Entertainment » Movies

Dwayne Johnson (aka Franchise Viagra) Loves the Challenge

by Fred Topel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Mar 28, 2013

Dwayne Johnson's been nicknamed Franchise Viagra (and not because he was formerly known as The Rock). Rather he received the moniker due to his recent career strategy, which is to take lead roles in existing movie series; and, in each case, give them a boost. When he joined the "Fast and Furious" series with "Fast Five," he gave Vin Diesel's gang of thieves a run for their money as a US official chasing them in Rio; and when Brandon Frazier left the "Journey" series, he brought his brand of family humor to "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island."

G.I. Joe: Retaliation has Johnson taking over the franchise from Channing Tatum, who returns briefly as Duke. Johnson plays a character named Roadblock, Duke's right-hand man who has becomes the leader when the Joes come under attack.

"If I can help elevate a franchise or add something to it, I think people are going to enjoy seeing. Whether it's in 'Fast and Furious' or something like this -- a character that's already established in Roadblock, it's challenging but it also is fun. The fun of it is how do we execute it? How do we go in and really re-ignite something? I love challenges like that."

Larger than life

Roadblock is one of the many colorfully named characters in the Hasbro G.I. Joe toy line, and accompanying animated series in the ’80s. It seems Johnson’s tough guy alter-ego The Rock was born to play a larger than life soldier, but Johnson was also cognizant of the fact that the first film didn’t quite honor the franchise as well as it could.

"As you know, the first ’G.I. Joe’ came out and made a lot of money, but we all collectively felt that there was a better movie to be made," he said.

The 2009 actioner, with Tatum in the lead, grossed some $300 million worldwide, despite receiving largely negative reviews. So when a sequel was greenlit by Paramount, a new writing team, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, was brought in; as was a new director, Jon Chu. (Reese and Wernick wrote the script to "Zombieland," while Chu is best-known for the second and third "Step-Up" movies.)

"Sequels can give an opportunity to relaunch, reboot and reignite. To do it the right way. We decided to remove the lasers, remove the slickness of it and get back to respecting the mythology of G.I. Joe. We also wanted to add some new blood. Once this was decided, we were off to the races."

Likes the balance

If Franchise Viagra is true, Johnson is not done joining other people’s movies. If he had his choice, he’d join the biggest franchise of them all. "Oh, easily ’Star Wars’ [would be my choice]. That’s not to say that they need me. J.J. [Abrams] is going to just crush it. He a brilliant director but honors and respects mythologies. You see that with ’Star Trek’ and you’re going to see that with ’Star Wars.’ I’m very excited for them."

"G.I. Joe" is that unique blend of action and family movies. There is plenty of violence and explosions and weapons, but it’s based on toys with which children play. Over his movie career, Johnson has bridged both genres in action movies like "The Rundown" and "Walking Tall," and family movies like "The Tooth Fairy" and "The Game Plan."

"I like the balance," Johnson said. "It is important because I started about 12-13 years ago in Hollywood, and my goal then was to have a diverse career - and a long career. That’s what I wanted. It was important to me to become a good actor. One of my challenges was I had no acting experience at all and came into Hollywood in a very non-traditional way. My parents weren’t actors or studio executives and I didn’t have any connection to Hollywood."

Host of career challenges

By the time he headed to Hollywood, Johnson had some notoriety. His popularity in the wrestling ring was enough to make him bankable at the box office.

"As I got a little older I had this really, really strong platform with the WWE, which provided an opportunity to perform, but also had a host of challenges. Such as performing before 20-30,000 people every night; so it was like a big baptism by fire. But it also provided a platform for people to tune in and ask, ’Hey, let me see what this guy’s doing? I heard about this guy. Who’s this guy, The Rock?’"

His transition paid off. 2013 is a big year for Johnson at the movies. "Snitch" already opened, "G.I. Joe" and "Fast & Furious 6" are poised to be blockbusters, and "Pain and Gain," the new movie from Michael Bay, promises to show his darker side as a character named Paul Doyle. Based on a true story, it stars Mark Wahlberg as a Miami body builder who goes rogue and kidnaps a wealthy businessman to extort him. Johnson’s character is a seasoned criminal Wahlberg brings in to assist him in the kidnapping.

"Hands down. He’s a scary guy. And a real guy, which makes him even more scary."

The Rock Unchained?

Johnson is also poised to take on more larger than life, mythological characters. He’s attached to a "Hercules" film with director Brett Ratner. Last week, Johnson was in costume tests for Hercules and shared a photo from his iPhone with reporters. Johnson’s Hercules will sport long hair and a beard, as well as a golden tinted armor costume.

"I was born to play Hercules," Johnson bragged with self-effacing charm. "I have loved and honored the mythology over the years since I was a kid."

"When I first broke into Hollywood, Hercules was one of the movie characters that was always in the back of my mind. Everything happens for a reason and it’s come back around full circle. The type of movie we’re going to make, the definitive version of Hercules that we want to make, is darker in tone and based off the awesome graphic novel."

That is "The Thracian Wars", one of two Radical Comics’ graphic novels Steve Moore with Cris Bolsin’s  art. In it Johnson’s Hercules will perhaps have more in common with "300" than either Kevin Sorbo’s TV version or Disney’s animated movie. "It’s full on. Here’s a mythology that we have to honor and respect, and to do so, we’re bringing great writers. We based it off a much darker graphic novel. There’s tragedy and there’s pain. In respecting the mythology of Hercules - he lives in pain and lives in tragedy. And also does not to accept his fate or faith until he finally does so. Then it becomes a very powerful moment. So yeah, we’re ready."

Audiences, though, will have to wait to see Johnson in the role. The film is set for release in the Summer of 2014.

Getting Fast and Furious (again)

His big release this coming summer is "Fast & Furious 6," which has Johnson returning to the role of Luke Hobbs, an agent who was pursuing Dominic Toretto (Diesel) in "Fast Five." This time they team up. Johnson has already been speaking about a Luke Hobbs spinoff.

"We’ve talked about that by the way. We’ve all collectively talked about possibly spinning that character off because it was a character that people have really enjoyed seeing. So yeah, I think it could work. I think also too, wait and see how ’Fast 6’ does. It looks as though a lot of people are going to like it and I was excited to make it. There’s probably, it feels like with Luke Hobbs, it feels like there may be one more because there’s one more Butch and Sundance journey to go on with Luke and Dom."

Of course, if all goes well with "G.I. Joe," we’ll be seeing Roadblock again too.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is in theaters.


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