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Dwayne Johnson Reflects on His Career: ‘I Was Willing to Take a Risk’

Dwayne Johnson: 'San Andreas' Star Gets
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Plausibility isn’t usually a concern for the fans who flock to see action star Dwayne Johnson flex his formidable muscles onscreen. But just like the wrestler-actor himself, his May 29 release, “San Andreas,” which revolves around a catastrophic earthquake, has a bit more substance behind the action.

“We had the top seismologists challenge the script,” says Johnson, who will be honored at a hand- and footprint ceremony May 19 at TCL’s Chinese Theater. “They walked away saying everything in this script is plausible, including the tsunami. I had never gone into a project that had that level of research and detail by the experts.”

“San Andreas” comes on the heels of Johnson’s April box office bonanza “Furious 7” and is part of a summer one-two punch that shows just how much he’s expanded his oeuvre over the past few years. Just weeks after “San Andreas” destroys Los Angeles on the bigscreen, Johnson will produce and star in his first scripted series, “Ballers,” which bows June 21 on HBO.

(In 2016, he’ll even do his own singing when he voices the demigod Maui in Disney Animation’s “Moana.”)

While he’s still the strongman in “San Andreas,” Johnson identifies closely with his character Ray, a helicopter rescue pilot who must save his daughter after the Big One destroys the West Coast.

“He’s your blue-collar guy, a divorced man who is trying to maintain a good relationship with his daughter,” says Johnson. “I know that guy very well, in that I’m divorced and trying to maintain a great relationship with my daughter (Simone) who’s 13 now and coming in to her own.”

The idea behind all of these projects, says Johnson’s WME talent agent Brad Slater, is to demonstrate different sides of Johnson through both scripted and unscripted TV and film projects, including his TNT reality program, “Wake Up Call.”

“As long as you can give your fans something great, they’re going to be there,” Slater says. “With that, we always talk about not being scared to take risks. A lot of the things he’s chosen to go into were just a little bit outside of the box from what he’d traditionally been (doing) in the earlier part of his career. If he keeps doing great work, all of these avenues are going to continue to be there for him.”

Slater is part of a team Johnson tapped about three years ago when he made a decision to stop trying to conform to Hollywood leading-man standards.

“There wasn’t a blueprint of the half-black, half-Samoan former football player-wrestler, who then made his way to Hollywood,” says Johnson, who made a well-documented move from CAA to WME during the transition. “I was willing to take the risk and then I became myself — it sounds funny to say that.”

Part of that risk also involves ensuring that his career lasts, which is why he and his ex-wife, Dany Garcia, formed a production company, Seven Bucks Productions, about 18 months ago with the goal of producing a diverse slate of projects for film and TV. “Ballers” is their first scripted series.

“(Seven Bucks) is an extension of what I’ve always envisioned for my career, because when I first came to Hollywood about 15 years ago, I didn’t come from Juilliard, I (came from) wrestling,” says Johnson. “It was incredible just to be able to cut my teeth every night in front of 40,000 people, but when I got to Hollywood my goal was (to diversify). I felt like if I had diversity as an actor and in my career, then that would give me longevity.”

As Johnson expands his influence in Hollywood, he never strays far from his wrestling roots, which go back to his father and grandfather, both of whom were professional wrestlers. Johnson continues to help boost the profile of his mentor Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment, most notably with his triumphant part-time return to the ring as the Rock in 2011, which he calls “gratifying.”

“I felt like I knew how to connect with people in a genuine way, and that’s what the platform of wrestling allowed me to do,” he says. “I want to give back to this world of wrestling. Had it not been for wrestling, a lot of opportunities would not have come my way.”

While Johnson is loyal to his fans simply because they embody the success he’s enjoying now, Slater says Johnson’s fanbase pays off in terms of the dollars his projects earn as well.

“They followed him right to the movies, and they’re following him right to the TV shows,” says Slater. “He really was able to multiply the fan base by keeping the core, which was always such an important thing to him.”

In addition to his allegiance to his audience, Johnson is well-known for his dedication to his career, both on- and off-screen. Even after a busy press day filled with phone calls and interviews, he’s not willing to admit defeat.

“Sometimes my buddies are like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m so tired of doing this press stuff.’ I’m like, ‘Really? I could name about 10 other things that are a lot harder,” he says.

According to Slater, Johnson’s discipline is infectious.

“The entire team around him operates from the same set of discipline. Except for getting up at 3:30 a.m. to work out,” he says. “When you become an agent, you can only pray you get to work with a guy like this. He’s the ultimate human being.”