Not only was it his biggest physical challenge to date, but it's also his second time appearing in a movie based on a video game. (The first being the misfire that was 2005's "Doom.")
Recently, Moviefone, along with several other outlet, visited the impressive set of "Rampage" in Atlanta. Here, Johnson revealed his secret sauce for a successful video game movie, what being BFFs with an albino gorilla is like, and more.
MOVIEFONE: Out of every arcade game that could be made into a movie, what makes "Rampage" the perfect game for adaptation?
Dwayne Johnson: Well, I can only speak for me ... I just know from my taste and my experiences in playing the game. I loved the game when I was a kid, and when I got a little older, I had it on Nintendo. It's such a simple premise, so the challenge was to take this fun, simple premise and try to build it and, hopefully, make a cool movie out of it.
I think we've been doing some good stuff on set here that might lend itself to a pretty good movie. And you know, again, there are just some really cool elements that if you do it right, hopefully, it can turn into something that's really cool. You've got three gigantic monsters who've been mutated through genetic editing -- and you have a hero in Naomie Harris' character -- and then you have some big, bald, brown guy running around, shooting s**t, and trying not to get killed.
You did an amazing description of this movie's plot on Instagram, in which you described the friendship between your character and George. What is it like to have to genuinely establish that rapport onscreen?
I think there's layers to it. I'm an animal lover, I have a lot of dogs and horses up in Virginia, and I raise fish. So, the idea with the first part about it was: What's a great relationship with an animal in my life that I could apply to it. And I have a little Frenchie named Hobbs, named after the character from "Fast and Furious." And the idea that, amidst the calamity, it still comes down to this core relationship -- and that's one of the reasons that really attracted me to begin with to the movie and to the script.
The element and the anchor of the relationship between man and his best friend, and his best friend happens to be an albino gorilla. That was what sealed the deal for me, because I was thinking: "Okay, we have these cool elements, great CGI, a great director who I've worked with twice already in Brad Peyton, who I know can deliver on a big massive scale, but what's, like, the anchor? What is the heart?" And the heart is in this relationship.
So you and Brad have done the big destruction movie before with "San Andreas," so what is the difference between making a disaster movie and a giant monster movie?
What I'm finding as we move along and we're shooting these scenes is that, unlike with "San Andreas," we had time between earthquakes. We have a sense that something was coming, that something else was coming, the big one was going to happen. We had a little bit of time.
In this, with three gigantic monsters, especially at their height of the serum taking effect, there's no time. Everything happens very quickly, and everything's happening from different angles. Not only are you dealing with the destruction and the collapsing of buildings in all of Chicago, but then you're dealing with alpha animals who are trying to do everything they can to kill everything around them.
With the game, you're playing as the monsters, your goal is to destroy everything. So when we see the movie, are we the audience rooting for you to defeat them? Or are we rooting for them to destroy everything?
I think it's a combination. It all depends on what you like! I know when I watch a movie, I'm going to be rooting for the monsters, because I love the monsters. I'm also rooting for the relationship and just taking myself out and watching as a fan, but I think everybody's going to be satisfied. There's something for everybody.
The fun of the destruction of "Rampage," which is completely destroying everything, that's in here. There are also some easter eggs in here, too, that I think people are going to like.There are a lot of bad movies that are based on video games. So what's the secret of making a good movie adaptation of a video game?
I'm not quite sure what the secret is. I can tell you what we wanted to do, which was we wanted to collectively get together and put together the best team possible to execute on the script, and that means bringing in all the great department heads. We had a great studio who does this very well, we've got a team in Brad Payton. Yes, we've done "San Andreas." Before that, we'd done ["Journey 2"]. That's when I found how talented Brad was.
I think it all starts with story and I think it all starts with characters. I can tell you the idea of making "Rampage" I thought was interesting, just because I love the game. So you love something, it's like, "Yeah, let me see!" But you're always a little bit cautious, especially when you know it's a video game, and it's an interpretation of a video game, and you always want to try and study, and see video games in the past that didn't do well. And a lot of those filmmakers who made those video game movies that I know, and we all know, because we're all in the business, right? We talk to them and get as much information as possible.
