A few hours before he made his grand entrance and energizing introduction at Paramount's CinemaCon presentation Monday, Dwayne Johnson sat down with a group of reporters to talk about and unveil the teaser trailer for his upcoming passion project "Hercules." Before we get to the meat of that lengthy conversation, here's a rundown of what you see in the new footage.
Unsurprisingly, the trailer has Johnson and his headline-making Yak hair beard front and center. We see Hercules battling through a few of his mythic Twelve Labors in which he faces off against the likes of the Nemean lion, the Hydra and the great boar Eurystheus. This Hercules seems to be a broken man who is out for blood, and we see flashes of sadness in the mighty hero. There is an epic feel to the film, with sweeping landscapes, battle scenes, and a voiceover by Ian McShane. The tone is that of a full-on warrior film with a twist, which is what Johnson wants.
"The tone is a nice, even balance," said Johnson, who arrived in our Las Vegas suite interview location fresh from a workout, with a protein drink in hand. "I think of 'Gladiator' and '300.' There's also personality in the movie. There's fun. There's some wink in the movie in a way that makes the audience feel good."
Johnson's ten-year labor of love began with his connection to the story and character from the graphic novel by Steve Moore, but also in making sure to tell a fresh tale.
"The idea was to take the spirit of the graphic novel, which we liked, and then create a script and a story based on that that still gave a very unique twist on the story of Hercules," Johnson explained of the film's backstory. "When we first meet this version of Hercules, he's gone through a tremendous amount of trauma and anguish over the fact that he'd murdered his family. So when we see him and he's introduced in this story, he doesn't care about his faith, and he doesn't care about who he is."
Identity crisis or not, we know who Hercules is in the hands of Johnson. He is serious, muscle-bound and bearded. Speaking of the beard, it is a serious and previously secretive subject. One that resulted in many many people getting fired.
"The beard that I had was the full beard and a lot of times in Hollywood, as you guys know, it's a lace beard that we put on, and they take 30-45 minutes, an hour tops," Johnson said, explaining why he decided to wait so long to reveal the final look. This took two-and-a-half hours-to-three hours, because we had very long strips of yak hair — really, yak hair — and they would cut them up probably and inch long and a quarter inch wide, and the process was, they would lay these on my face piece by piece by piece by piece. It was a very, very long process. But in that, what you get is something that is really spectacular.
"The first couple of days of camera testing and seeing it and recognizing, 'Hey, we've got something really special. Let's do our best to make sure that nothing is revealed.' So there was a strict mandate that there were no cameras on set. We fired tens upon tens upon tens of people throughout the process. I would say maybe close to 50 people were fired, crew members, all trying to sneak pictures. So there's that. There's mandate, and we all agree on that."
"Hercules" is serious business for Johnson, and he found an equally serious partner in a surprising place: director Brett Ratner ("X-Men: The Last Stand").
"I got a Brett at a very special time," Johnson admitted when asked how Ratner came aboard. "What I mean by that is he has had great success, he's been down, he's gotten back up. It's in that come-up that I was able to get Brett. He knew he had this incredible opportunity. He was very passionate about the project, very passionate about Hercules, and very passionate about doing something that was very special. Also, I got a very hungry Brett Ratner. You guys have known Brett for a long time. You know he's a great guy, he's a talented guy, he's a fun guy. It was good to see him at this level and raise his game."
"Hercules" isn't out in theaters until July 25, but the wheels are already turning about how Johnson and crew might pursue other mythical adventures.
"It all depends obviously on the box office and how much fans enjoy it," Johnson said when asked if he'd be up for doing a sequel. "If they enjoy it, one of the cool qualities about Hercules is that the stories and the mythology of Hercules, they continue. They continue, where he teams up with Jason and the Argonauts. So there's a lot of different ways we can go. Yeah, I'd love to [do another one]. Sure."
And could there be any other big-name stars joining Johnson on Hercules's next epic voyage? He laughed and answered, "Well, I'm not giving anything away, but there was a moment where — and we just couldn't make the schedules align — it was going to me and Russell Crowe, and we were going to set something up," Johnson teased. "But that's done with. Maybe down the road, you know, just to give you an idea of just how exciting and the different ways we can go. There are a lot of different characters that Hercules comes in contact with."