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The toughest thing he had to do in his new comedy, The Game Plan, is yell at his 8 year old on-screen daughter, real-life father Dwayne Johnson tells Andrew L. Urban. That’s coming from a guy who was nothing but trouble as a teenager, last arrested in Bethlehem.

The last time Dwayne Johnson was arrested he was 16 and the reason it was the last time is because of the look of disappointment on his mother’s face when she and his father came to collect him from the police station. “I had been a wayward teen,” he recalls, “getting in with the wrong crowd and making the wrong decisions…” Dwayne had grown up in Hawaii, son and grandson of pro wrestlers, “but in those days there wasn’t big money in it and it was a tough time.” They had left Hawaii and moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the town that marks the behavioural re-birth for Dwayne, who realised that day that he was just adding to his parents’ bag of woes and troubles.

Well, it’s a long way from Bethlehem, as we gaze across Sydney Harbour with the Bridge and the Opera House at our feet at an exclusive rooftop hotel bar. Dwayne is casually dressed, and through his an open neck shirt there are glimpses of extensive body tattoos. His height is accentuated by a narrow head – not like a bull wrestler’s – and his manner is as relaxed as can be. He’s in Sydney to promote his new film The Game Plan, a comedy about a sports superstar who discovers he has an 8 year old daughter and has to look after her. It’s a Hollywood comedy with Walt Disney Studios behind it.

Building on a film career that began with the small but pivotal role of The Scorpion King in Stephen Sommers’ 2001 blockbuster The Mummy Returns, he had his first starring role in 2002’s The Scorpion King. His subsequent roles were playing a tenacious bounty hunter (The Rundown), a war hero turned vigilante (Walking Tall) and an interstellar alien tracker (Doom). He went on to three very different assignments: a gay Samoan bodyguard in Be Cool (where he demonstrated his comedy skills), a football coach in Gridiron Gang and a futuristic movie star in director/writer Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales.

"one-in-a million arrangement"

Dwayne The Rock Johnson is now more than a past superstar sportsman but a budding film star. He’s a brand, a business. Who gives him best advice? “My wife Dany … even now we’re separated,” he says intrigued by the question. “She has always been in finance and we’re still best of friends. She is great counsel and we’re business partners.” Dany Garcia Johnson is a mover and shaker in the finance world, and has moved into the film business, with a movie called The Art of War, starring Meryl Streep. Their 6 year old daughter Simone enjoys having two houses just a few minutes apart in Los Angeles. “We made sure she was never hurt,” says Dwayne. It’s a one-in-a million arrangement.

Even being a father to a little girl didn’t quite prepare him for the most challenging scenes in The Game Plan, opposite his screen daughter Madison Pettis. “The toughest scenes were the ones that required me to yell at her,” says Dwayne, a real softie up close, if you want to know the truth. “I’m a proud dad and I could never hurt my little girl … not even yell at her. After each take I’d worry and ask her if she was OK, but Madison just waved it off, ‘Yeah, fine.” And she was a terrific actor to work with,” he adds with a serious face. “She’s smart and focused …”

Johnson relished the chance to show off his comic chops. He especially enjoyed allowing this tough, confident man’s awkwardness and terror in the face of parenting shine through. “For Joe, being a father requires a whole new playbook,” laughs Johnson. It also means going into a whole new world, one that includes such unlikely pursuits as ballet, which meant Johnson had to dive into his own Ballet 101 lessons. He admits he rather enjoyed it, especially once he realized the different-but-equal set of athletic skills it requires. “One thing I realized is just how difficult ballet is,” says Johnson. “You’ve gotta be disciplined, you’ve gotta be on your toes, literally, and you’ve gotta have total body control. It’s a great thing to learn. And when else am I ever going to get a chance to wear a one-piece spandex outfit in green?”

That’s the thing he remembers most about making the film: “it was great fun, the most I’ve ever had making a movie, and I really mean that.”

After The Game Plan, he will be seen as Agent 23 in Peter Segal’s screen version of the classic super-agent comedy, Get Smart, alongside Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. “You wait … that’s great. Steve Carrell is so talented … he’s perfect for it. And he’s done this with great respect for Don Adams.”

As we make a move to leave the bar, Dwayne shakes hands and bares those gleaming white teeth. “I enjoyed that,” he says as the publicity team whisk him away.

Published November 1, 2007

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Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson


Born in San Francisco and raised in Hawaii, Dwayne Douglas Johnson became a third-generation professional wrestler, following the careers of legendary wrestlers, his father, Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather, Samoan High Chief Peter Maivia. He adopted the name of “Rocky Maivia,” which he eventually shortened to “The Rock.”

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson switched from the high-impact world of sports before venturing into acting. He has created his own charitable entity, The Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, which creates a platform of hope and possibility for children nationwide by providing programs designed to enrich and empower the lives and self-esteem of under-served, at-risk youth and children hospitalized for medical disabilities, disorders and illness.

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