The Rock is running for President, or at least Dwayne Johnson is running for President in the set up for the brand-new NBC series “Young Rock”. The series is certainly far from your ordinary run-of-the-mill sitcom, as it features a semi-autobiographical into the life of Dwayne Johnson and how he became “The Rock”.
The series stars Dwayne Johnson, himself, and then three other actors portray Johnson and different stages throughout his life. Adrian Groulx plays Johnson as a kid living in Hawaii, Bradley Constant plays him as a teen in Pennsylvania who shoplifted and seemed destined to fall down the wrong path and Uli Latukefu showcases him as a University of Miami football player.
Johnson bookends each episode with interviews that take place in the year 2032 with a journalist played by Randall Park as he reflects on these aspects of his life while on the campaign trail. The storylines featured in the series begin with time spent with his father, wrestler Rocky “Soul Man” Johnson, and his legendary wrestling buddies including Andre the Giant. The premiere episode showed us young Johnson’s life and then also jumped to his time spent in Pittsburgh as a teen and finally his time playing University football in Miami.
Additional episodes will not feature as many time hops and focus on singular stories that occurred during each phase in life that was memorable and helped shape Johnson into the man he is today.
We and several other journalists had a chance to catch up with the cast and crew of “Young Rock” including Dwayne Johnson himself to discuss the new NBC series.
The pilot, even though I expected it to be good, was very, very funny as a longtime wrestling fan. So, I sort of wondered, Dwayne and Nahnatchka, if you could talk about being able to cast such wrestling legends as both within Dwayne’s family and outside of it, and whether we might see any actual wrestlers make cameos down the line.
NAHNATCHKA KAHN: Yeah, it was an amazing and incredible challenge. I want to give a shout-out to our casting directors Anya Coloff and Michael Nicolo because they killed it. And it’s a tall order. It’s iconic, legendary wrestlers we’re talking about. And Matt Willig playing André the Giant, Nate Jackson playing Junkyard Dog. We have so many amazing wrestlers coming down the pipe that you don’t even see in the pilot. We’ve got “Macho Man” Randy Savage. We’ve got Iron Sheik. We’ve got the Wild Samoans. We’ve got so many amazing characters, and I think that it was just part of the fun, really, of a show like this. And, you know, it was a casting challenge and we were happy to fulfill it because I think those guys just crushed it.
DWAYNE JOHNSON: They really did. And to add to what Nahnatchka was saying is, you know, from my perspective, it was truly a love letter to professional wrestling, which is a business that I grew up in and a business that I’ve loved all of my life and learned some of my most valuable, while very unorthodox, lessons coming out of the world of pro wrestling, so to be able to highlight and showcase these men who were, in essence, my superheroes. They didn’t wear capes when I was a little boy. They were these men in the professional wrestling world.
And I will say that you know, of all the actors who we cast, all of them really, truly embodied these professional wrestlers. Because in many ways, this was the very first time you were seeing these wrestlers portrayed certainly in primetime.
And I will say that for Joseph Lee Anderson to play my dad in such an uncanny way and, not only that, but all of our actors were so committed to these roles. As Nahnatchka was saying, it was a very tall order, especially for Joseph because he had to go from not being a professional wrestler to actually learning how to wrestle professionally, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. And my dad was a bad dude in the game, and he had a lot of charisma and he had tons of athletic ability, and Joseph really did a tremendous job. I’m embarrassing him now, but I was really quite proud of not only Joseph but so proud of our entire cast.
We’re set up in the premise to make it seem like everything about the show is going to be set in an interview format. So, I don’t know if you can elaborate on how much of the following episodes will still have the interview style going on or if we’re stuck in this “How I Met Your Mother” situation. Randall Park must be sitting there for five or six years.
NAHNATCHKA KAHN: Yeah. No. I think we’re going to be following candidate Johnson on his 2032 presidential campaign. So, for the course of Season 1, we’re going to be at different press events with him, and Randall is going to try to get some insight into who Dwayne the man is in the future. But we
also are going to have some other elements coming in and to sort of vary it up that way, but really following him on the campaign tour, on the campaign trail is what’s going to carry us through that 2032 timeline in Season 1.
I was wondering, how important was it for you to sort of subvert the perfect sitcom-dad trope and portray something that was really quite complicated and quite real? Because I think anybody who’s ever lost a parent can attest that that can be a really vulnerable place to sort of dig at, and I really appreciated that.
DWAYNE JOHNSON: Thank you for saying that and thank you for your question. The most important thing, two years ago, almost going on two-and-a-half years ago when I first sat down with Nahnatchka as well as Jeff, was to really understand why and what is the real reason why we’re going to do this? How can we create something for audiences that hopefully will entertain them, but also allow them with a bit of a takeaway afterward? And once we had identified that and I felt good with that and comfortable with that, then we moved forward.
