“Southland Tales” is an ensemble piece set in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008, as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson stars as Boxer Santaros, an action star stricken with amnesia whose life intertwines with Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and David Clark (Seann William Scott), a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.
Shooting began early August on the project in and around the Los Angeles area and part-time correspondent Brad Miska was on the set the other week to speak with the cast about the film. Today, former wrestler Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson talked about his involvement.
Question: You used to be bigger when you wrestled?
The Rock: Yeah, I was a lot thicker.
Question: You slimmed down…
The Rock: Yeah. Considerably, sure. I’m sure eventually I would have done that anyway, just getting a really good understanding of what I was eating and drinking and stuff like that.
Question: Can you tell us what this movie is about?
The Rock: Yes I can. Why do you ask? (laughter) You guys haven’t had a chance to read the script?
The Rock: It’s very secretive and kept under wraps. My interpretation of Southland Tales is this. Number one, I should preface it by saying that after reading it – I’ve been close to this now for over a year now. Before I went to shoot Doom last year was the first time I read the script. And read it and then re-read it and read it again and then re-read it again. And then I came to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do was stop trying to piece everything together and get extremely close to Richard Kelly. Because there are so many things in that script that only he can answer and only he can piece together. And a lot of it is left up to one’s interpretation. So that’s what I did. I stopped trying to piece everything together, got extremely close to Richard and made sure I understood what my interpretation of Boxer was. We’re on the same page together with Richard. And then I realized that Southland Tales is about myself. (laughter) That’s exactly what it is. I came to that conclusion. I sat back one night and I said – it took me about a week’s worth of (inaudible) – and I said, “Southland Tales is about Boxer Santaros.” So that’s my (inaudible).
Question: You and Shawn have the luxury of getting close to Richard personally. So what will audiences who can’t get to know Richard Kelly be able to surmise when they see it?
The Rock: Number one, they’ll be challenged. I think they’ll be challenged in many, many ways. You don’t have to get close to Richard Kelly to understand what Southland Tales is. By the way, that’s the beauty of what I believe we’re filming, which is left up to interpretation. There are a lot of things that are going to be left up to one’s interpretation. And it will make sense. I’m sorry to be cryptic, if it seems like that.
Question: Do you sing?
The Rock: Umm, no. I was going to and then…no.
Question: Is it a musical?
The Rock: No no no. It’s not a musical at all. I think earlier comments were, it’s a (inaudible) musical, sci-fi and thriller mixed in with dark comedy. But no, I can honestly tell you it’s not a musical.
Question: There’s no musical elements?
The Rock: Other than a great soundtrack, no.
Question: No actors break out in song?
The Rock: No. But we do dance, though. There’s a great dance number at the end, with my wife and my girlfriend. (laughter)
Question: Can you tell us who Boxer Santaros is?
The Rock: Sure. Boxer Santaros is a movie star who gets kidnapped, who has amnesia, doesn’t know he’s a movie star, who becomes a paranoid schizophrenic and also extremely neurotic. Of course, that’s the movie star part of it, which I based on a lot of people I know. That, and constantly searching for the truth. And the one very important element that I forgot to tell you is Boxer has a supernatural gift. He can see things and he can foresee the future. That’s about all I can tell you. He knows things are going to happen and he foresees the apocalypse.
Question: And what’s his relationship with Seann William Scott’s and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s characters?
The Rock: His relationship with Seann is doing research for a role. So there’s a – this is where I start getting into details – but there’s a screenplay that Boxer writes, which he wants to direct as well, and he’s doing some film research. And Sean is a Los Angeles cop. And I go on a ride-along, essentially, with him. And then it’s easier from that point on, instead of talking about Seann and his character, for him to tell you how things start to develop. And my relationship with Sarah is, when I come through, Sarah is the one person in my life who I feel like I can trust. And when I come through out of my amnesia state, she’s there. And we develop this relationship. Sarah is my girlfriend and Mandy Moore is my wife.
Question: What appealed to you about this project to begin with that got you to sign on?
The Rock: Well, when I first read the script – actually before I read the script – I was speaking to my agent and we talked about Richard Kelly. I was familiar Donnie Darko – and I really liked Donnie Darko, actually. And he said what do you think about working with Richard Kelly? And I said I would love to, sure. And he said there’s this project and it’s called Southland Tales. And I said great, I’d love to see it, send me the script. He said before that Richard had asked that he just meet with you first. So I met with Richard, I loved his ideas for Southland Tales, I loved his visuals. He had a couple of mockups of what we would look like and what he saw and this is what the mega-zeppelin looked like. And I was really really really impressed with his creative process and his urgency not only to be different and to be creative and to be edgy but have it make sense. The meeting went great and then he sent over the script. He said, “Now you can read the script.” I read the script and I loved the script and I loved the character. There are a lot of different levels.
Question: Do you share this sort of pessimistic view of the future?