And I think it goes back to actually finding an anchor. So, yes, we had the CRISPR science that's rooted in a reality which is happening today. The love of animals, me being a primatologist, and also the anchor of a relationship. There's the calamity and there's the craziness, and everything that's happening. But it all kind of boils down to just me and this silverback gorilla, which you guys will see, we have not only this awesome relationship, but we do sign language. He tells me, "I love you," I tell him, "I love you back." He shows off in front of pretty ladies, I tell him don't do that. We do some funny stuff.
Did you work with any real gorillas? Did you have time to do that?
We did. I spent a lot of time at the Atlanta Zoo here, with primatologists there, and also the Dian Fossey Foundation -- which, when you want to root something in a reality, especially in Hollywood, you want to do your best to be authentic as possible and have some roots in a foundation that people feel good about seeing. As opposed to being just a big commercial movie with three monsters.
So, we spent a lot of time with scientists and scientists from CRISPR. I personally spent a lot of time with primatologists. I spent a lot of time with the people from Dian Fossy, the people from Atlanta Zoo, and I spent some time in the Primate Department. You can't go in and actually touch these gorillas, because they're not your best friend. But they're very friendly, they come up to the cage, by the way, and I was able to feed them, I was able to spend time with a silverback named Taz. And, you know, another fascinating aspect is our motion-capture aspect... [Jason Liles] is fantastic. As you guys will see, he studied gorillas for months, and months, and months. Getting their emotions, getting their facial expressions.
Naomie Harris came out of "Moonlight" and had a big year. What's it been like working with her?
She's been the best. She's been amazing, I love that woman, love working with her. I've been really lucky -- I was just thinking about this the other day -- I've been really lucky to work with just some amazing women over the years. And Naomie, she really takes the cake. She's just so incredibly committed and disciplined and phenomenal with her work, and you immediately can tell, "Ah, this is why you were nominated for an Oscar. I wouldn't be surprised if you're nominated for two or three more at some point in your career." Really wonderful.
And the best part about Naomie is, she's just an awesome girl. Like, really cool, down to earth, fun to talk to. And before every take, I'll come up to her and say, "Okay, I need the Oscar performance." Or I'll be, "You know what? We don't need the Oscar performance, just do a little bit." [Laughs]We've heard that the flipside of your character is he loves animals, he's great with George, but he's not great with people, maybe.
Yeah, just like me in real-life. [Laughs]
But with Naomie's character, and other people he's encountering, how does that play out?
Well, it makes it very challenging. Here's a guy who's been around the world. He's fought in wars and he's been an anti-poaching human in Rwanda, which is based off Dian Fossey, and some of those anti-poachers that I had the opportunity to spend time with. And he's seen a lot of the grim parts of the world, he's tracked down a lot of bad people. So, for him, the interpretation of what a good human being is is a bit skewed, but he is justified in his ways in how he feels.
So it makes any relationship with somebody very, very challenging. That includes Naomie, that includes the people he works with, that includes how he views the world and how he views people. And, also, he feels like the one thing that draws him to animals and especially to George is you always know the truth with them. You always know the truth with animals, and there's a great quote in the movie -- I think it's a great quote -- we'll see how people respond to it, and it's very simple. "If animals like you, they lick you. If they don't, they eat you."
So this is obviously not your first rodeo, but was there anything physically challenging about this that was different?
Easily the most physically demanding role I have ever done. Easily. And I didn't really anticipate it, because I knew it was going to be physically demanding, because you read the script -- and you know that things start to happen at a catastrophic level -- things are going down all around you, and you're flying a helicopter, because you've got to fly a helicopter. But, it wasn't until I got to the set that you start to realize that it is constant. Unlike "San Andreas," where a little tremor would happen, a little bit of rumbling, we'd have a little bit of time, this is just a constant onslaught. So, I think we're going to make a movie that really, truly feels like a ride with amazing twists and turns, and ups and downs, and your heart will beat really fast and then we'll slow it down just a little bit. Add a little bit of humor at certain places, which you need, and then you're on it again.
The "Fast and Furious" movies can be very physical, because there's always a fight, you have to fight with somebody. But in this case, there's a lot of running and there's a lot of almost being eaten.
"Rampage" hits theaters everywhere April 13.