So, to answer your question, I thought, well, I didn’t — let’s not take the easy route. My life, you know, we use these terms wild and crazy and there’s such — you know those are great sizzle words we use as we promote this thing, but it was incredibly complicated and it was incredibly tough growing up. And, you know, we specifically went with these timelines in my life that were very defining times at 10 years old, 15, and 18. And, again, if we are, universe willing, lucky enough to come back for another round of this thing, there’s a lot of other things in between those years that took place.
But it was complicated, and the relationship that I had with my dad was incredibly complicated, which was fueled by tough love. My dad was kicked out of his house at 13 and he was homeless, so that then shaped the man who then raised me. And in that complication, then came an extraordinary life
that was full of travel. I lived in 13 different states by the time I was 13 years old. I also lived in New Zealand. And we have — there was so much breadth to this life that I had. And after sitting down with our creators and Natch specifically, and Jeff, and to figure out the right, creative pathway to get into that, but then not only that. But also, I think, to your point is really the willingness to rip some things open and realize that vulnerability is going to be one of those factors, but also, through that, I think, really, when I look back on this and I can reflect this, the series has really allowed in a way me to appreciate those hard times that much more. Because through the brilliance of Nahnatchka and Jeff, they were able to craft something that still made audiences — I hope and I think and fingers crossed — feel a certain way and know that, you know, that we all go through these tough times. And sometimes when we’re going through tough times like this, sometimes when you’re in it, you’re in the bubble. Sometimes when you see somebody else going through it, it just adds. It just gives a different perspective. It’s almost like you take that kaleidoscope and you just click it a few times and you see something from a different perspective.
So long story long, we didn’t want to take the traditional route or the typical route of what you might think this could be. But, still, let’s talk about the complications. Let’s reveal things. But then also, very important, let’s talk about the good stuff. Because there was so much good stuff now when I look back at it and the good stuff of growing up in this wild world with these characters who are larger than life, who, all of these men and women. My grandmother, who Ana Tuisila did such a tremendous job playing, she was one of the first pioneering women in the world of professional wrestling. But all of these men, so successful what they did, but yet, interestingly enough, they played that role 24 hours a day. Even if that meant they lived in small apartments. Even if that meant they lived paycheck to paycheck. So, there was this — again, I look back with such profound gratitude that I’m able to share these stories. So, again, very long story long, but it was —
And the last thing, I will say this. I’ve celebrated one year of the loss of my dad. My dad died one year ago this month last year. He died suddenly. And he’s obviously featured throughout the show, and Joseph Lee did a tremendous job playing my dad. He would have loved this. He would have loved this and he would have been so proud. Because for the first time, certainly in primetime, we are showcasing this world that he and all of his brothers of the ring, so to speak, of those men in the ’70s and the ’80s, that they gave their life to and, you know, to showcase it like this and to showcase it through the lens of something that’s positive I know would have meant a lot to my dad. Because a lot of times the world of pro wrestling isn’t always looked at through that lens in a positive way, and there’s a lot of positive that we can take out of this. So, thank you for asking the question.
NAHNATCHKA KAHN: I just want to say, DJ, also that you are incredibly open and honest as a person, and the fact that you were willing to allow us to tell these kinds of stories, you know, and be a little vulnerable in moments, I think that’s really what I’m very proud of the show. And it’s like, yes, it’s entertaining and it’s funny hopefully, but also it feels real because it is real. And, so, credit goes to you for that.
JEFF CHIANG: DJ entrusting us with these stories and the lives of his family and to tell those stories and show that respect, I think it — we saw it with the whole cast. Like, with everyone here, sitting here, and Bradley and Adrian, like, they care so much and they put their heart and souls into it. And it was really beautiful, honestly, just to be able to kind of — I don’t know. We really value this opportunity to tell these stories and just to be there and feel it and live it and I don’t know. We’re just excited, you know, to be able to share this right now.
I want to ask about the casting of the three from being a boy in Adrian’s case to a young man in the other guy’s case. So, Bradley, if my math is correct, will run into Uli in three years and Adrian would run into Bradley in five years, so, God willing, you have a nice run here. What is the plan for future seasons of “Young Rock” from a casting perspective?
NAHNATCHKA KAHN: We’re going to do that, like, you know those face melds where you, like, meld two people, we’re going to like morph. Like, look at these two little faces right here, like, Adrian and Bradley. We’re just going to — we’re going to create an uber-Dwayne once we meld them together.
