The Wrestler as Actor

CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

SEOUL — What, no Anne Hathaway moment? How disappointing!

No, I’m just kidding, not that I expected another encounter with, well, you-know-what.

Dwayne Johnson is of entirely different breed, the perfect interviewee who is engaging, friendly, has no hang-ups and is “game” all the way, answering every question (even as “personal” as the one about, ehem, his baldness) with a smile as big as his body. He’s a gentle giant.

The venue was a function room of Conrad Hotel and the junket was for Dwayne’s latest movie, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, directed in 3D by youthful director Jon Chu, also starring Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Jonathan Pryce and top Korean actor Byung-hun Lee. The first G.I. Joe (The Rise of Cobra), grossed more than $300M worldwide in 2009. Both are based on Hasbro’s G.I. Joe comics characters.

Dwayne plays Roadblock, the second-in-command to Duke (Channing), and is described as “a mountain of a man who helps lead the team with experience, honor and unbreakable dedication to his unit and country,” one of the most loved characters in the widely-followed comics adventure. Bruce plays Joe Colton, the original G.I. Joe himself.

Like when I interviewed him four times earlier (first for The Scorpion King and then for Rundown, both in Hollywood in early 2000; for The Game Plan in Singapore in 2007; and then for Race to Witch Mountain in Hong Kong Disneyland in 2009), Dwayne was at his friendliest, greeting us Asian journalists with a heartfelt “Hi, how are you?” and, blush, even calling your Conversationalist by his nickname and asking how things were like old friends do.

(G.I. Joe: Retaliation is showing nationwide starting on Black Saturday, March 30, released by United International Pictures [UIP] through Solar Entertainment Corporation.) 

I’m curious like everybody else. How often do you shave your head?

“I actually shave it once a day. I have a hand shaver.”

What’s the challenge of doing Part 2 of G.I. Joe?

“Well, the challenge is that we wanted to raise the bar. Even though the first movie was good and did very well box-office-wise, we wanted to make a movie that is better, and entertains a lot of people. I think that, in that spirit, we accomplished that.”

Did your role as Roadblock require more rigid preparation than your other roles did?

“Well, it did because the character required a certain look. As I told you during our previous interviews, whether I’m doing a movie or not, I train every day; training has become my anchor. I do a lot of cardio exercises. You see, any physical activity is important to me to anchor my day. And diet, yes, I have a very clean diet; not much fried food. But I do take time to enjoy good food. It doesn’t harm to have slices of pizza every now and then.”

With so many films to shoot, how did you find time to win the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) championship? (In April 2011, Dwayne returned as The Rock as host of WrestleMania XVII and the following year he competed against John Cena in the same event in Miami, Florida.)

(Laughs) “Strategy! You know, it was one of those things when everything coincided between the leading into WrestleMania and the Super Bowl which is the big event of the year. Wrestling is the world where I came from and it provided me a platform where I can be able to entertain, so in my way it allowed me to be looked up by Hollywood and, 12 years later, there’s this opportunity of being champion which is a good way to give back to the business of wrestling.”

What did you learn in wrestling that you’re using in your work as an actor?

“Discipline. Yes, discipline. It’s something that Jon and I talked about when we first hooked up for this movie. During the pre-production meeting, we talked about how everyone involved in the movie was disciplined — discipline in terms of our approach.”

You’ve been doing mostly action roles. Any plan to do, maybe, drama?

“Sure, why not? Do I think all those action roles hinder me from shifting to drama? No, I don’t think so. There are certain qualities and characteristics in a particular role that make producers think of me. For example, Brokeback Mountain. They wouldn’t have come to me for that movie, hahahaha!”

Would you have done it if they offered it to you?

“Hmmmmm, I wouldn’t know. But that’s a good example of what kind of movie is good for me. No, I don’t think they’d ever offer me something like that.”

How different do you think is G.I. Joe: Retaliation from your previous movies?

“G.I. Joe is different and very special because like Jon, I grew up loving G.I. Joe. As a kid, I loved playing with the G.I. Joe action figures. When I got involved with the project, I began to understand the mythology and I was impressed by how layered it is and how deep it goes.”

Jon Chu said that there’s only one person he could think of in the entire world who could ever embody the Roadblock character and that’s you. Jon said that he’s a big fan of yours.

“Roadblock is considered as the glue that holds the G.I. Joe team together. He’s reluctant to be in the front or in the limelight and I appreciate it. Roadblock does it for love of country and of service. You know, I find it very admirable when a man acts that way. G.I. Joe is a very heartfelt project, it’s very close to Jon and me because, as I’ve said, we both grew up loving G.I. Joe.”

How was it working with an equally big man like Bruce Willis?

“I love Bruce. I’ve known him for some time so we’ve been buddies. The best thing about Bruce, and I always say this, when I was starting in Scorpion King, Bruce was among those who was very vocal about my transition; he was very supportive. He kept telling me, ‘You can do it, you’re gonna be great!’ Those were words of encouragement that meant a lot to me because at that time I was making the transition from wrestling to acting, and it was a scary time. I was going into Hollywood, a world where most people think that they’re gonna fail and not have longevity. I took Bruce’s words to heart.”

Part of Roadblock’s costume are brass knuckles and a vest. Did it help you internalize the character?

“You know, the vest was specially designed just for Roadblock. It was outfitted for the brass knuckles that Roadblock can click on or off as needed. Did you know how much the vest weighs? 30 pounds! When I put it on, it makes me feel that I’m ready to go to war.”

Given a choice, which real-life hero would you like to play?

“Uhm, I’m not quite sure. You know, it all depends on the material. I’m very lucky to be in the position that I am because I play these guys who, as Jon said, are action-hero guys who get things done. Sometimes they slip, sometimes they fall, but at the end of the movie they get better. In my opinion, that would be the great quality of a hero, you know, someone who gets better. Every movie I play, whether comedy or action or whatever it is, I’m glad that I get to play that kind of guys.”

You were in the Philippines a few years ago as a wrestler. What do you remember about that visit?

“Ah, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! The people are so warm and so welcoming. I remember the Filipino fans being so passionate about wrestling. The energy was always very, very high. I think I always tell you that every time we have an interview. The special bond that I have with Filipino fans is strong, maybe because I look Filipino, too; I could pass for a Filipino.”

Except for the size.

(Laughs) “Yes, except for my size!”

You’re working with a director who is ethnic Chinese (although born and raised in the US) and a Korean actor (Byung-hun Lee). Any chance for you to work with other Asian actors, especially Filipinos?

“Sure, sure! I’m lucky enough to work with Jon and with Byung-hun. So absolutely, I’d love to work with other Asian actors.”

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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