April 13, 2004
Rock on a roll
By LOUIS B. HOBSON - CALGARY SUN
Before he morphed into wrestling superstar The Rock, Johnson struggled through the school of hard knocks. "There were times I didn't know where my next meal was coming from. It's a place I never want to go back to," says Johnson, 31, who's put his wrestling career on hold to work on his acting career.
"I know it seems like I want it all, but if you've ever been really hungry, you're never full. It's not greed because daily I'm thankful for what I have."
What he has now are more movie offers than he can handle.
Fresh off the action comedy The Rundown, Johnson filmed Walking Tall, a fifth film inspired by the life of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser who cleaned up the backwoods McNally County wielding only a massive wooden club.
"I jumped at the chance to do this movie because I grew up watching films like Billy Jack, Walking Tall and all those Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson movies about the little guy who takes on a corrupt establishment," says Johnson.
"It's all about old-fashioned frontier justice, and I think we still respond to that in movies.
The real Buford Pusser tangled with moonshiners and mobsters back in the 1950s.
"He didn't clean up his town's mess nearly as easily as I clean up mine in the new Walking Tall.
"He was shot eight times, stabbed six times and run over once, but he kept striking back until he was killed in a car accident. It's pretty well accepted that it was a revenge killing."
Johnson met with Pusser's daughter, who he says "is thrilled with the new movie. She's very proud of her legacy. She was 13 when she pulled her dad out of that car wreck and tried to revive him."
The original intent for Walking Tall was to make it as powerful and graphic as possible.
"What we ended up with was a hard R-picture, which proved too rough for the studio (MGM). So it's been drastically trimmed back for a more general audience.
"I think they feared an R-rated picture would alienate my fan base, but the film we originally shot will be on the DVD."
For Walking Tall, Johnson lost weight and actually toned down.
"My guy is a soldier, not a wrestler. I wanted him to have the appropriate body definition.
"I also spent a lot of time working with the film's fight co-ordinators because this is a real blue-collar type movie. It's real men and real fights -- not the CGI and wire-work we're used to in action movies these days."
Though he wins most of the film and wrestling fights, Johnson says that's not the way it's always been.
"I've had my butt whipped a fair number of times.
"The first time was in the third grade by a guy named Ricco. He made fun of me in front of a girl I really liked, so I told him to meet me after school."
Johnson says he knew he was in for a beating because "Ricco was older and bigger than me, but I was determined not to lose faith.
"Making Walking Tall brought back memories of Ricco. I'd like to invite him to a rematch."
In the movie, Johnson's character, Chris Vaughn, comes from an interracial family. His father is played by African American actor John Beasley and his mother by white actress Barbara Tarbuck.
"It was an issue we addressed at one of our first meetings.
"I reminded them that I'm half black and half Samoan, and that I would like to have an interracial family as long as it wasn't an issue in the film.
"They asked what colour girlfriend I wanted in the film. I told them to find the best actress but not to make that pairing an issue either.
"As a wrestler, I've travelled America, and interracial families are a part of our culture and movies are supposed to reflect society."
Johnson has already filmed the role of a bodyguard in Be Cool opposite John Travolta, and he's signed to star in the adventure comedy Spy Hunter.