The Rock: Well, the truth of the matter is the movie’s set in 2008.
Question: Not too far.
The Rock: No, not too far at all. And I think it’s a very feasible setting in 2008. Three years from now, this could very well be the case, where we’re at now. My interpretation is that it’s realistic and it’s a love letter to Los Angeles and it could be a bitch-slap as well. Because culturally the entertainment industry and what we mean to the entertainment culture here in Los Angeles is very, very strong. And I think that’s putting it mildly. Then at the same time there is, as we all know, a very seedy underbelly side to Los Angeles as well. So I like to look at it, again, as a love letter to L.A. And there’s no greater place than L.A.
Question: Were you looking to play somebody who was not coming in any way from a place of being somebody who hits people?
The Rock: Umm, those were the elements I think that you sit down and look at, “Oh wow, this is great.” And these are the great elements of Boxer. But I never thought to myself, “Well, I need to play someone who never gets physical with anybody. I never want to see another script again that has something physical.” That wasn’t the case. I just read the script, he happened to be this guy. And Boxer still, by the way, is a physically imposing guy. (points to his tattoos) This is Boxer. He has some tattoos. There’s a nod to a movie that was important to Rich Kelly and to me as well and it’s Kiss Me Deadly. There’s a big nod to that movie. The bravado and physicality of Ralph Meeker, from how he kisses women to how he deals with people. Boxer is still like that guy too, as well.
Question: So the fact that he’s an actor doesn’t mean he’s shielded.
The Rock: Shielded?
Question: That he’s somebody who looks tough but actually isn’t tough.
The Rock: That’s funny. Well, I think there’s like a lot of levels and layers to Boxer. What I based him on, I thought that he could be…part of Boxer is he’s neurotic, like a few movie stars I know. When you ask them, “Hey, how you doin’,” it’s like, “Good, good. Why? Why are you asking me?” It’s that neurosis that Boxer sometimes suffers from. And then he has the bravado of like a modern-day lothario, if that makes any sense.
Question: Are those neurotic guys gonna recognize themselves when they see you in the film?
The Rock: If they are realistic, I think they will. Yeah, sure.
Question: Do these tattoos mean anything?
The Rock: Yeah. Well, Boxer is half black and half Samoan, and he when he’s asked, he makes sure that people know, “I’m Blamoan. Black and Samoan.” (points to his shoulder) These are my real tattoos, which fit for Boxer. What happened was, before he was stricken with amnesia, Boxer – when we pick the story up, by the way, he’s been missing for two weeks and nobody knows where Boxer is, and he went off and he’s traveled the world on his own in this state of amnesia. And he discovered, or tried to discover, God or a higher being in many, many different ways, in many religions. He thought he’d try out being Jewish (points to Star of David on belly button) to Buddhist, which is the most meaningful tattoo. This one and one that I’ll show you guys. And what this means in Chinese is: “There is a path to end all suffering. You should take it.” And I do tell my wife that, Mandy, in this. Before I leave I’ll show you guys, there’s this beautiful picture of Jesus Christ on my back. There’s some Muslim her somewhere. So it’s all very meaningful. There was a lot of work and a lot of detail put into it. Even a year I was talking to Richard about Boxer having tattoos and the idea like he would try many, many different things. Always searching for the truth, again. I mean I could always go back to that. He’s rooted in that reality. It’s funny because when you guys see the movie, when you talk to some of the characters, there’s a lot of absurdity going on, where you go, “What the fuck?” But for me, it’s nice that for Boxer there’s still a rooted reality, where he’s just always searching for the truth amidst some of the absurdity that’s going on.
Question: A couple of months back you were quoted as saying you’d never wrestle again?
The Rock: Really? I never said that. It was a misquote. But Wrestlemania? No, probably not. Maybe an appearance. As far as for wrestling, I love that and I love that live crowd interaction. But I got into movies to grow professionally and become good at what I was doing. And it’s all about that for me.
Question: Would you have to bulk up again if you went back?
The Rock: No. Not at all. I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do in wrestling, with the help of…I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of good guys. And I’ve still got a lot of good relationships there. But for me the most important thing is moviemaking and becoming really good at what I do.
Question: Can you talk about working with Seann again? You have really different roles this time.
The Rock: Seann’s great. I loved working with Seann in The Rundown. And you guys will be really surprised at what he’s doing and the work we’ve done so far I’ve really enjoyed with him, seeing this different side of Seann. He’ll tell you – they’re twins. So he’s got two people to play. I’m sure he’ll tell you more.
Question: He said in a way your roles are flipped from the Rundown. You’re the talky one and he’s not.
The Rock: (laughs) That’s a good way to put it. Yeah.
Question: Do you have any scenes with him being both people?
The Rock: No. Actually, that’s a very simple question, but the answer could be quite complicated. Because they’re not twin per se, but they are two identical souls and they cannot come together. If they do, then very bad things happen.
