Why Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Was Afraid of His Pain & Gain Role
Johnson in Pain & Gain
Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson scared? Pffft! The Rock isn't supposed to fear anything. He's climbed to the mountain top of Hollywood and he's been king of the World Wide Entertainment professional wrestling circuit. I mean, he played the Tooth Fairy, for crissakes! What the heck would make the chiseled former University of Miami football-playing bad boy tremble with fright and anxiety? Well, playing the role of a born again Christian, sober ex-con who spirals into a cocaine-fueled criminal rampage after he is recruited by a conniving, scheming body builder named Daniel Lugo to torture and extort millions in cash from wealthy victims.
In fact, Johnson almost backed out of his role as Paul Doyle in blockbuster movie director Michael Bay's passion project Pain & Gain a week before the filming began in Miami last March. The flick is based on a Miami New Times 30,000 word feature story penned by former Miami crime reporter Pete Collins in 1999. It recounts the sordid, grimy tale of the Sun Gym Gang, a crew of bumbling, body-building sociopaths who almost killed one guy after torturing him for his loot, and suceeded in killing their next two victims, yet failed to get their cash, luxury cars, big ass yacht, and waterfront pimp pad.
Doyle is a composite character based on two, maybe three, of the real life criminals who participated in the Sun Gym caper. It's a complex dark role for the Rock, who had to be convinced by Bay to dive into Doyle. Johnson - who declined to comment about his part-time home in Southwest Ranches, citing privacy - talked instead about his struggles to accept the Pain & Gain character he was playing in a recent interview with Cultist.
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Cultist: Michael Bay says you had reservations about playing Doyle a week before shooting began. Tell us about that.
I did. Michael gave me the script to read about eight years ago. He told me, "it's really interesting and it's a passion project of mine." I read it. I loved it. I wanted to do it then. Like in Hollywood, we went off and did other things. When it came back around to me, he sent it to me again, "Hey, remember Pain & Gain? Do you have time to do it?" We had the same agent so I said yeah, absolutely. In my mind, I was thinking, sure I'd really like to play Daniel Lugo. When he gave it to me, he told me, "I want you to look at this as Paul Doyle." So for me, I thought okay. As I am reading it, I would love to play this character. He's so complex. He's got so many layers and so extreme. Because he was a composite of all these other guys there were a lot of minds being thrown into Paul Doyle. God, I said, I'd really like to play this. Then you start doing the research, preparing for the role, physically and pscyhologically, looking into people who do cocaine and prisoners who just get out of prison. About a week out, I started to think, I don't know. I am not quite sure I can do it.
Well, Paul Doyle is a far stretch for the heroic Rock, isn't it?
Yea. The characters I play, whether it is an action drama or a family comedy, there is inherent qualities of those characters that were a part of me. Even if they weren't heroic in the beginning, by the end they were pretty heroic. By the end, they were in a leadership position. By the end, everybody got better. This guy, Doyle, continued to fall, and continued to make poor decisions, and continued to fall to extreme levels. He's doing cocaine, and before you know it, he's grilling body parts. There were a lot of extremes. I was like, do I have the capacity as an actor to do this? There was a strong sense of fear. I have never been in this position before. Will the audience see right through that? I wanted to make sure the performance was authentic and strong because of the content of this movie.
So what did Bay do to convince you Doyle was the part for you?
His reputation preceeds him. He is very efficient. He is very on point. Boom, Boom, out. He sat down and wrote this letter to me. It was a very defining letter and a very defining moment in my career. This letter was so incredibly articulate and empathetic and forward and direct. It was a letter from a brother to another brother. The overall spirit of the letter was, "I brought you this role because of the complexities of it. I know there is no one in Hollywood but you who can do this." The fear went away. The insecurity went away. Okay, I'm going to jump off this cliff. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Well, you can really see Doyle fall apart, but even in the end, you felt more sympathy for Paul than the other two Sun Gym Gang members.
Yes. One of the lengthy discussions I had with Michael is that this character will become the audience's conscience. When they want to see kindness, they'll see it through Paul Doyle. They want to see someone who is extreme, especially using external substances [like cocaine], they are going to see it through Paul Doyle. So much of the audience's journey is going to go through Paul that by the end of the movie, Michael was very specific about Paul's salvation. We want the audience to be happy for him. It's a tricky balance because you are also happy about him going back to prison.
So you live in Southwest Ranches. What's that like?
Kind of. [His manager interjects, explaining Johnson has a huge privacy issue]. I'd rather not talk about that.
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