Dwayne Johnson is keeping it real for his latest project and doesn’t hold back in the semi-autobiographical comedy Young Rock, in which he revisits painful moments he experienced as a kid. In Young Rock, the former pro wrestler takes viewers into his formative years and gives an honest look at what his life was like, including the challenging relationship he had with his father.
“When I first sat down with (Executive Producer) Nahnatchka (Khan) as well as Jeff (Chiang), it was to really understand why – what’s the real reason why we’re going to do this? How can we create something for audiences that will hopefully entertain them but also allow them with a bit of takeaway afterwards?
“Once, we identified that, and I felt good and comfortable with that, then we moved forward. Let’s not take the easy route. We use these terms ‘wild’ and ‘crazy’ – those are great sizzle words we use as we promote this thing.
He added: “But it was incredibly complicated and incredibly tough growing up, specifically with these timelines in my life of 10 years old, 15 and 18. Universe willing, if we’re lucky enough to come back for another round of this thing, there’s a lot of other things that took place in between.”
While NBC‘s Young Rock, premiering February 16, is full of lighthearted hilarious moments, it doesn’t shy away from the difficult times with his wrestler father, Rocky Johnson, who had a magnetic big personality in real life and is portrayed as such on screen by Joseph Lee Anderson. The WWE Hall of Famer died suddenly in January 2020 at the age of 75.
“The relationship I had with my dad was incredibly complicated and fueled by tough love,” said Johnson. “My dad was kicked out of his house when he was 13 and was homeless, so that then shaped the man who then raised me.
“And in that complication came an extraordinary life that was full of travel. I lived in 13 different states by the time I was 13 years old. I also lived in New Zealand. There was so much breadth to this life I had.”
The actor continued: “I think really when I look back on this and I can reflect, the series has really allowed, in a way, me to appreciate those hard times that much more.
“Because through the brilliance of Nahnatchka (Khan) and Jeff (Chiang), they were able to craft something that still made audiences — I hope and I think and fingers crossed — feel a certain way and know that we all go through these tough times.”
And Johnson went through a lot of them, which are shown in Young Rock. “Starting around 13 is when I started to veer off the tracks and do a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been doing. I started getting arrested at 13 in Hawaii, and then there was talk of us leaving Hawaii, because times were too hard. I was so adamantly against leaving the island and I fought tooth and nail with my mom and my dad because I did not want to leave,” he explained.
“And it became harder and harder for us to pay the rent, but I did not want to leave and I really put my foot down as best as a 14-year-old punk kid could. That’s when you want something so badly then the universe steps in and we get evicted off the island so we had no choice but to leave, which I always find this is the one of the most ironic things about life is when you want something so badly, and that thing you want so badly just doesn’t come true.
“Years later, you realize that that’s actually the best thing that never happened. So it allowed us to leave. Then I wound up going to Nashville, Tennessee, then we were forced out of Nashville. Then I went up to Bethlehem. And as we were forced out of Nashville that summer I’d already just turned 15 years old.
“We thought we were going to make a home, it didn’t work out that way. Things happen. And then we left for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. So within the course of about, you know, nine months I was in three different cities from Hawaii to Nashville, then Bethlehem.”
He continued, “There was a real instability in Bethlehem when we first got there. I was still stealing, because I wanted to present myself in a way that truly wasn’t wasn’t me or that I thought people would want to see.”
Another rough patch was when his football career came to an end at Miami University and he didn’t make it to the NFL. “That was a pretty big loss because when you’re done with your college career you’re done. You don’t get another shot at it, you can’t come back, which we’ll get into a little bit of that in this series, but that was a tough time too,” he said, remembering how he only had $7.00 in his pocket during this period.
It was important for the Jumanji and Hobbs & Shaw star to show his difficult days in Young Rock, but the positive as well. “Let’s talk about the complications. Let’s reveal things, but then also very important. Let’s talk about the good stuff, because there was so much good stuff now when I look back at it and the good stuff growing up in this wild world with these characters who are larger than life who all of these men and women, my grandmother [who] was one of the first pioneering women in the world of professional wrestling.
“All of these men, so successful in what they did. But yet, interestingly enough, they played that role 24 hours a day, even if that meant they lived in small apartments, even if that meant they live paycheck to paycheck, they still so there was this again I look back with such a profound gratitude that I’m able to share these stories.”
Young Rock maintains an authenticity audiences will find relatable and his dad would have enjoyed.”He would have loved this and he would have been so proud because for the first time, certainly in prime time, we are showcasing this world, that he and all of his brothers of the rings, so to speak, of those men in the ’70s and the ’80s that they gave their life to.
“And, you know, to showcase it like this, and to showcase it through the lens of something that’s positive and know what it meant, a lot to my dad because a lot of times the world of pro wrestling isn’t always looked at through that lens in a positive way,” he added. “There’s a lot of positive stuff that we could take out of this.”