Dwayne Johnson is big. Really big. The WWE wrestler-turned-Hollywood star is 6ft 4in, a solid 250lb-worth of hunk – a muscular alpha monument of a guy, much like the “Brahma bull” logo which he has tattooed on to one of his Crossrail-tunnel-proportioned arms.

Yet his shaven head, which he has sported for some years now, also gives him a kind of Buddha-like calm to go with the bulk, an easy geniality that makes him castable in family adventures and action comedies. Aged 45, he is up at 5am every day to work out for at least a couple of hours, a regime he inherited from his dad, Rocky Johnson, himself a professional wrestler, from whom Johnson adapted his wrestling name – The Rock. Johnson is of impeccable wrestling lineage. His Samoan grandfather, Peter Maivia, was a legend among wrestling fans.

And Johnson is big in another way. He is now simply the world’s biggest movie star. In 2015, his films reportedly made $1.488bn at the box office . In an industry which desperately needs tentpole stars and above-the-title players, people whose simple presence can “open” a movie, Johnson is a prince. As he today opens his new, outrageously silly extravaganza, Rampage, Johnson is entering his celebrity prime, now confident enough to discuss his problems with depression, his tough upbringing and the agony of witnessing his mother’s attempt at taking her own life after they were evicted from their apartment when he was a teenager.

But how did this happen? What exactly has he done? Has he ever made any good films? It is difficult to pin down quite what roles Johnson has made his own. Arnie had The Terminator, Sylvester had Rambo and Rocky, Bruce had Die Hard and, these days, Tom has Mission: Impossible. But Dwayne isn’t like that, and he’s not a classic action star, either. He has spread his career and brand identity into a wider portfolio of genres and franchise properties, and the return on these has collectively added up to a colossal amount of celebrity clout.

Like Arnie with Conan the Barbarian, Johnson began by parleying his muscles into a “mythic” role. He was The Scorpion King in 2002, a role spun off from his small part in The Mummy Returns the year before. Johnson made action movies such as The Rundown in 2003 and the not-much-liked Doom in 2005, based on a video game. He had a brief and very surreal flirtation with auteur-arthouse, making his debut at the Cannes film festival in Richard Kelly’s cult movie Southland Tales in 2007, alongside Seann William Scott. But his career takeoff really came at the end of the decade, when he made his debut in the fifth movie in the petrolhead Fast and Furious franchise, playing Luke Hobbs, the Government agent dedicated to taking on Vin Diesel’s daredevil criminal Dominic “Dom” Toretto. Johnson siphoned off the huge popularity of these movies into his own career petrol tank. But he also played the lead in Disney’s Race To Witch Mountain, the action-adventure remake of the 1975 film Escape To Witch Mountain. And if you’ve got tweenage children and they’ve ever had a sleepover, with a DVD being put on, then you will have witnessed the awesome power of this film. Johnson is a lovable dad.

Dwayne Johnson in Rampage
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 Dwayne Johnson (front) in Rampage Photograph: Allstar/New Line Cinema

His secret is that he didn’t go down the pure action route, still less the “Hulk” blind alley suffered by someone like, say, Lou Ferrigno. Like Arnie, he is self-aware and good-natured enough to play comedy and family-oriented movies – but, unlike Arnie, it wasn’t a matter of irony or sending himself up. With his open, wide-eyed face and unassuming, essentially unaggressive persona, he could carry it off. And he can be funny — developing a genuinely successful odd-couple double-act with the standup Kevin Hart in the films Central Intelligence and Jumani: Welcome To The Jungle. They are like Schwarzenegger and DeVito in Twins. He is the action Dean Martin to Kevin’s Jerry Lewis. He is also working on a double-act spinoff from Fast and Furious with Jason Statham, and he cheerfully declares they will be called “Dwaytham”.

For Johnson, being a nice guy is a central part of his persona. But it wasn’t always like this. As a college football star at the University of Miami, he had a ferocious temper, and was always getting into fights. In his wrestling career in the 90s and early 00s, Johnson was originally cast as the “heel”, the bad guy, always trash-talking and insulting his opponents – including that other wrestler-turned-actor, John Cena. And even now, in his movie career, we have seen flashes of Johnson’s dark side. “Vin and I had a few discussions, including an important face-to-face in my trailer,” Johnson icily told Rolling Stone of an incident during the filming of Fast and Furious. “And what I came to realise is that we have a fundamental difference in philosophies on how we approach movie-making and collaborating.” Quite a paraphrase.

For the moment, The Rock is the colossus of the industry. Will he progress to something more solid? Does he even need to? As he grows into character roles, Johnson might have something bigger to show us before he taps out. He has spoken about how he hopes one day to host the Oscars … maybe even win an Oscar. And, last May, while hosting Saturday Night Live, he announced his bid for the US presidency in 2020, with Tom Hanks as his running mate. Of course, he was just kidding. Or was he?

[“Source-theguardian”]

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