Penthouse Retrospective

by Paul Semel Originally Published: October, 2006

Dwayne Johnson

The Rock was just as involved in his other upcoming movies— Gridiron Gang, which costars rapper Xzibit and former CSI: NY star Vanessa Ferlito; and Southland Tales, with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, and Rundown costar Seann William Scott.

Southland Tales was written and directed by Richard Kelly, the filmmaker behind the smart, surreal, and not-action-packed Donnie Darko. “He’s a really interesting writer and director,” the Rock says. “I’m a big fan of Donnie Darko and of how he writes. It’s a really complicated movie. In Southland Tales, I play an actor who becomes a paranoid schizophrenic—there’s a stretch—and I can foresee the future.” But if being in a twisted mind-fuck like Southland Tales doesn’t add another level to the Rock’s image, then perhaps Gridiron Gang will.

“Every once in a while, one of those movies comes along that’s not a $150 million movie,” he says, “and Gridiron Gang is one of those special movies. It’s a true story about hope for kids who lost their hope.

“About 14 years ago, in a prison for kids that’s in the mountains up in Malibu, there was a probation officer who knew the system was failing—that 75 percent of the kids who are in prison end up either back in jail or dead in the streets. So he started a football team. The kids had never played football before. They were Crips, Bloods, didn’t give a shit about anything, didn’t respect authority—certainly didn’t respect themselves. But he promised them, ‘Even though you’ve never played football, even though you all hate each other, if you trust me—it’s August now—come December, no one will ever call you losers again.’ And they went on to have this incredible season. It’s based on an Emmy Award–winning documentary called Gridiron Gang that was narrated by Louis Gossett Jr. I was lucky to have gotten the role.

“What’s funny,” the Rock adds, “is that I asked the guy it’s based on, ‘Did you ever think you were doing something special?’ And he said, ‘No. I never did. Frankly, I still don’t—I just gave a shit about these kids.’ That’s why it’s just one of those movies that moves you.”

It’s obviously moved the Rock. “People who know me know I’m a sensitive guy,” he says. “I put the toilet seat down.”

Although nothing has physically changed about the man, he’s a kinder, gentler Rock than the glossed-up, mat-throwing he-man of yore. But he’s still trying to change public perception— to become Dwayne Johnson. “It’s very important for me to challenge myself,” he says. “It would be easy just to do action movies, but that’s boring to me, and I think it’s boring to the audience. I want to do different things. I wanted to challenge myself by working with Richard Kelly, and I wanted to challenge myself with Gridiron Gang by playing a real guy.

So what would he like to do next? “I’d love to do a comedy,” he says. “I love comedy. And if the material is right, I’ll take it in a second.”

Why is Dwayne Johnson always trying to be funny? Perhaps he's not The Rock you thought he was. With a few movies outside the tough guy genre already under his belt, this surprisingly funny performer may have more tricks up his sleeve.