His movie career is on a roll, but the Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) says it was a tough childhood that formed him.
“I had a rough time as a teenager,” says the famously affable wrestler-turned-actor and star of last year’s “The Scorpion King.”
“I’d been arrested six or seven times for misdemeanors by the time I was 18. It was then I made the decision to do something with my life, do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
His job in “The Rundown,” which opened Friday, is to play a bounty hunter hired to find a rich kid (Seann William Scott) in the Amazon while avoiding angry tribesmen, mercenaries and a crime boss (Christopher Walken).
Unlike his title role in “The Scorpion King,” in this action-adventure he’s both the brains and the brawn. “My character is a guy Steve McQueen would have played,” he says. “I’m not unstoppable. I’m in jeopardy.”
Born in Hawaii to a Samoan mother and an African-American father, Johnson, 31, was raised around wrestling. His maternal grandfather, “High Chief” Peter Maivia, was a pro grappler, and his dad, “Soulman” Rocky Johnson, was a wrestling star during the �70s.
But that didn’t mean pay dirt for Johnson’s family, which had constant financial difficulties. “Work was hard to come by for my dad, and wrestling was the only thing he knew,” Johnson says. (His dad, now 58, still gets into the ring occasionally.)
After turning his back on delinquency, Johnson attended the University of Miami, where he studied criminology on a football scholarship. When he wasn’t drafted by the NFL, he joined the Canadian Football League where, he says, his ebullient personality “wasn’t exactly utilized.” He was eventually cut.
He turned to wrestling, and as the self-titled “Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment,” was known for his catch phrase “Can you smell what the Rock is cooking?” He leapt to movies with a cameo in “The Mummy Returns,” and like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who briefly appears in “The Rundown,” Johnson morphed from muscleman to movie action figure.
Though he says “wrestling was my theater,” Johnson has taken acting lessons to sharpen his skills. He’ll next star in a remake of “Walking Tall.”
“Rock likes roles that are athletic but self-effacing,” says “Rundown” producer Kevin Misher. “In the WWE, he was playing on a grand scale. He knew he needed to scale down for movies but still give a big performance.”