To millions of wrestling fans he is simply The Rock, but Dwayne Johnson, his real-life counterpart, is adding movie star tag following his brief, supporting role as the Scorpion King in Mummy Returns. Now The Rock has his own movie, once again playing The Scorpion King in the action adventure of the same name. Paul Fischer visited the set of the action adventure where he spoke to Hollywood’s latest action hero on location near Universal Studios.
A few miles north of Universal Studios in one of many grand canyons, home of the stunning Bronson Caves, tall Amazon women gather in bountiful numbers to shoot a pivotal moment in Universal’s action adventure The Scorpion King. But is the dynamic presence of celebrity wrestler Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who remains an insurmountable force. Dressed in leather, ancient-looking garb, his thick, black hair loose near his shoulders, the muscular athlete-turned-movie star walks through this dusty set, surrounded by an array of goats and other animals. “I kinda feel like Noah minus the flood”, Johnson laughingly. There is no sign of the wrestling bravado that was once his trademark. Quiet, intelligent and having the time of his life. “It’s all make believe”, he says, referring to the wrestling he has put on hold to firm up a promising new career on film.
The action in The Scorpion King takes place a decade before the prologue sequence for last year’s summer blockbuster, The Mummy Returns, which featured The Rock as a warrior leading his doomed army under the name the Scorpion King. This ‘prequel’, is inspired by the legendary Egyptian warrior, The Scorpion King and set 5000 years ago in the notorious city of Gomorrah, where an evil ruler is determined to lay waste to all the nomadic peoples of the desert. The few remaining tribes, never natural allies, have to unite or perish. Knowing their enemy relies on the visions of a sorcerer, they hire a skilled assassin, Mathayus (The Rock), to eliminate the visionary. “I’m really excited about this”, the always polite and articulate Johnson enthuses. “There are all these elements that are going to make it a wonderful story. It is about vengeance and discovery, and it’s about love. It’s a wonderful story about a man’s rise from being an assassin with a heart of ice to a leader of thousands of men, a man with a heart of gold.” Johnson also loves his character’s fallibility. “I’ve always been a huge fan of any hero who was able to show vulnerability,” Johnson further explains. Cinematic heroes such as Rocky or Indiana Jones comes to Johnson’s mind. “When I was younger, I didn’t know how to describe it, but there was just something appealing to me when the guy is so big and so strong and he kicks so much butt and yet he can get his butt kicked.”
Johnson has no illusions about “being the next Jimmy Stewart” but maybe the Arnold Schwarzenegger? Now that is another matter entirely. “I could be the next Arnold -only better looking,” he laughingly insists. Comparisons with Arnold, however, are inevitable. “I get the Arnold comparison, often,” he says, “and that is fantastic.” Schwarzenegger has passed along personal words of encouragement, as has Sylvester Stallone. “Here are two guys who have made it in this industry,” Johnson says in appreciation. “They are very successful and don’t have to be supportive but they have been.” With that, Johnson insists on doing a spot-on Arnold impersonation. You had to be there. Asked if he aspires to be the next Arnold or Bruce Willis, Johnson feels that he may well be a natural successor to these guys. “Actually, it seems like it’s headed in that direction, a natural progression, so to speak. But, you know, Arnold has done his thing, and Bruce Willis has CERTAINLY done his thing, especially with the Die Hards, and everything else he’s done in the action genre.”
It is evident that that the 30-year old Hawaiian native is equipped with a self-deprecating sense of humour. He says he needs it for Scorpion King, which he insists is far from your standard action fare. “It’s a cross between The Magnificent Seven and Raiders of the Lost Ark and has lots of comedy. It is about vengeance and discovery, and it’s about love. It’s a wonderful story about a man’s rise from being an assassin with a heart of ice to a leader of thousands of men, a man with a heart of gold.”
Johnson adds that the film “will have a lot of special effects, but certainly not to the extent of The Mummy Returns.” By reality-based, he means that “the fight scenes are reality-based. That was so key to me. I just wanted to make sure that the character of the Scorpion King-that this warrior who ultimately turns into the Scorpion King-was somebody that people could relate to, [who] kicks ass and at the same time shows his fragility and his vulnerability.” The day we met, Johnson was preparing to shoot “this amazing fight sequence with Michael Clarke Duncan. Trust me, you’ll never see anything quite like it; we’ve been preparing for days.” Looking physically taut, Johnson was clearly unconcerned about staying in shape for the physicality of Scorpion King. “From a physicality standpoint, it didn’t concern me, because of my background in football and the WWF. So much of the WWF is theatrical: physical theatricals.”
Comparing acting to his other one time day job, Johnson enthuses: “Oh, I love acting. It was a long-term goal of mine and it was something I’ve wanted to do. We were just looking for the right time to be introduced to the film industry as well as the film audience. We felt The Mummy Returns was the perfect fit. And of course, it spawned The Scorpion King.” Johnson had no idea that he would be crowned Scorpion King in the self-contained prequel to Mummy Returns. “And, quite frankly, nobody even knew, including the executives. But they would watch the dailies, saw the Scorpion King there and decided to make a movie out of his life.”
Johnson was paid an estimated $5m to take on the mystical Scorpion King, yet feels no pressure in carrying this Hollywood spectacle on his very broad shoulders. “I’m just really excited and just as excited as I was with The Mummy Returns. It’s that same energy, that same vibe, that same passion. I’m very fortunate to co-stars like Michael Duncan, Bernard Hill and Brent Hessloff, not to mention a beautiful actress in Kelly Yu. It’s also good to have the support I have, because I certainly need that. I’m sure I’d be a little trepidatious if I didn’t have the good people I have around me,” he points out.
Johnson is having the time of his life, yet is not allowing his would-be movie stardom to get in the way of his passions. Now, wrestling fans may be wondering whether Dwayne Johnson will discard The Rock in favour of full time Hollywood glory. Not even the man himself is prepared to say at this point. “Maybe from a physicality standpoint in terms of the wrestling industry, the physical aspects are very demanding. So I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep that up. But one way or another, The Rock will always be a part of the WWF, because that’s where he was created, the character was created on the WWF, so there’ll always be those ties, much like Arnold always has his ties to body building. I think as a performer, and as a person, you look to grow and so I’d like to continue to grow, progress, turn the pages and start new chapters.”
For The Rock an important chapter is closing; for Dwayne Johnson, it’s just the beginning.