After rising to fame as the WWF's biggest star, The Rock turned his brief but charismatic performance as "The Scorpion King" in 2001's THE MUMMY RETURNS into its own feature film. Today, CINESCAPE continues its conversation with The Rock.
The Rock and his SCORPION KING co-star Michael Clark Duncan got along famously on-set. They're reported as having conspired, both together and against one another, to pull off one practical joke after another. Having once suddenly knocked Duncan over, The Rock even promised him a custom-made diamond Rolex by way of apology. Duncan was quick to accept the offer, but The Rock, seeing how good the custom job was, decided to keep the watch for himself.
"Yeah," says The Rock, holding up his watch, "I got it back and I loved it. So I kept it. I'll get him another one. See, now the problem with Michael Clark Duncan is this, as soon as I knocked him down he got up and said, 'Where's my watch?' Like that. No patience. Now if he had been calm and quiet the watch would have been there. Instead, he has to wait."
When asked about Duncan's claim that because of their on-screen fight sequences he made The Rock "cry all the time," The Rock quickly replies, "Sure he made me cry, every time I had to watch him try to act."
The relationship between Duncan and The Rock actually began before THE SCORPION KING started shooting.
"He [Duncan] has been a big fan. He introduced himself to me at a restaurant, and I said, 'Wow, I'm a big fan of yours as well,' and oddly enough, I was with the Universal executives and they said, 'You know, we've got this great part of Balthazar. We'd love to get Michael Clarke Duncan. We don't know if he's available or interested.' I said, 'Hold on,' and I called him right there, and he thought that I was kidding. I said, 'This is a movie with Universal, THE SCORPION KING, what do you think?' He said, 'I don't even want to read the script, I'm in,' and that was it."
Duncan wasn't the only friend The Rock made on set. The actor also created a strong relationship with director Chuck Russell.
"I really appreciate what Chuck did because this was my first starring vehicle. Reading the script, I came to find out, 'Well, there are going to be some tender moments in the movie and it's not necessarily your typical action movie.' There were some points of poignancy at times. Chuck really helped me from a performance standpoint."
One of the more fascinating elements of the character of the Scorpion King is that, similar to the fate of Anakin Skywalker, we already know that the hero will eventually turn evil. THE MUMMY RETURNS depicts the king as being a power-mad despot by the end of his life. The Rock liked the dangerous edge that this lent to his character.
"There are some foreboding elements that take place in the movie. The whole time you know that he eventually dies a bad guy. If we're lucky enough to have a sequel or two you'll get to see that transition happen."
The Rock is excited for the release of the film, but he isn't too nervous.
"I don't think that my career is dependent on the success of this. I think that a lot of attention is being paid which I believe it should be. I'm the principle actor involved and the selling point. I understand that. I just hope that, at the end of the day, the audience walks out and they're entertained. It's a fun movie."
The Rock continues, "I just want to step up to the plate. If I hit a homerun, great; if I hit a foul ball, I'm still swinging for the fence. It was really gratifying to watch with a test audience and see what they react to. Sometimes I think, 'Oh, they're going to react big to this,' and they don't; and then, they react big to something else. I'm like, 'Wow, look at that, that's great.' It was a great feeling."
Don't for a minute think that this will be The Rock's only foray onto the silver screen. He already has another deal in the works.
"The next one, in all likelihood, will be an action/comedy with Universal. It will be contemporary, set in modern day."
But don't confuse the wrestler-turned-actor's participation with the studio an obligation. The Rock doesn't have an exclusive contract with Universal, he just likes working with the company.
"I like the way they sell. The relationship started with THE MUMMY two years ago, and they really showed me a lot of support and a lot of loyalty in a position that was really hard to come by because I hadn't really done anything acting-wise on film. I had done some stuff on television, but not that, and they green lit THE SCORPION KING. So, they've shown me a lot." But The Rock isn't closing any doors. "Paramount has been great too; and Sony, [I've got] possible projects with them."
No matter what his next picture is, don't expect Dwayne Johnson to drop his signature stage name.
"We've discussed my stage name in detail, and the results come back the same. We, across the table, love the name The Rock."
So would Johnson still call himself The Rock, even in a dramatic role?
"Sure. I think so, yeah. Absolutely. The Rock in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. My performance certainly wouldn't change if it were The Rock or Dwayne Johnson. I'd still be the same performer. I think that The Rock cuts into it."
Because of his career path (from muscle-bound athlete to action star) critics have often compared The Rock to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I get that often, the comparison is great. I still have that mindset of, 'Well, that's great, but he's a different person than I am,' and I'm different from [Sylvester] Stallone as well. So, those guys have done a great job, I respect what they've done and they've been really supportive of me, which has been key, but they've got big shoes to fill and I'm not going to attempt that. I'd just rather do my own thing and create my own path and we'll just see what happens."
For the time being The Rock envisions that path as "just continuing to choose projects that are really good fun stories, and that make sense." The Rock also doesn't think that path would take him away from professional wrestling.
"I can honestly say, in all likelihood, I will never ever totally give up that industry. It's been very good to me. Not only that, there's nothing like working in front of a live audience. That's a great feeling, 20,000 people and they're rabid fans, and they're loyal, and they're vocal!"
The Rock believes that it's only because of those fans that he's able to accomplish anything.
"The great thing about the fans is that they're so passionate. The great thing is that they know, like with the THE SCORPION KING, they know."
For The Rock, his career has to be a team effort.
"It's like 'Okay guys, I'm going to go do THE SCORPION KING, but I'm not going to do it by myself. Lets all go do THE SCORPION KING. We're all in this together," he says. "And it's going to be the same thing with the next one, and at the end of the day they know... I just want to entertain you. Just thoroughly entertain you."