|The Rock and Vince Vaughn in Be Cool.
HOLLYWOOD -- The memories and the name are all Dwayne Johnson has left from his illustrious wrestling career. As wrestling's The Rock, Johnson was one formidable presence. He lost the biggest battle of his career without even stepping into a ring.
"My contract with World Wrestling Entertainment was up last year. I was never contacted or notified," says Johnson.
"My own team was congratulating me on my career when we discovered the opportunity for renewal was never brought up."
Johnson admits this slight "hit me like a ton of bricks.
"I would like to believe the door is always open if I really wanted to go back to wrestling full time."
Such a move is not a priority for Johnson, who is working instead on an acting career.
He made his feature film debut in 2001 in The Mummy Returns, immediately earning himself the spin-off movie The Scorpion King.
Johnson, 32, continued to spend equal time in the ring and on film sets completing The Rundown and Walking Tall in quick succession.
He's starring opposite John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn and Andre Benjamin in Be Cool, playing bodyguard Elliot Wilhelm to Vaughn's shady record agent Raji.
Elliot is a lot of brawn mixed with limited brain and just happens to be gay.
"I tried to play Elliot as straight as I could," says Johnson relishing the obvious pun.
"It would have been too easy and disrespectful to play him as a gay caricature.
"I have too much respect for my gay friends to do that."
Johnson says his most important mentor, wrestler Pat Patterson, is gay.
"I feel fortunate that in my life I've had many important, positive gay influences.
"Pat was a strong, proud, gay man who could really kick butt when he had to. That's how I tried to play Elliot. The response I've received from the gay community has been encouraging and positive."
More encouraging still was the day Johnson met Elmore Leonard, who wrote Get Shorty and this sequel, Be Cool.
"Elmore thanked me for doing the movie and told me he wrote Elliot with me in mind.
"I thanked him profusely then cautiously asked where the whole gay thing came in. He said he just thought it would make the character more interesting."
Johnson says director F. Gary Gray allowed him great license when it came to portraying Elliot.
"It was my idea to have him long to be a country singer and it was my idea to have him sing Loretta Lynn's You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man.
"I'm a huge fan of Coal Miner's Daughter, which is why that song stuck in my mind."
Gray says Johnson performed a whole video of the song, but the record company would not release the rights to use the song in the film.
"I have a hilarious three-minute video of The Rock doing a gay version of You Ain't Woman Enough that I can't show anyone," laments Gray.
"I just hope we can get them to change their minds so we can include it on the DVD.
"It's really very good, considering The Rock had never sung before this."
Johnson also gets to dance a traditional Samoan slapdance.
"My cousins came in to help out and dance with me. They're professional choreographers and dancers."
Fans of The Rock will notice changes in his appearance as well as his outrageous antics.
To play Elliot he sports an Afro and he's considerably slimmed down from his peak wrestling days.
"The Afro is a wig. The new physique is all me or, more exactly, less me.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger realized he had to tone down his muscles if he wanted to play regular characters and that's what my aim is."
Johnson has five projects in various stages of development.
He has already completed Doom for Andrzej Bartkowiak, the Polish director of such thrillers as Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds and Cradle 2 the Grave.
"I'm really excited about Gridiron Gang. I'll play a counsellor for teen delinquents who turns their lives around by creating a football team."
Johnson has also signed to star as the title character in Johnny Bravo, the big screen adaptation of the comic.
More on The Rock
Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!
Order The Rock 'Just Bring It' Double DVD