The Drive (and Despair) of The Rock: Dwayne Johnson on Battling Depression
By Stephen Galloway
It’s mid-June in Australia, and I’m working out in a Gold Coast gym with the artist formerly known as The Rock.
Well, working out is something of an exaggeration for this exercise in masochism, as Dwayne Johnson guides me through three different triceps maneuvers, then tackles the biceps, making each merciless hammer curl look as easy as lifting a chicken wing.
"Lower it all the way," says Johnson, 42, slyly amused by my trepidation, "then you’ll get that extra part of the muscle working. Like this …"
I watch his bicep bulge like a balloon. The man isn’t just huge, he’s gargantuan — a 6-foot-5, 252-pound mountain of muscle, his arms hardened and honed, his chest as big as a bull’s. His upper body is covered with tattoos: a flower on his shoulder blossoms into a full-blown male figure on his chest, with a healthy smattering of shark’s teeth thrown in for protection. “The warrior is over my heart, which is the overall sentiment,” he says. In case you didn’t guess.
This is Hollywood’s reigning action hero, an ambitious wrestler-turned-actor, as smart as he is supple, as driven as he is dynamic. Combining several traits of the ’90s action stars — the wit of Willis, the strength of Schwarzenegger, the heart of Stallone — he’s become the go-to guy for studios anxious to reboot their franchises.
But his aspirations are far greater than being a repo man for the majors. “What do I want?” he says. “I want the world.”
Twelve years after Johnson’s inauspicious big-screen debut in 2001’s The Mummy Returns — and after a decade of “singles and doubles,” as he puts it — he is poised to go from a dependable player to MVP, if two mammoth upcoming releases deliver.
First is MGM/Paramount’s sword-and-sandals epic Hercules, due out July 25. Then there’s the 2015 Warner Bros. earthquake disaster flick San Andreas, which Johnson is shooting here in Australia at a salary of about $12 million — the type of number that makes even other A-listers blink.
All this comes after Johnson reached a turning point in 2011, when, dissatisfied with everything he was making (Tooth Fairy, anyone?), he switched agents (from CAA to WME) and publicists, convinced he could do better. “It was incredibly difficult because you develop a friendship over the years,” he says. “But it just dawned on me: Change has to happen.”
Since then, his star has soared. He helped propel G.I. Joe: Retaliation to a worldwide box-office take of $376 million ($74 million more than its predecessor) and boosted Journey 2: The Mysterious Island to a worldwide gross of $335 million (nearly $100 million more than Journey to the Center of the Earth). More impressive, after he joined the Fast & Furious ensemble in 2011, its earnings doubled, with Fast Five making $626 million compared with its predecessor’s $363 million. Fast & Furious 6 went on to generate a whopping $789 million, and Fast & Furious 7 is set to open in April.