Before he became a Hollywood superstar, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, of course, was one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. But the full story of his formative years hasn't been told — until now.
Young Rock, a new NBC sitcom, looks back at Johnson's unconventional upbringing surrounded by the wild, charismatic characters of pro wrestling, including his late father, Rocky Johnson.
"I never thought I'd be in this position where these guys, along with my family and loved ones, would be brought to life on the screen," says the star. "They didn't wear capes when I was a little boy, but they were my superheroes."
Here, Johnson, 48, opens up about his bad-boy days, his relationship with his dad, and the tough love that helped make him a success.
So, was that famous #TBT photo of you with a fanny pack part of the pitch for the show?
DJ: That was the entire pitch. It was just me and the fanny pack, and NBC said, "We're in. Now let's work backwards from there." Seriously, I grew up in this crazy world with these characters who were larger than life. Within 10 minutes, the meeting stopped and they said, "There's something unique here."
Having a dad who was a pro wrestler and growing up in the business had to be wild.
From my perspective, the show is truly a love letter to pro wrestling, which I've loved all of my life and where I learned some of my most valuable — while very unorthodox — lessons. My dad was a bad dude in the game, and he had a lot of charisma and athletic ability. But it was also incredibly tough because my relationship with him was very complicated. We wanted to really rip that open and reveal all the vulnerability I felt growing up.
Why does Young Rock focus on your experiences at the ages of 10, 15 and 18?
We went with these timelines because they were the defining periods in my life. The kid at 10 is this innocent boy who just needed guidance. At 15, I'd already started to veer off the tracks and was stealing and doing things I shouldn't have been doing because I had anger issues and an identity crisis. At 18, I was just so determined to make something of myself. And then a few years later, after my college football career, I didn't get called up to the NFL. That was a pretty big loss.
Was it painful to relive those years?
It makes me appreciate the hard times that much more. When you're in it, you're in the bubble, but when you see somebody else going through it, it's like looking through a kaleidoscope. You just click it a few times and you see a different perspective. But you also see the good stuff — and there was so much when I look back.
It's been just over a year since your father died. Has celebrating his life helped with your grief?
He's obviously featured throughout the show, and he would have loved it and been so proud. For the first time, we are showcasing this world that he and all of his brothers of the ring gave their life to, and we're doing it through the lens of something positive. Right now, he is beaming at all the attention he's getting.
Are there any plans in the works for future seasons of the show?
If we are lucky enough to come back, there's a lot of other things that took place, like when I got arrested all the time as a teen and when I [decided] I might have something to offer pro wrestling. There's a good amount of stuff, and don't worry — I'm bringing along the fanny pack.