It’s midnight and my phone rings. “Hey, E-Wag!” exclaims a deeply masculine, yet comforting and chipper voice.
It’s Dwayne Johnson. The pro wrestler-turned-superstar is calling from the car in Hawaii on his way to catch an overnight plane from the first stop of his “Jumanji” press tour to the next leg of the global gabfest in Paris.
Despite squeezing in a call during his only 45 minutes of free time, in transit, nonetheless, Johnson’s enthusiasm and focus is magnetic. His personal greeting to this reporter is perfectly in line with how he interacts with his 175 million followers on social media every day, and is evident of The Rock’s unique knack to form a genuine connection with everyone from fan to studio executive. His commitment to a simple phone interview is exemplary of how he attaches himself to each and every project — and there are a lot of them.
This past year, Johnson toplined three movies, including “The Fate of the Furious” and “Baywatch,” while juggling the third season of his HBO series “Ballers,” and his slate is full with starring roles through 2019. Not to mention, he’s churning out television and film projects by way of his Seven Bucks Productions and Seven Bucks Digital Studios, has a partnership with Under Armour, is the face of Siri and even made time to launch an ad agency this year. Plus his social-media presence, ranking as the No. 1 actor on all platforms this year, could qualify as another full-time job.
“The irony is not lost on me that we’re here in Hawaii,” Johnson says over the phone, en route to the airport, during a wide-ranging interview to celebrate his star Dec. 13 on the Walk of Fame. As he departs the Hawaiian leg of his “Jumanji” tour, the A-lister reflects on his early teenage years growing up on the island where he and his family were evicted from their small apartment at the age of 14.
“It’s here in Hawaii that I had a hard time staying on the right track and had a hard time staying in school and had a lot of arrests doing things I shouldn’t be doing.”
Thirty years later, Johnson is the epitome of success with accolades to prove it, the latest being his star on the Walk of Fame. Thinking about being cemented on Hollywood Boulevard, he admits his teenage self would have said, “No f—king way.”
Johnson’s zero-to-hero trajectory didn’t just happen by chance.
The multi-hyphenate has displayed blood, sweat and tears his entire career — quite literally during his days wrestling for WWE — and has put the time into his strategic evolution from pro-wrestler to movie star to multi-faceted businessman.
“The ambition to grow developed the moment I stepped foot in Hollywood,” Johnson says, recalling his first film, “The Mummy Returns” in 2001, when he was 29 years old. “I knew then I didn’t have any experience as an actor. I cut my teeth and made my bones in the crazy world of professional wrestling, which built a live-crowd acumen for me, but that doesn’t necessarily translate onto film. I knew I needed to understand the business from top to bottom, 360 degrees, and be a total sponge.”
After starring in films like “Gridiron Gang” in 2006 (which was the first movie he credited himself as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, rather than simply “The Rock”), the 2007 Disney movie “The Game Plan,” the family comedy “Tooth Fairy” in 2010 and “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, Johnson decided that he was ready to evolve and step behind the camera. That’s when he and his ex-wife, longtime manager and business partner, Dany Garcia, formed Seven Bucks Productions. The production company gets its name from a bleak memory of when Johnson had just $7 to his name in 1995, which motivates him to this day.
|Johnson stars on “Ballers” (with Rob Corddry) and is an executive producer on the show through Seven Bucks Entertainment.|
Those who know Johnson best say that he’s always had a willingness to learn and that is a big part of his continuous success. Despite being one of the highest-paid actor in the business, making $650,000 per “Ballers” episode and eight figures per movie, Johnson is still continuously trying to one-up himself.
“I’ve always had a version of that dialogue about DJ in my head since he was 18 years old,” says Garcia, when asked at what point she knew Johnson would make it big. “I remember seeing him on the University of Miami campus and thinking, ‘Wow, there goes someone special.’”
“He had all the elements of greatness including an insatiable desire to get better and an unrivaled work ethic,” reminisces Garcia. They have a 16-year-old daughter, Simone Garcia Johnson, who was recently named the first-ever Golden Globes Ambassador. “The only pieces that were missing, in my mind, was a platform to perform on and the team around him who could execute at the same level. I had no doubt that given the right opportunity, he could be something the world has never seen before.”
Those qualities Garcia describes do separate Johnson from other actors, with his Play-Doh-like ability to seamlessly cross genres and transcend all demographics. He can jump from a family friendly Disney pic such as “Moana,” which brought in nearly $650 million at the box office, to the buddy cop comedy “Central Intelligence,” which raked in more than $200 million on a $50 million budget, or take the part of leading man in high-stakes action films, including “San Andreas,” which currently has a sequel in development, and the upcoming “Skyscraper,” which he just wrapped shooting last month.