No. I think that’s a good question. I think as Dwayne alluded to, his life is so big and there are so many stories to tell that, you know, I imagine there’s even a season maybe pre-Adrian. You know, there are more seasons to tell in Hawaii. There’s a lot of places we can jump to in Dwayne’s big book of life. So, I think once we sort of determining these next stories and these next timelines we want to tell, I think that’s going to be our kind of plan moving forward.
DWAYNE JOHNSON: Yeah. I think we have a real opportunity if we were to go on after this. I mean, there is pre-Adrian, 5, 6, 7, 8, and, again, in this world. And then, from 11, 12, 13, 14, those were my years where I was the star of getting arrested all the time, so, I mean, we have so many stories there. And, of course, the University of Miami and playing there and then post-university Miami when I made the decision that I felt like I might have something to offer the world of pro wrestling and then we get into the WWE of it also. There’s a good amount of stuff. All along, I’m bringing the fanny pack, though, guys. Don’t you worry. Nobody worry. I’m bringing the fanny pack.
This question is for Adrian Bradley and Uli. How did you stay in touch with each other to get the consistency of behaviors and ticks of doing accurately? And how much coaching did he give you on how to essentially play him?
BRADLEY CONSTANT: I guess I’ll go first. I think the coolest part was us all being there together. We got to hang out. Me and Adrian played plenty of Xbox together. There’s plenty of dinners together, me and Uli and Adrian, and we got to know each other. And once we kind of got a feel for how each other acted, that really gave a good insight into where we lean into going forward. And, of course, DJ gave great insight into what it was like to be him at that age as well. So, Adrian, how do you feel?
ADRIAN GROULX: I definitely agree with you. Yeah, once we really got to know each other and we got used to each other’s presence, we formed this bond to, like, sort of talk to each other on how we are going to play the role but still have our similarities. And Dwayne did a really good job of coaching us on how to play the roles.
ULI LATUKEFU: Yeah. I mean, Dwayne was incredibly open and helpful with everything, really. Made himself available at all hours. So, he didn’t really give any kind of guidance other than just to be true and have fun with the role, and I think that’s — you know, in terms of consistency, I think it’s there.
DWAYNE JOHNSON: And I will say this. Now that I’m watching these three guys talk and I met with them all individually, spent time with them all individually, but never before have we all been on a Zoom together in this format, and it’s so surreal when I sit back and I look at this. I’ve got the kid who’s playing me at 10 years old and that little, innocent boy who just needed guidance but who loved the world I was in. I loved the bad guys of pro wrestlers, of pro wrestling. I love my dad. He was my hero. Never understood that things were actually tougher than they appeared in terms of lifestyle. I never knew. And that’s the blessing that I have with mom and dad, who never, you know, really hit me to what happened, to what was happening. And then now, I’m looking at Bradley at 15 and it’s a kid who had some anger issues but also thought he was really cool. Clearly had an identity crisis. I didn’t want to be known as Dwayne when I moved from high school to high school. I called myself Tomas. Girls used to call the house and ask for Tomas and my mom would go, “I’m sorry. There’s no Tomas here.” And I would run, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s me. That’s me.” I’d get on the phone, “Hey. Yeah, hey, hey. It’s Tomas.” And she would be like, “What are you doing?”
And then, of course, Uli at 18. I remember telling Uli, just remember, I was just so determined to make something of myself. That was so important to me. And, you know, these guys nailed it, so I’m just — it’s so surreal and I want to give these guys so much credit. Never in my wildest dreams, number one, would I have ever had the career that I’ve been lucky enough to have. I’m a lucky SOB to have this career. Never did I ever think I’d be in this position where people are bringing to life people in my life and my loved ones. So, these guys did such a tremendous job.
And everyone too, by the way, I mean, when you look at it, like, Stacey Leilua playing my mom. Really, truly, she is the rock of this entire thing. It all comes down to my mom, who, by the way, she’s still going strong and she’s here. And every time she sees a trailer or any one of these episodes, she starts crying and she’s like, you know, “Don’t take pictures of me ugly crying.” I’m like, “OK, mom.” So anyway, I just had to give it up to this cast.
You talk about there were tough times. When you look back on your life when was the hardest time?
