“If you smell what Dwayne Johnson is cookin’?”
The famous wrestling catchphrase may not have the same ring to it as when you replace Johnson’s birth name with his nickname The Rock, which he acquire while grappling in the World Wrestling Entertainment for eight years, but now the former WWE champion is a different man who wants a different image.
Focused on his acting career, Johnson hasn’t been in the ring since 2004. Not only has he lost the nickname, he’s also shed a few pounds of muscle to be considered for roles that don’t pigeonhole him as the go-to-guy for all things action-packed.
He starts this new transformation as a secret agent in “Get Smart,” a remake of the 1960s TV show, which stars Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. During a phone interview, Johnson talked about shedding his wrestling skin and what it was like locking lips with Carell in the movie.
We’ve seen the evolution of your name from The Rock to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and now to simply Dwayne Johnson. How does it feel to finally let go of the wrestling persona?
The truth is I was just hoping there was a smart, easy way to make the transition happen. But people still call me Rock, people call me Dwayne. It’s not a big deal with me. It’s just a matter of being billed as Dwayne Johnson now.
You want to be viewed as a serious actor now. How do you prove to studios that the action genre isn’t all you can do?
You avoid it by doing your best to be diverse as possible. When I first got into the acting business, the only material I was getting was action material and I understood that. I was just hoping eventually I was going to get the opportunity branch out into different genres. It always comes down to material.
So, comedies are your genre of choice right now?
You know, we found some pretty good success with “The Game Plan” in the family comedy genre. Hopefully, we’ll find some with “Get Smart” in the action comedy genre. There are a lot of different chains in the compound that I can work with. When you step up to the plate, you always want to swing for the fences and want to hit a homerun but a lot of times it doesn’t happen that way.
As Agent 23 in “Get Smart” you have no reference point to look back to from the 60s TV show like everyone else. How do you create a character from scratch and fit him into what is already there?
It’s a fun challenge. I think there is a great benefit in starting a character from scratch. My main goal was for Agent 23 to fit nicely into the ensemble that worked so well in the TV show. To work with a titan like Alan Arkin and then Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, they made it really easy to do.
Any advice for Steve Carell, since you’ve been a lead action star before and this is his first outing?
(Laughing) The advice I gave to Steve was don’t punch me in the face. All jokes aside, Steve is a committed actor and a committed actor can pretty much do anything. He was right on the money. I also give credit to Anne Hathaway who was a real trooper and got down and dirty everyday.
And Steve Carell as a kisser? Sensual or sloppy?
(Laughing) Very sensual with a hint of warm chocolate brownies.
I know you compete with him for Anne Hathaway’s attention in the movie, but in real life who do you think gets the girl at the club, Dwayne Johnson or Steve Carell?
(Laughing) Uh, hands down Steve Carell because he gets them all very drunk and tells them very bad jokes.
At the end of March you were given the honor to induct your father and grandfather into the WWE Hall of Fame. Talk to me about that experience.
It signified years of struggle and success and failure in both of their careers. For me personally, it was a public way that I could honor them and thank them for everything that they did for me. I’m very proud of my father and grandfather’s accomplishments in professional wrestling. I was an honor that my mother was there and that my grandmother was there with her history in professional wrestling and it was an honor to stand next to my dad as he gave his induction speech, which was fantastic.