If there’s one thing you know about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson just from looking at him, it’s this: The man is large. Six-foot-four and 260 pounds, with charm and enthusiasm to match – it’s no wonder there’s more of him than could fit into our recent cover story. Johnson stretches the confines of a magazine profile the way his delts stretch his Under Armour tank tops in the gym.
And so – after two days spent with him and half a dozen interviews with his several of his close friends and collaborators – here are 21 more things we learned about The Artist Formerly Known as The Rock.
1. You feel him before you see him.
“Every time he arrives on set, there’s literally this feeling of ‘royalty is arriving,'” says director Brad Peyton (Rampage, San Andreas). “There’s a buzz in the air – a rumble. Maybe that rumble comes from the fact that he’s 250 pounds of muscle, I don’t know. But when he walks on set, there’s a definite sense that it’s game time.”
2. He’s just as high-energy as you’d expect.
“His personality is a fucking hurricane,” says Johnson’s Rampage co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan. “He’s like this huge ball of charisma and muscle and teeth just flying at you.”
3. He genuinely loves working out.
“Some people like to socialize; he just really likes to train,” says his friend and producer Beau Flynn (Rampage, San Andreas, Baywatch). “His body is just one part of it – a much more important part is how it’s almost like his therapy. If he’s frustrated by something or something’s not working, he puts his headset on and gets lost in it. The one thing I tell every studio that we work with is, ‘Don’t fuck with his training.’ That’s his sacred time. It’s his one thing that belongs to him.”
4. He learned about hard work and training from his dad.
“Soulman” Rocky Johnson was a professional wrestler, too. “He got up at 5 AM every day to work out, which meant I got up, too,” says Dwayne. “Even on school days: ‘But I don’t have to go to school for another two hours!’ ‘Nope. You’re getting up.’ On weekends he dragged me to the gym with him. He was a hardcore disciplinarian. Sometimes we don’t recognize how valuable, or how damaging, that can be until years later. I found myself trying to reconcile a lot of the things my dad did, pull the value out of them, and then recognize, that was his way, but I’m gonna go a different route with my kids.”
5. He once accidentally sent a kid to the hospital.
When Johnson was a sophomore in high school, his family moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “When I got to Bethlehem, I was 15 and pissing vinegar, just angry,” he says. One day he got into it with another kid in a hallway. “I didn’t know he had a brain issue,” says Johnson. “He was a real big boy and he worked out a lot, but nothing contact. He had a preexisting thing – he had to be careful. And I didn’t know that. So I hit him, his head hit the locker, and he went down. It was not good.” Johnson got expelled, but the kid recovered, and the school let him come back. “That was the last fight I got into in high school,” he says.
6. He wasn’t much calmer in college.
Johnson earned a football scholarship to the University of Miami. His freshman year, the team went undefeated and won a national championship. “I just remember almost getting in so many fights,” Johnson says. “I was a freshman then, so I was 18 and an asshole. And I wasn’t playing, so we’re getting drunk every night. Those were crazy times,” he says. “Miami. Nuts.”
7. He might be an FBI agent now if he’d enjoyed school more.
“When I got to college, I started studying criminology – I wanted to work for either the FBI or CIA,” Johnson says. “I had this phenomenal professor, Dr. Paul Cromwell. We spent a lot of time together, and I said I really want this for my future. And he dropped a bomb on me. He said, ‘If you really want to advance, I strongly recommend you get a law degree.’ And I went uhhh, wait – how many more years of school is that? Because I love you, Doc, but I’m ready to get the fuck out.”
8. Before he was known as The Rock, he was “Dewey.”
“It’s fucked up!” Johnson says. “In college when my mom and dad would visit on parents’ day, my mom would be like, ‘Hey, Dewey!’ All the boys were like, ‘What the fuck did she just call you?’ Thankfully that died a slow death.”
