He's not "The Rock" any longer, at least not on theater marquees. The charismatic pro wrestler-turned-actor has reverted to his birth name, Dwayne Johnson, for his latest film, "Faster," opening Wednesday. It's a crime drama in which Johnson sets out to avenge the murder of his brother, and it's a return to the kind of action movies, like "The Scorpion King," "Walking Tall" and "The Rundown," that made the 38-year-old a star in the first place. But when it comes to his film career, the personable and glib Johnson is determined to be much more than a fine-looking he-man. Lewis Beale discussed this and other subjects with him by phone from Los Angeles.
You've been doing a lot of family comedies lately, like last year's "The Tooth Fairy." Now, you're back in the action mode with "Faster." How come?
My goal 10 years ago was to become a good actor, and I knew I couldn't stay in the action genre. I wanted to do comedy, drama, family comedy, and those opportunities presented themselves, and I'm unapologetic for that. ["Faster" was] a very well-written story, great characters against a simple backdrop - you took something from me, and now you're gonna pay, and that simple directive resonated for me. The movies of the '70s that inspired [the films'] writers are my favorites, the Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood [movies], which are not driven for the sake of action, they are driven by emotion.
You've also decided to go by your real name, rather than The Rock. What's the reason for that?
The brand is the brand of The Rock. And my name on the marquee is Dwayne Johnson, but the The Rock will always be the brand, and I'm fine with that. It was a thought-out plan as I transitioned from wrestling to acting; I wanted to transition to Dwayne Johnson.
The world of pro wrestling is very theatrical. I think some guys just have the desire to be actors. I'm a third-generation wrestler, I have a great love and passion for that world and the theatricality of wrestling. I had accomplished all my goals in pro wrestling, and I wanted to take the brass ring further.
You had a .7 grade point average your first year at the University of Miami, where you had a football scholarship, yet you managed to graduate with a degree in criminology. How'd you accomplish that?
I was injured and had reconstruction on my shoulder. I became depressed, I quit and left school. I didn't take any of my midterms. So [coach] Dennis Erickson called over Christmas break, told me to get back to school, and he said, "You're on academic probation, and to be part of this team, you have to go to every professor every day, and get a note saying you were in class. This will allow you to get onto the field." I knew I had an opportunity, and it changed me instantly. A year later, I was academic captain and doing very well.
You're an interesting racial mix, African-Canadian and Samoan, yet you've managed to transcend race. Do you relate to your racial background?
I think about it all the time. Have I made a big deal about it in the past? No. But I'm proud of what I am. I'm aware of the impact my success has had on many levels - being multiethnic. I do know people are intrigued by what I am - being multicultural. Any information I can share about my cultures, I do. But I think for a lot of cultures and nationalities, they don't see colors when they see me, they just see Dwayne.
So, since you're part Polynesian, I was wondering if you can do any of those Polynesian dances, like the hulu and the haka.
Growing up in Polynesian culture, you learn a multitude of dances. I used to live in New Zealand, and the haka was a tradition in our house. For every culture, there is a version of the dance in unison that people would do before battle, and the Polynesians have it. You have the juxtaposition between the warmth and beauty of Polynesian people, but if you cross us, we will rip your throat out. That is fascinating about our culture.