Question: He had mentioned that one of his characters is psychic in a way. Is that related to your character’s psychicness?
The Rock: His character – there’s a present self and then there’s a future self. With Boxer, there’s – I can’t give that away – Boxer legitimately knows the apocalypse is happening. The interesting thing is, can he stop it? Yes. Does he stop it? We’ll see. And why doesn’t he, or does he?
Question: What are you working on today?
The Rock: Today is with Seann and Will Sasso and Sarah Michelle Gellar and I’m trying to explain to them…Boxer’s written a screenplay, it’s called The Power and this is what it’s about. And interestingly enough, the screenplay that Boxer has written basically unfolds. And he’s trying to explain to Seann – before we go on the ride-along – what this is. It’s about a crime saga in L.A. I play a cop who (inaudible) paranoid schizophrenic and he has a supernatural gift and he can do this and he can do that. So to Seann’s character, it’s so much for Seann. He’s like, “Oh neat. Cool.”
Question: Just to clarify. He has amnesia but he remember having written the script.
The Rock: Ok. Well it’s almost like…he knows he’s written a script because the script has been so close to him. But there are some things, it’s like selective amnesia. There are a lot of things that he doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember – and I will try to be as clear with you guys as I possibly can so it all makes sense when you write it – but he’s forgotten the past two year. The screenplay has been with him for many many many years. That’s how he’s able to remember that. He doesn’t remember that he’s married to the Senator’s wife. He doesn’t know that he is who he is, this big movie star.
Question: Did you do any research other than the neuroses of your fellow actors?
The Rock: That and paranoid schizophrenia, sure. I didn’t go to a hospital, because for the longest time…this is the third movie I’ve been shooting and I had no time off this last year. So what I was able to do was get as much research, paperwork-wise, as I could on paranoid schizophrenia. I watched a lot of video tapes. I had (sounds like “the office”) send me a whole bunch of videotapes and things like that. So, within the movie there are many many times where his schizophrenia kicks in and he starts to hear voices. And the voices talk to Boxer. And all of that comes out. Of course, the neuroses of the movie star, that’s easy. (laughter) We can visit any set or turn on the TV and see that.
Question: How different is this from what you’ve done before and what new challenge is it for you to play this character? He seems very complex.
The Rock: Well there – you just said it for me. That was always a goal for me, was to…number one was just to get good material. As you guys know, it’s tough to get good material. Things start off good and you think with the premise it’s good and then it winds up being really shitty. Nobody starts off to make a shitty movie, but…
Question: Is Doom a horror movie?
The Rock: Buddy, Doom is…
Question: People are nervous; no one knows.
The Rock: No, Doom – I’ve seen it. It is an unapologetic, straight-up horror movie that is…it’s as violent as they come.
Question: And have you finished Gridiron Gang?
The Rock: Finished Gridiron, wrapped Gridiron Gang, yeah. That’ll be out September 15th of next year.
Question: Do you get to take a break after this or what?
The Rock: After this I’m gonna go promote Doom. After seeing it – I saw it a couple of times – I’ll see it one time, the finished cut. And then I’ll go out in a big campaign and promote it.
Question: Are you watching it recreationally?
The Rock: Well, I’ve seen that movie about ten times. You know, you keep watching it, and then you pick up a lot of things. Like the last time I picked up a couple things, well, if this happened then I think we should get a voiceover of this guy saying this and like, oh, that makes sense. (inaudible) Because you can get so involved in a process and you get little things that, because you’re so close to the movie. So by this time I’ll watch it one more time to get it in my head before I go out and start talking about it. I need that, yeah.
Question: So you have creative input into that as well?
The Rock: Sure, yeah.
Question: What about this one?
The Rock: Well, it was important to me to get really close to Richard and to understand his way of thinking and that process. Because I think the character is so complex with Boxer, it’s important to stay close to him and to continue to say ok, well, this is my interpretation. Every day, by the way, it’s something new, something different. There’s an alter-ego, by the way, I forgot to tell you guys, to Boxer. In the screenplay his name is Jericho Kane. And there are moments that Jericho Kane comes out in Boxer. And on the day, with Richard, I think this would be a good moment here. We’ve already talked about it. We thought maybe not, but I think maybe so. And it’s yay or nay, a constant creative process. Especially when you have a script like this, you have to be; you have no choice.
Question: So what kind of guy is Jericho Kane?
The Rock: So Boxer – it’s funny – Boxer is that guy who (inaudible) crazy. He hears voices and things like that. Jericho Kane (chuckles) is a very confident guy. Jericho Kane is the movie star and he knows who he is. I want to tell you the scene we shot yesterday, but (inaudible). He’s a lot more confident than Boxer is. And Jericho Kane doesn’t hear voices or anything like that.
Question: Is like and action star type guy or is he more of like a detective?
The Rock: He’s Ralph Meeker.