9. The characters he plays tend to have a few things in common.
“There has to be some flawed element,” Johnson says. “The veneer is ‘I’ve got my shit together,’ but he fucked up at some point and he’s got something to overcome. Then there’s a down point, like in every script – but at this down point, there’s a galvanization that happens around this particular character – having hope, having faith, things are gonna get better, and come on, let’s do this! Generally there’s something people globally can relate to, a little bit of fun, little bit of drama, a little bit of getting your ass kicked and coming back. And finally – it’s an overused word, but I mean it when I say – it’s gotta have heart. You gotta have heart, man; you gotta have soul. The character has to be a decent human being.”
10. He knows his Fast & Furious character, Hobbs, is slightly ridiculous.
“We have so much fun – myself and [my producing partner] Hiram [Garcia] and Chris Morgan, the writer of all the Fast & Furious movies – we have so much fun just coming up with the most absurd things a human can say at a moment of crisis,” Johnson says. He slips into a Hobbs-like growl: “‘Daddy’s gotta go to work‘ or whatever it is. ‘You eat lettuce today, but you’re gonna eat sausage tonight.’ Yeah, Hobbs, eat that lettuce! ‘There’s only one road – you take it today, it won’t be there tomorrow. But then you think about yesterday…’ What?!”
11. But he’s very excited for Hobbs’ spinoff.
“I’m having so much fun with the franchise,” Johnson says. “I love to wink at it and wink with it. But sometimes I’m the only one who likes to wink? Like, ‘You guys know I’m in on this, right?'” Johnson laughs. “There’s a bit more irony and winking in the spinoff” – Hobbs and Shaw, co-starring Jason Statham, due out next year. “Tonally, it’s the spirit of Fast & Furious with a massive shot of Lethal Weapon in terms of character chemistry and fun. We’re in prep now. David Leitch is going to direct – he did Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde. We start in August, me and Statham. Dwaytham.”
12. Even if some of his co-stars aren’t.
Johnson says the studio has been wanting a spinoff for years, ever since he joined the franchise with Fast Five in 2010. But when Hobbs and Shaw was announced, some of his co-stars weren’t too happy. “It’s so silly,” Johnson says. “At the end of the day, it’s smart business to expand on the franchise and build it out. It’s the Marvel model. The analogy that was given to me, which was very funny, was that it’s like if Robert Downey. Jr., was pissed about Captain America and these other movies. Let it all happen! Let it all grow. It helps out everybody. Regardless of a few who don’t want it to happen, for whatever reasons, I know that big picture, long-term, a buildout is the best thing for everybody. So you can bitch, you can moan, you can complain. But the train is leaving the station, and it’s not going to stop. So be smart, get on the train, think about the big picture – and let’s create multiple trains.”
13. That means you too, Tyrese.
Actor Tyrese Gibson, who plays Roman in the Fast movies, has been particularly vocal in calling out Johnson on social media for being selfish and putting himself before the franchise. But Johnson doesn’t consider what they have a beef. “A beef requires two people,” he says. “Tyrese, for reasons unbeknownst to me and unbeknownst to a lot of people, went off in his own direction, down a path that was never understood. I never heard from him once – he never called, never texted. So I honestly didn’t have a beef, because I just got to a point where I didn’t care.”
14. He’s a big Cory Booker fan.
During one of our meetings, we’re talking about politics when Johnson takes out his phone to show me a photo. “Do you know who that is?” he asks. In the picture, he’s smiling with Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, whom he recently had dinner with. “Great dinner, great convo,” Johnson says. “There’s a guy who has an incredible amount of empathy. Did you ever see his documentary? Dude, it’s awesome. You should see it. It would give you good insight into him, because he – well, I don’t want to speak ahead. But he’d be good for us.”
Is that an endorsement for Booker 2020? Johnson laughs. “We have to wait and see who throws their hat in the ring,” he says. “But he’s a good guy.”
15. He’s also a big fan of The Notebook – though not the ending.
“I had avoided it like the plague,” Johnson says. “Not my kind of movie. But then I met the director, [Nick] Cassavetes – one of the best fucking guys walking. Tatted up, hardcore, man’s man, guy’s guy – totally not what you’re expecting. So I watched it, and I loved it! It’s good! They grow old and they’re in an old folks’ home, and she suffers from dementia, so he can actually relive their first date with her over and over. It’s really beautiful and heartbreaking. You’re like ‘Oh my God, this is amazing’ – and then they fucking die!” Johnson throws his hands in the air. “I looked at [my girlfriend] Lauren, she’s bawling. Jesus Christ. Don’t give me a shit sandwich like that.”