“It starts with what’s in my gut, and what’s in my gut is to entertain as many people as I can possibly entertain,” Johnson explains of choosing his roles. “Generally, they all have this global appeal — they’re not all home runs,” he says. (The hotly anticipated “Baywatch” was an uncharacteristic box-office flop for Johnson.) “But the essence of them is that they all have global appeal.”
The businessman within Johnson, who produces all of the films he stars in, also helps inform his on-screen choices, as he strategically eyes projects that will sustain moviegoers’ interest long after he signs onto films that could take years to get off the ground.
“The challenge is doing my best to stay 50,000 feet up in the air and have a nice vision of what the landscape looks like for the next year to three years,” he says. “It’s hard to anticipate trends and what the audience is going to like, but you always want to stay above the fray and above the weeds.”
In addition to “Skyscraper” and “Jumanji,” in which he stars opposite his fan-favorite odd couple partner Kevin Hart, Johnson has a slew of films coming up, including the screen adaptation of video game “Rampage” and Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” plus many projects in development including the third follow-up in the sci-fi adventure series “Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon” and superhero flicks “Doc Savage” and “Black Adam.”
When asked how many days he worked in 2017, Johnson lets out a laugh. “To be honest with you, I really don’t have time off,” Johnson admits. “I have pockets of time, like I had four days off after we wrapped ‘Skyscraper’ in Vancouver to the time I had to get back for press, but there are no stretches of time.”
“The ambition to grow developed the moment I stepped foot in Hollywood.”
If you follow Johnson on social media, not only do you know that he’s in the gym nearly every day, but you know his exact workouts. And they’re intense. Johnson makes a point to personally post on his social-media accounts numerous times each day, whether it’s a sweaty video of his training sessions, an off-the-cuff moment with his co-stars like Nick Jonas and Zac Efron, or a heartwarming surprise encounter with a terminal fan fighting cancer — something that The Rock has become known for, which only boosts his stellar reputation among his fans.
Johnson is now known for his genuine connection with his legions of fans, but the international superstar admits he wasn’t always comfortable with being a celebrity. “I used to have an extremely hard time with fame,” he says. “When I got my first taste as fame as a wrestler, at that time, I had an extremely hard time with the idea that I could no longer go anywhere without being recognized.”
Nowadays, the concept of anonymity is near impossible for Johnson, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “When you walk by someone and they’re screaming and you turn and walk toward them and they start bawling and you hug them and take a selfie, it’s so gratifying to me to make people happy,” Johnson says, recalling a moment years ago when he was struggling with his fame, but then realized his unique position to simply make people smile.
“I have the opportunity to make somebody’s day and having that type of impact is a big deal. Plus, it takes effort to be an asshole. It takes so much effort not to be nice, and it’s shocking how many in our business are not nice — not just not to fans, but they’re not nice to each other.”
Johnson points out that his daily routine is “not at all regimented” and his “sleep patterns are always funky and off,” but as long as he gets his typical three to five hours per night, he’s set. “The only thing that’s regimented is I have to wake up before the sun gets up, and I have my two hours alone when no one else is up and the house is quiet,” he shares, revealing that he meditates, gets some work done, thinks about his day ahead and always makes time for his training. “I often sacrifice two hours of sleep just so I can have the quiet two hours that I need before the whole house wakes up, including the animals.”
Johnson considers this “me time” essential. “I need the mental time in the beginning, and the next thing is my training time. Those are my two anchors, and once I’m able to anchor myself, I’m able to go to work, and then I get in my pickup truck and drive to set. I’m able to work 10, 12, 14 hours if I know that I’ve centered and anchored my day in the beginning.”
While he’s figured out some sort of routine that enables him to balance his life as a celebrity, producer, business partner and father, Johnson says the real secret to success is his team.
“It’s an indication and reflection of hard work,” he says, thinking about his upcoming Walk of Fame ceremony. Mentioning his teams at Seven Bucks Producers and WME, he adds, “But really, it’s a hat-tip nod to the people I have around me, having so much support to help fulfill my dreams, vision and elevate the company.”
Looking ahead, Johnson apologizes for sounding cliché, but he says his future goal is “growth” — in film, television, digital and evolving distribution models. But it’s not just business for Johnson, who gets giddy when discussing fatherhood. (He has a second child with partner Lauren Hashian.) “Having a two-year-old and having a 16-year-old, I’m constantly surrounded by beautiful, amazingly strong points of view — including my two-year old — and the women in my life and my family continue to be my best source of inspiration.”
Another one of his goals may be entering the White House — and no, not on a movie set. Johnson dispels all rumors that his political ambitions may be a publicity stunt, confirming that he truly is considering a presidential run. “I would 100% consider this,” Johnson says. “I’m deeply loyal and I care deeply about our country, and I care deeply about our people — especially now.”
What: Dwayne Johnson receives a star on the Walk of Fame
When: 11:30 a.m. Dec. 13
Where: 6801 Hollywood Blvd.