Dwayne Johnson, the likeable guy who was yearning for a darker role

The Rock was the highest earning actor in 2021. But his latest release, ‘Black Adam,’ is a departure from his usual trajectory of playing the hunk with a heart of gold

Dwayne Johnson on October 22, during his visit to Madrid for the premiere of 'Black Adam.'
Dwayne Johnson on October 22, during his visit to Madrid for the premiere of 'Black Adam.'Pablo Cuadra (WireImage)

As the good guy of the family adventure comedy, Dwayne Johnson is the perfect marketing product. Nothing is done that isn’t previously studied. He has no torrid sex scenes to his name, despite the fact that People magazine named him “sexiest man in the world” in 2016. He’s a hunk, but not a sex machine. He knows how to make the most of his comical side – that trick of exaggeratedly raising his right eyebrow, for example – which is why he steers clear of serious drama. He is of mixed ethnicity – as Irish as he is African-American, as Samoan as he is Canadian – and his biography contains the right dose of family suffering and poverty, with a rags-to-riches story of gradual rise to fame from the ashes of a truncated sports career in football and wrestling. Now, at 50, the California actor runs a successful entertainment empire, yet his appearance in Black Adam, has sown the seeds of doubt over his future career path.

When Dwayne Johnson, also known by his ring name, The Rock, went on Howard Stern’s radio show in 2002 to promote his first big movie, The Scorpion King, the host mockingly brought up the possibility of the actor having his real name on the credits. “Really, who’s going to want to see a Dwayne Johnson movie?” he said with a chuckle. Two decades later, Dwayne Johnson is only The Rock in the annals of his former sport . As Johnson, he became the world’s highest-earning actor in 2021, pocketing around €270 million, according to the Forbes list, thanks to being paid in the region of $20 million per film with additional income from his clothing, headphones and footwear empire, not to mention his TV game show, The Titan Games, and a series about his adolescence, Young Rock.

Dwayne Johnson (with his famous eyebrow arch) Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, in Red Notice.

All of his business interest are captained by his ex-wife, Dany Garcia. Johnson’s strong suit is likeability. And he handles his incredible popularity well: at the beginning of 2021 a survey of 30,000 Americans showed that 46% would vote for Johnson as president of the United States. On Instagram, where he has surpassed 350 million followers, Johnson responded to the survey, saying, “I don’t think our Founding Fathers EVER envisioned a six-four, bald, tattooed, half-Black, half-Samoan, tequila drinking, pick-up truck driving, fanny pack wearing guy joining their club—but if it ever happens it’d be my honor to serve you, the people.” His political journey has taken him from 2000, when he went to both the Republican and Democratic conventions without any ideological motivation, to comments against Trump, and statements in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd, stressing the need to “normalize equality,” and, finally, to his support for Joe Biden. In October 2021, in Vanity Fair magazine, he stated, “I may have some decent leadership qualities, but that doesn’t necessarily make me a great presidential candidate.” That appears to put an end to the matter for a guy who is 6ft4 and 260 lb of pure muscle.

The actor, with his daughter Jasmine, last year hours before the Oscars.
The actor, with his daughter Jasmine, last year hours before the Oscars. Instagram

The control he wields over his own image is such that last November 27, he made a visit to a Seven Eleven in Hawaii in a bid to “right a past wrong.” For years, Johnson told the story of how, at the age of 14, while his father, also a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler, was on tour, he would steal a jumbo-sized Snickers bar every day for almost a year on his way to the gym. The same sales clerk would be there every day and she would just turn her head. At the end of last month, he walked into the store, raided all the Snickers he could find on the shelf and gave them away on the way out, and also paid the bills of the customers who were inside the store at the time. It came to no more than $300, but the stunt took Instagram by storm.

In 1998, Dwayne Johnson became the youngest heavyweight wrestling champion in history and one of the WWE’s biggest stars.
In 1998, Dwayne Johnson became the youngest heavyweight wrestling champion in history and one of the WWE’s biggest stars.Instagram

Johnson’s childhood was not an easy one. In 1987, he and his mother were evicted from their home in Hawaii, something which his father, Rocky Johnson, played down in his memoirs. The actor vowed that he would never let such a thing happen to his family again and so began a bitter relationship with his father. That year, his mother sent her son to Nashville with his father, yet in the event, he lived with another wrestler. When his mother moved a month later, the Johnsons split, though they didn’t file for divorce until 2006, a year before Dwayne divorced his first wife.

Brendan Fraser, director John Woo and Dwayne Johnson at the 2001 MTV Awards promoting 'The Mummy Returns'.
Brendan Fraser, director John Woo and Dwayne Johnson at the 2001 MTV Awards promoting 'The Mummy Returns'. Jeff Kravitz (FilmMagic, Inc)

When he was 22, Johnson’s career in American football, the sport that had helped fund his college education, came to an end. Fired from the Canadian league, he returned home to his parents’ house with a five-dollar bill, a one-dollar bill and change. Hence the name of his production company, Seven Bucks Productions. At that point, he moved on to wrestling, to compete in the WWE.

Johnson poses with his father, professional wrestler Rocky Johnson, and his mother, after stamping his handprint at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles in 2015.
Johnson poses with his father, professional wrestler Rocky Johnson, and his mother, after stamping his handprint at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles in 2015.JIM RUYMEN (Getty)

In the world of wrestling, Johnson played the villain, so being the baddie in Black Adam is not new for him. However, Johnson at 50 is not the same as Johnson at 25: he has softened the character in Black Adam so that he is not as ruthless as the character in the comics and given his evil acts a moral twist. “Almost 15 years of fighting for this and pushing for it. Admittedly, I was a DC boy growing up. I liked Marvel but I loved DC,” he told The New York Times. Critics have not been supportive and audiences have been unenthusiastic: Black Adam has grossed €375 million worldwide, after costing close to €200 million to make. And comic book fans have been outraged by the justification of the evil generated by the character, who in the comics is always just nasty for the sake of it.

Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in Fast & Furious 5 (2011).
Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in Fast & Furious 5 (2011).Foto: Alamy

But Black Adam will only be a small blot on the landscape of an otherwise spotless career whose signature comic feature – the arched eyebrow – was something Johnson picked up during his years in the WWE. In Hollywood, no one speaks ill of the likable actor of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rampage, San Andreas and Red Notice. And only Vin Diesel and his eldest daughter, Simone Alexandra Johnson, from his first marriage, have caused him any grief. With Diesel, there were behind-the-scenes confrontations in the four shoots they shared in the Fast & Furious franchise, with Diesel wanting to top the bill. As for his daughter, Simone, who is now 21, she has become a wrestler and signed a contract with the WWE, something which initially exasperated her father. “Some seasons I wrestled 250 nights a year, and I know that takes a toll on anyone’s marriage, family and body,” he explains of his lack of encouragement.

Johnson himself continues to train twice a day from his neck to his ankles; he eats six times a day and takes care of his body as the luxury product it is. He has filmed Red One with Chris Evans and is preparing Red Notice 2. It is safe to say, Black Adam or not, the sun is not yet ready to set on Johnson’s empire.

Actor Dwayne Johnson and his daughter Simone at the 'Baywatch' premiere in 2017.
Actor Dwayne Johnson and his daughter Simone at the 'Baywatch' premiere in 2017.GETTY IMAGES


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