Star-Bulletin Features

An appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and work in "The Mummy Returns" led wrestling star The Rock to "The Scorpion King," which also stars Hawaii actor Kelly Hu.

3-dimensional Rock:
wrestler, family man, movie star

'The People's Champ' is much more
than a snarling muscleman

By Anthony Breznican
Associated Press

To understand The Rock, you have to break him into three pieces. First there's his World Wrestling Federation persona, also nicknamed "The People's Champ," a body-slamming muscleman known for raising his eyebrow suggestively and snarling wisecracks that whip crowds into a frenzy.

Then there's Dwayne Johnson, who turns 30 in May, a former Hawaii resident and Florida college football player who laughs easily, plays acoustic guitar in his spare time and dotes on his wife of four years and their daughter.

"I always say that The Rock is just Dwayne Johnson with the volume turned up to its highest level," he said. "As wild and as loud and as passionate as my fans get, I feed off that same energy."

Finally, there's "The Scorpion King," his ancient warrior character from "The Mummy Returns," whose martial-arts swordplay and "Conan the Barbarian"-style brawn inspired Universal Pictures to gamble on a spin-off film.

"The Scorpion King" represents the future of The Rock, a chance to break away from the bone-wracking showmanship of the WWF and move into films.

"A lot of people at this point say, 'Man, you've already done everything in wrestling,' but it's not easy to give up what you love," he said. "My role will lessen - it's already lessened - but there's nothing better than the love of a live audience. ... I might not do (wrestling) full time forever, but it's something I don't think I'll ever give up completely."

Wrestling is all-consuming, requiring travel from city to city, endless training and rehearsals (yes, it's all staged), and a substantial physical toll.

When flinging yourself off the top ropes and landing on your back in the ring, it's best to make your legs, arms and backside as flat as possible, he said. That way the limbs absorb much of the shock, and your spine doesn't break.

But it still hurts.

"It's theatrics. You know who's going to win, you know who's going to lose and there are scripts, but nonetheless, it's still me," he said. "It's kind of like doing stunt scenes all day, every day."

Although his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather, "High Chief" Peter Maivia, were pro wrestlers, he had planned to be a football star. He became a defensive tackle at the University of Miami and graduated with a degree in criminology, but injuries kept him out of the National Football League.

That's when he adopted the wrestling pseudonym Rocky Maivia, which he eventually shortened to The Rock. By his mid-20s, he had become one of the WWF's biggest stars.

The Rock is considered a "fan favorite," a virtuous hero audiences cheer while he pummels villainous rivals such as Triple H and Hulk Hogan.

Tournaments draw upward of 20,000 people. The attraction is the burlesque personalities - the more volatile the better - and the sense of goofy comedy and lawless brawling.

Even Vince McMahon, the 56-year-old owner and impresario of the WWF, is known to jump into the ring to punch out his employees and take a few body slams. McMahon owns the intellectual property rights to The Rock and has the power to determine when and how the character is used, according to Johnson.

In "The Scorpion King," Johnson is credited as The Rock, and McMahon has an executive producer credit for freeing Johnson from wrestling dates to shoot the movie and offering notes on what WWF fans will expect from the film.

But Johnson likes the name Rock, and that's what he prefers friends call him. The rights to that name may be a source of contention someday between the two, but not now.

"He knows my goals and has been real supportive," Johnson said.

Universal Pictures is hoping "The Scorpion King" will turn into a franchise similar to its "Mummy" films, and Johnson is negotiating to appear in a new action-comedy this summer.

He's eager to star in a comedy, too, saying humor helped jump-start his film career.

An appearance on "Saturday Night Live" two years ago featured the 6-foot-5, 250-pound entertainer playing the monkey father of Chris Kattan's comic simian "Mr. Peepers." He also sported lipstick and a dress in a "Ladies Man" skit, and crooned "Are You Lonesome Tonight" with two fellow wrestlers singing backup.

That performance and his work in "The Mummy Returns" led Universal Pictures chief Stacey Snider and producer Kevin Misher to create "The Scorpion King" as a vehicle for The Rock.

Kelly Hu, the Hawaii actress best known for TV's "Martial Law," plays a seductive sorceress in "The Scorpion King" and attributed The Rock's success to his machismo and charm.

"The Rock is a guy's guy, he loves joking around and he's tough. Guys love that," Hu said. "And women love him because he has that gentle way about him as well, and he's sexy and he's beautiful and he's macho. He's got everything it takes."

Following the debut of "The Scorpion King," The Rock will disappear for a while. He said he's looking forward to vacationing with his wife, Dany, and their 8-month-old daughter, Simone, at their Miami home.

"That little baby girl is very gorgeous and she's going to have him wrapped around her finger," said Michael Clarke Duncan, co-star of "The Scorpion King" and a friend of Johnson's for five years.

"With everything I've ever done in my life, I have a sense that nothing will ever be better than this," he said. "Very little is ever guaranteed in life, but I can be sure that I'll always take care of my daughter."

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