Thirteen years ago I asked Dwayne Johnson, then known as The Rock, if that moment in the film The Rundown when he brushed past Arnold Schwarzenegger signalled the end of a movie era, his answer was: “It was a big moment; it was like him telling me, ‘I like you to have fun because you’re going where I’ve been’, which was really cool.”
Right now Johnson is replicating Schwarzenegger’s success. Not only has the 44-year-old actor displaced Jennifer Lawrence as Hollywood’s highest paid star but he’s just been anointed The Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine.
At his press conference for his latest animated flick Moana, he’s big, bold, yet modest and unassuming. In his own words “a decent man who smells good.”
So when you were still The Rock, did you ever think this could happen to you?
Never. Nor was it my goal. But when I was 14, and we were evicted, that was my motivation to make something of myself.
Who evicted you?
Our landlord. We lived in Hawaii in a little efficiency building. After we were kicked out, we were forced to leave the island. But believe me, I never thought that I would ever be sitting here discussing highest paid or anything like that.
Right now I am very grateful and happy. And while the money is great, my motivation comes from trying to create and develop really good content for people in a variety of different genres, whether it’s in action, comedy or animation.
You prove yourself an accomplished singer in Moana. Where did that come from?
I grew up in a singing family. So, I was always playing musical instruments, ukuleles, guitars and things like that.
But not to this degree. I didn’t start off as a singer, I am an actor, but I was excited knowing the bar is set very high when you are asked to sing in a Disney movie.
I felt confident when I finally got in the studio for the song, knowing that I had Lin-Manuel (Miranda, the genius behind Broadway’s Hamilton) conducting me in the session.
In the past I had just sung for fun, so he created this song in a nice comfortable range for me to sing, and he also created places in the song where it would push and challenge me in terms of my vocals.
So, I was very happy that the song came out so well and it sounded pretty good.
How important was your mum in your upbringing?
She was the disciplinarian in the family. She would always make sure I wouldn’t talk back, that I did my homework, things like that. She’s Samoan and Samoan people are very physical. If I deserved it, she beat the hell out of me.
Was she the one who encouraged your wrestling?
Actually it’s a family thing. My grandfather who was a Samoan chief – he passed away in 1982 – was the first Samoan professional wrestler. He trained in England and then went to Australia and New Zealand, finally coming to the United States. So there’s a long lineage there.
My dad was also a professional wrestler; so I grew up in the business. At the time it wasn’t as glorified as it is today. The arenas were very small, smoke filled, and the money was cash. It was more like a carnival.
But wasn’t your grandmother the wrestling promoter?
It was my grandfather, he purchased the promotion rights to the territory of the state of Hawaii. In the 1970s and the 1980s, the industry had different territories, but he never made any money out if it.
In fact, he ran the business in his apartment. It was only after my grandmother took over that, the business started to flourish. She did a fantastic job and in fact she was the first female promoter in wrestling.
Your biggest fan base is female. Are you still besieged by female fans?
It does happen.
Have you ever been stalked?
I remember one time this girl was crying hysterically. She grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. It was at an airport. I couldn’t get her off me; so finally I took her with me. We went to go eat. Every once in a while that happens.
What can you tell us about your tattoos?
They run all around my arm and my shoulder, my chest, my back. It’s customary in the Samoan tradition .
My grandfather was fully tattooed from his knees all the way up his waist, front and back everywhere.
Do they all have meanings?
I got it done in Hawaii. Symbolically, it’s the story of my life in Samoan, Tahitian and Polynesian art. The guy who did it was a spiritual artist. I sat with him for four or five hours. I talked to him about my life and what I love, what I want to do, what I want to be, my struggles, my passions. And from there, we said a prayer, and he just went freehand and did it.
It took 35 hours to complete.
You’re so much in demand. Obviously you have to set boundaries, how do you protect yourself?
The boundaries part is an interesting thing. It takes time and effort to say, “I have had enough of this and I am going to set boundaries, and here is my directive.”
That is kind of tough. What has really benefitted me is having really good people, solid people around me, people who help me remember, “Too much that is happening right now; let’s dial this back and put up this wall so I can have my own private time.”
Where would that be?
On a farm in Virginia that I like to go to, where there is a lot of land, and it’s very private, and it’s my getaway.
But anywhere is home, as long as I can have my family around me, the dog, the babies.
But on my farm I have a pond and I raise fish in the pond. And I have a big gym that is a separate building where I can do whatever I need to do.
And there is a little screening room in the house, there is a little bit of a porch with chairs, and if I never wanted to leave, I would never have to leave.
And I always have my pickup truck, that is a big thing with me. I never have a driver to drive me around in this crazy world. I got to drive myself.