack. Project Knapsack will be a pen pal and school supply partnership between schoolchildren in the United States and needy children in third-world countries. Through this program, students will be able to share information about their countries, foods, hobbies, climates, and other issues of interest to them. To do this, students in the United States will write letters, which will be placed into the knapsacks with school supplies. The knapsacks will go to students in impoverished countries. Not only will they have supplies they need, they will also have the opportunity to learn about life in another part of the world.
Another of their charitable foundations is Beacon Experience, founded by Dany Johnson. This organization also focuses on the welfare of young people, an issue that has always been important to the Johnsons. The mission of Beacon Experience is to motivate disadvantaged students to stay in school and, beyond that, provide the means for them to go to college. The program works by providing volunteers to serve as role models and tutors. The organization sponsors parent meetings, field trips, and other after-school programs.
Johnson's concern for children also led him to become a supporter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants wishes to children with life-threatening health conditions.
Many famous people, including wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson, donate money and time to deserving charities. One charity in which Johnson has been involved is the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Make-A-Wish Foundation was founded in 1980, and has enriched the lives of children with life-threatening conditions for over two decades.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation began with the wish of one seven-year-old boy, Christopher James Greicius. Christopher had leukemia. He dreamed of becoming a police officer but his family knew that day might never come. U.S. Customs officer Tommy Austin was a family friend. He promised young Christopher a ride in a police helicopter. Austin contacted a friend with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and together they planned a special day for Christopher. They also had a uniform made just for him. Christopher had his special day, but his condition worsened and he died a few days later.
Since then, the Make-A-Wish foundation has grown to a network of almost 25,000 volunteers, including sponsors, donors, and entire communities. Altogether, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has worked with more than 167,000 ill children between the ages of two-and-a-half and eighteen, by granting their special wishes.
These are some of the positive ways Johnson chooses to use his celebrity status to benefit others. But like hard-working people in any profession, Johnson also cherishes his private time and enjoys activities that have nothing to do with wrestling or making movies. For instance, few people know that Johnson is a very good light tackle, saltwater fisherman. He is also a big fan of the music of Elvis Presley. In fact, Johnson can play guitar and sing. Although he has sung in some of his movies, probably his most appreciative audience to date is his daughter Simone, for whom he plays guitar and sings when they are together.
Johnson's future as an actor appears solid. He has movies in release as well as movies still in production. In fact, even though his days of splitting his time between two careers are long past, he seems to be busier than ever, playing both supporting and leading roles. One movie, Southland Tales from Universal Studios, was released late in 2007. Described as both a science-fiction movie and a dark comedy, the story takes place in Los Angeles, California, in an alternate 2008. The United States has undergone some turbulent times. Part of Texas has been wiped out in a nuclear attack, and California is on the brink of environmental and economic collapse. Johnson plays Boxer Santaros, an action film star with amnesia.
Another film, Get Smart from Warner Brothers, was released in June 2008. In this film, based on an early television series by the same name, Johnson plays Agent 23, a superstar agent with the government spy agency Control. Following a plot line similar to the television series, the evil crime syndicate KAOS is threatening to take over the world and must be stopped by Control. In a recent interview, Johnson said he had a great time making the movie and that it was a great experience working with such funny material as well as costar Steve Carell, who plays the lead character Maxwell Smart. He also said it was sometimes hard to keep a straight face in some of the scenes. Johnson had been a fan of the original series, which he had watched in reruns as a child.
Johnson's responsibilities as a father influence many of his recent role choices, such as Las Vegas cab driver Freddy Hasby in the comedy/action film Escape to Witch Mountain by Disney Studios, a remake of a 1975 children's classic. Hasby is hired to drive orphaned twins to a place of safety. Along the way he has to thwart the evil billionaire who wants to kidnap the children and exploit their paranormal powers.
One film project still in developmental stages and close to Johnson's heart is the title role in King Kamehameha, a film for Columbia Tri-Star Studios. The great Hawaiian king united and ruled several tribal islands from 1795 to 1819. Though some Polynesians question an actor of Samoan descent playing this role, some historians argue that Kamehameha actually descended from Samoans. There is as yet no word on a production schedule or release date for this tentative project.
Although Johnson left wrestling to become an actor, he has not completely turned away from the career that made him famous. He still occasionally appears at wrestling events as a guest, not a performer. On Saturday, March 29, 2008, at the Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida, Johnson inducted his father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather High Chief Peter Maivia into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Honoring Stunt Men and Women
In April 2007 Dwayne Johnson hosted the 2007 Taurus World Stunt Awards. This is the entertainment industry's only such program to honor the top stunt professionals. Johnson had also hosted the program in 2005. As an action movie star, Johnson has had many opportunities to watch stunt men and women perform their remarkable feats. He spoke of his admiration for the people in this profession: "I have the utmost respect for the stunt community, which is why I am so happy to be hosting the TWSA for the second time. As actors, we truly appreciate all that they do as they literally put their lives on the line for the sake of filmmaking. The stunt community is like family to me and I'm proud to be a part of honoring them."
Taurus World Stunt Awards, "Dwayne The Rock Johnson to Host 2007 Taurus World Stunt Awards," press release, April 18, 2007. www.taurusworldstuntawards.com/index.php? cmd=cmdnewsletterdetail&id=8.
As for the future, Johnson will continue to make films and share business and child-raising responsibilities with his ex-wife. He admits to being rocked to his core by scandals and tragedies in the wrestling business, including the Chris Benoit murder/suicide, and he adamantly advocates for a zero tolerance policy in the sport of wrestling regarding steroid use. He has also expressed some aspiration toward a political career. Because he has already been successful in two out of three careers, the odds may be in his favor if he chooses to step into that ring.