16. He really is a super nice guy.
“When the sound guy’s son comes to set to visit, Dwayne notices that and go over will make time for him,” says director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence, the upcoming movie Skyscraper). “And it’s not a social media thing – I saw so many times where he would bring young kids or kids with disabilities to set and never post about it. He just did it because he’s that kind of guy.”
“Every single movie, we do these events for the Make-a-Wish Foundation,” says producer Flynn. “When you’re shooting a $140 million movie, every day is super valuable – but Dwayne will spend the whole day with these kids. On Skyscraper he was like, ‘Let’s make it Willy Wonka. I want these kids to live out their greatest dreams with me.’ So we went and got hundreds of pounds of candy; our friends at Microsoft set up Xboxes for Dwayne and the kids to play; we had the five fastest race cars in the world, Lamborghini and Ferraris, and Dwayne took them each on a drive around the neighborhood. At the end of the day he gave this speech where he said, ‘I just want to tell you how brave you kids are. I’m blown away by your strength, and I wish I had half of it.’ You’re just like, ‘Who is this guy?’ They’ll never forget that for the rest of their lives.”
17. And kids love him back.
“He’s Uncle Rock in my family,” says Flynn, who has two daughters. Jeffrey Dean Morgan says his son Gus, who’s eight, was talking about his muscles recently. “And I was like, ‘Do you think I’m kinda strong?'” Morgan says. “And he’s like, ‘No. You know who’s strong? The Rock is strong. You need to go to the gym like The Rock.’ I’m like, ‘You asshole.'”
18. He really cares about people’s nutritional situations.
Blair Rich, president of marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures, has a story about Johnson’s food-related empathy. “When he came in for our first big Rampage meeting, it was 4:30,” Rich says. “And it had just been one of those days where we’d had nonstop back-to-back meetings. I hadn’t been able to eat anything the entire day, and I was really starting to feel kind of shaky. So Dwayne sits at the table next to me, and he’s looking at me and at the unopened chicken salad in front of me. And in front of everyone, he says, ‘Is that your lunch?’ And I say, ‘It is. I just haven’t had time to eat it.’ And he says, ‘Well aren’t you hungry?’ And I say, ‘I am, but it’s fine, don’t worry – I’ll eat after.’ And in front of like 50 people, he opens the salad and takes the fork and starts feeding it to me. I turned beet red – I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. But it was the sweetest gesture. The guy was actually worried that I was trying to bring out the best for him and I was really hungry.”
19. He’d like to win an Oscar someday.
“I would love to achieve that,” Johnson says. “Obviously so many things have to come together for that to happen. But I have faith that one day the right thing will come along – the kind of script that makes everyone feel good but also has these awesome elements to it.” (For what it’s worth, the movie that got his Best Picture vote this year? “The Shape of Water. It’s awesome – so well-written and different and cool.”
20. Or at least host the Oscars.
“People talk about it all the time,” says Johnson. “Around every Oscars, there’s always chatter.” People from the Academy? “No, just my friends,” he says, laughing. “But it’d be fun, man. That’d be a lot of fun.”
21. But no matter what, he’ll be happy.
“What’s the alternative?” Johnson says. “To be an asshole? Life’s too good. If back when I was 13 and didn’t have shit, and you showed up like, ‘Hey man, we’re gonna do an interview years from now, you’re gonna be an actor in Hollywood and be famous,’ I would have fucking cried and just had the biggest smile on my face. And then if you’d said, ‘But the caveat is, when you get there, you have to be one thing.’ I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, dude, I gotta sell my soul, right? Tell me, what do I gotta be?’ And you’d said, ‘You just gotta be happy’?” Johnson laughs. “Shit – where do I sign up?”