DWAYNE JOHNSON: Well, I think there’s a few layers to that answer. I would say, at first blush, the hardest time would probably be in that era of being 15 years old and starting around 13. 13 is when I started to veer off the tracks and do a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been doing. I started getting arrested at 13 in Hawaii. And the talk of us leaving Hawaii because times were too hard here started coming up and I was so adamantly against leaving the island at 14. And I fought tooth and nail with my mom and my dad because I did not want to leave, and it was — times were hard for us here and it became harder and harder for us to pay the rent. But I did not want to leave, and I was really being — I really put my foot down, as best as a 14-year-old, punk kid could. And that’s when you want something so badly, then the universe steps in, and we get evicted off the island, so we had no choice but to leave, which I always find is one of the most ironic things in life. It’s when you want something so badly and that thing you want so badly just doesn’t come true, years later you realize that that’s actually the best thing that never happened. So, it allowed to us leave and force us off the island.
And then I wound up going to Nashville, Tenn. Then I went up — then we were forced out of Nashville. Then I went up to Bethlehem. And as we were forced out of Nashville, that summer I had already just turned 15 years old. We thought we were going to make a home in Tennessee. It didn’t work out that way. Things happen. And then we left for Bethlehem, Penn. So, within the course of about, you know, nine months, I was in three different cities, from Hawaii to Nashville then to Bethlehem. And,
you know, things were really — there was a real instability in Bethlehem when we first got there. So, I would say around that time period.
So, you know, I give Bradley, our actor, a lot of credit, because, as you saw in the pilot, it was important to me that I — you know, I — at that time, I was still — I was still taking — I was still stealing because I wanted to present myself in a way that truly wasn’t me or that I thought people would want to see, so, you know, we go through all that stuff. But, anyway, I would say that, around that time period, about 15.
And then, you know, a few years later when I was — I did not get called up to the NFL. That was a pretty big loss because when you’re done with your college career, you’re done. You don’t get another shot at it. You can’t come back. And there was no NFL for me. Instead, I went to the CFL, which we’ll get into a little bit of that in this series. So that was a tough time too because then I was cut from the CFL. And then that’s when I had the infamous seven bucks in my pocket. So, 15, I would say. Then 22.
NAHNATCHKA KAHN: That’s what’s so fun about your life, though, Dwayne, is it’s not been just, like, one arcing ride to the top. It’s the rollercoasters that I think make it relatable and the ups and the downs and it’s great for storytelling and it’s great — you know, we’ve all been there in some shape or form.
Joseph, how did you get the character of Rocky right when he is, sadly, no longer with us? And then quickly to close this out, Dwayne, how did you get the nickname Dewey?
JOSEPH LEE ANDERSON: Well, I had a good talk with Dwayne, who was very open about everything with me. I did a lot of YouTubeing, a lot of watching whatever I could, interviews on Dwayne talking about his dad. I watched a lot of matches with Rocky just to try to do the best that I could. And thankful that I had Brian here who was — Dwayne was always one text away or one call away. There was never any loss of information.
DWAYNE JOHNSON: You know, I will say this about Joseph, guys. As you watch the pilot — and I know many of you have. Thank you for taking the time to watch it. And those of you who haven’t, I hope you enjoy it. But when you — if you’ve known my dad or an inkling of the world of pro wrestling and my dad, you know, Joseph’s portrayal is so uncanny and so incredible. And, you know, I spent a lot of time with Joseph just talking about my dad, about the relationship, that complicated, tough-ass relationship that I had with my dad.
And that’s the tricky thing about this, is to find that balance of the complication of who he was as a man and the tough love he raised me with. But one of the anchoring elements that I shared with Joseph, which I think he really nailed, I’ve said, you’ve got to understand this about my dad, is he had friends. He had a lot of friends. He had a lot of enemies. But he had this unique ability to always make someone feel good. And, man, you know, those are the special people out there in the world who just have this unique ability to make you feel good the moment you come in the room. You know, my dad, “Hey, what’s your — you look great. What were you” — I mean, just immediately. And you see that performance on Joseph throughout the pilot and throughout the entire season. I was really, really impressed by that, because that was, you know, an important quality, I think, that my dad had. Aside from all the other complicated shit that we dealt with as a father and son. But that was — and I think Joseph did a great job. So, thank you for asking that question about my old man. He — right now, he is beaming that he is getting attention and loving it.
So Dewey, when I was a little baby — and I was born in the Bay Area, San Francisco area, Hayward, Calif., to be exact. I was with my godparents and I was probably, from what I’m told, you know, 6 months old. And my mom had said to my godmother, “Is his — is he wet? Is his diaper wet?” And she goes, “No, he’s just a little dewy.” (Snap.) And in my existence for years, when my parents would come around in front of my girlfriends or friends or anyone, “Hey, Dewey.” It came automatically. Because it’s a name — it’s not like, you know, “That’s a powerful name.” Automatically, people were like, oh, God.
“Young Rock” airs Tuesday’s at 8/7c on NBC, so be sure to tune in!
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