LOS ANGELES (AP) – When Dwayne Johnson sold the idea for a television comedy about his colorful and challenging early life to NBC a year ago, he was delighted to tell his parents that a small-screen version of their family was meant to be.
Days later, at the age of 75, his father was felled by a heart attack caused by a blood clot. His loss inevitably changed “Young Rock,” said Johnson, who plays himself on the series that debuts Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST. A trio of actors portray Johnson’s younger iterations.
“I get emotional when I talk about it, when I talk about my father and think about it,” Johnson said, pausing to calm himself down. “I had a complex relationship with my father and he was a complex man.”
The series was supposed to feature the ups and downs of the elder Johnson, but after his death, his son decided to rely more on his “really uncanny ability to make someone feel good.”
With a smile, he recited Papa Rocky Johnson’s lively greetings, including a favorite: “Have you been training?”
Dwayne Johnson, who was billed as The Rock in his dazzling wrestling days, likely got some of his skills and ambitions from his Nova Scotia-born father, who held National Wrestling Alliance titles and became the first black champions in history owned by World Wrestling Entertainment.
But he can also owe his father the charm and casual warmth that make Dwayne Johnson instantly lovable, despite his imposing build and box office star credit in the Fast and Furious and Jumanji franchises. The sports comedy “Ballers” is part of his TV résumé.
He’s the real deal, “generous and gracious,” said Nahnatchka Khan, an executive producer on Young Rock with Johnson. “He’s cooperative, fun, and willing to take risks. So much comedy is trust … and I trust him completely.”
Bradley Constant, who plays the teenage Johnson who craves girls, cool threads, and a car, took on his first major role under his tutelage.
“He reassured me just to be myself. He’s a very real, normal guy who of course has had an incredible life, ”said Constant, who saw the family’s financial troubles as a way to anchor him in the role.
“Young Rock” is based on Johnson’s portrayal as a 2032 presidential candidate – a less timely move that political independence has taken into consideration. Is he preparing America for its next chapter?
“I think people will prepare me. I can tell, ”he replied with a laugh.
In the first episode he is interviewed by Randall Park, who also plays himself, but as an actor and television journalist. Park starred in “Fresh Off the Boat,” which Khan created and produced.
As Johnson recalls the past, there are flashbacks to scenes from him as a child, played by Adrian Groulx; a high school student (constant); and young adult, played by Australian actor Uli Latukefu. Joseph Lee Anderson and Stacey Leilua star as parents Rocky and Ata Johnson.
Matthew Willig is as big as the late Andre the Giant, one of the characters in the wrestling world who is considered a part and parcel of Johnson’s unusual childhood and adolescence and is plagued by the setbacks he has fought over.
“He really wanted to go there and show the fight that it wasn’t a straight line up for him,” said Khan. “He got depressed a lot and had to turn away from his dream and find a new dream, a new way. It’s really important to be able to explore moments like this in a comedy. “
Johnson turned out to be “dejected”. It was just about he really wanted to portray the people who influenced his life, “she said, adding that what was portrayed on the series happened or was inspired by events.
As Dwayne Johnson reflected on the past, he realized that the challenges were the impetus for real growth.
“It became an anchoring factor in my struggle and my determination not to be a victim to be honest when we were evicted from the apartment when we were 13 or 14,” he said. When working with Khan to figure out the right way to approach the show, “I knew in my heart that the most important thing is to be authentic and tear up some stories and tear up some past ones.”
That includes his own missteps, which Johnson said included arrests for fighting and theft before he was 17.
While it’s “extremely surreal” to pursue his early years on the series, he enjoys the perspective that only time can bring.
Even when things were difficult, Johnson said, he was strengthened by the family and “had an opportunity to see these real heroes before me, like my father and these wrestlers who were adored and loved and so strong and powerful.”
“They look back on these stories and just get so incredibly grateful,” he said.
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