Graphing Dwayne Johnson's onscreen journey, from The Rock in WWE to becoming Hollywood's highest paid actor

Devansh Sharma

Apr 12, 2018 12:58:21 IST

Dwayne Johnson's next, slated to release this Friday on 13 April, is titled Rampage. The name of this science fiction monster film is rather appropriately titled, as 'rampage' is what can be aptly used to describe The Rock's journey, since his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) debut in 1996.

Introduced as Rocky Malvia (an amalgamation of the names of his wrestling ancestors — father Rocky Johnson and grandfather Peter Malvia), The Rock's in-ring character was initially not loved by fans. He was considered cheesy till he got along with what is unarguably his luckiest tag team partner till date — the microphone.

Graphing Dwayne Johnsons onscreen journey, from The Rock in WWE to becoming Hollywoods highest paid actor

Dwayne Johnson as The Rock in WWE

Part of heel (a technical term for negative) factions like The Corporation and The Nation of Domination, Johnson shunned his forefathers' legacy by assuming a new identity for himself, as The Rock. He dissed the WWE Universe on the microphone during in-ring promos but his skilled mic-work, quick wit and an inevitable connect with the live audience soon turned him into a fan-favourite.

Over the years, he turned into the go-to guy in WWE for long in-ring speeches. What worked in favour of The Rock was that the promos were never a one-way affair. He ensured that the live audience cuts the promos with him. From repeating his catchphrases like "Bring it" and "Lay the smackdown" to completing his sentences from "If ya smell..." to "What The Rock is cookin'", the WWE Universe became participants in his speeches.

Despite fans knowing 'The Great One' inside out, he never failed to surprise them with his promos. From roasting fellow WWE superstars to coining memorable catchphrases (Smackdown went on to become the name of WWE's second longest running flagship show), The Rock always brought the 'it' factor behind the mic. The spectators could easily envision a Hollywood career for The Rock as he was sure not to have any issues cramming pages-long dialogues and delivering them with conviction on screen.

But speeches do not make superstars. Otherwise theatre actors could also make it as easily into Tinsel Town. What set The Rock apart was that he became "The Most Electrifying Person in All of Entertainment", and not just professional wrestling. From his in-ring moves to rousing promos, The Rock electrified the audience like no other entertainer could.

An accurate example of his electrifying persona is given by longtime rival Chris Jericho. Jericho describes the reception Johnson received, in his book Undisputed: How To Become World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps, recalling the time he was scheduled to face The Rock during WWE's Japan tour in 2002. "The reaction was the one of the loudest I have ever heard. It was as if Elvis had joined The Beatles and all of them were wearing Godzilla costumes."

This happened when The Rock was promoting his first movie as the lead star, The Scorpion King. A cameo in the role of the chief antagonist in The Mummy Returns earned him a spin-off of his own, which in turn fetched him the Guinness Record for the highest paid person in first film as lead actor. This was, however, only the first of five Guinness World Records to follow, one of them being that to click the maximum number of selfies under three minutes. Johnson clicked 105 selfies under 180 seconds at the London premiere of San Andreas.

While The Scorpion King was Dwayne Johnson's big break in Hollywood, he had already left quite an imprint on pop culture by then. He appeared as a guest star on two shows — as his father in That '70s Show and as an alien wrestler (performing his signature moves like The People's Elbow and Rock Bottom) in Star Trek: Voyager. He admits that he started getting lucrative offers after he hosted a special edition of The Saturday Night Live!, also featuring his fellow WWE superstars.

His breakthrough, however, came when he played Luke Hobbs in The Fast and the Furious franchise, starting with the fifth installment. His role, juxtaposed against fellow onscreen 'tough guy' Vin Diesel, could have worked only because of his image of a WWE wrestler. This writer insists on using 'wrestler' instead of 'superstar' as The Rock was as efficient and accomplished in the ring as on the mic.

A 10-time world champion, The Rock continues to make sporadic appearances in the WWE and laying the smackdown on multiple stars, most recently his fellow wrestler-turned-actor John Cena. The Rock had a memorable feud with Cena from 2011 to 2013. Johnson took digs at Cena for his clean image and popularity among children that never allowed him to take up grey roles onscreen, or even in WWE, a luxury that The Rock could afford without running the risk of losing out on his loyal fan base.

Returning the favour, Cena accused Johnson for being ungrateful to WWE, the platform that launched him into Hollywood. It was a clash of two pop culture icons. While Cena got the last laugh in the ring at Wrestlemania 29, Johnson outpaced Cena in the Hollywood race by becoming the second highest paid actor in 2017, next only to Mark Wahlberg.

Johnson's box office prowess is solely responsible for reinvigorating popular film franchises like The Mummy, The Fast and the Furious, Baywatch, GI Joe and Jumanji. From delivering dialogues in his typical breathless style, flaunting the raised one eyebrow and playing the archetypal 'tough guy', Johnson often plays The Rock in his films.

Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in a still from Fast Five

Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in a still from Fast Five

But why his appeal as a hero of the masses exceeds that of equally popular WWE superstars like Cena (12 Rounds), Hulk Hogan (Thunder in Paradise), "Stone Cold" Steven Austin (The Condemned), Kane (See No Evil) and The Miz (The Marine 3: Homefront), is also because of his vulnerability.

Recently, Johnson opened up on a long battle with depression. "Struggle and pain is real. I was devastated and depressed. I reached a point where I didn't want to do a thing or go anywhere. I was crying constantly," Johnson told He was just 15 then. However, he overcame the disease in typical The Rock fashion by evolving into "The People's Champion". He hit the rock bottom only to come back stronger by making the people part of his struggle to the top.

As opposed to Cena who kept pronouncing "The Champ Is Here" every week, The Rock became "The People's Champion" before progressing into Hollywood's most bankable star. We must admit, all along, we could smell what The Rock was cookin'.

Updated Date: Apr 12, 2018 12:58:21 IST

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