Dwayne Johnson talks huge physical demands of 'Hercules'

Dwayne

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars in "Hercules."

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:17 PM ET

Hercules – a.k.a. Heracles – son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene, famously endured Twelve Labours.

By way of counterpoint, the guy portraying him in a major motion picture this week, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, endured 150 days of intense physiotherapy and physical training after traumatic injury sustained in a wrestling ring and a hernia operation.

As portrayed in the movie, the post-Labours Hercules was unsure of himself, coasting on his reputation and looking for something to believe in.

Johnson, pre-Hercules, was wondering whether the gods were telling him to take it easy.

“Y’know, it’s funny,” a casual and friendly Johnson says during an interview in a Toronto hotel room prior to the release of the $110 million Hercules with Joseph Fiennes, John Hurt and Ian McShane. “We have these moments in life where you’re thinking, ‘Is the universe trying to tell me to do something else? Romantic comedies maybe? Is that what’s in the cards? Am I just not listening?’”

The problem – at least as far as the insurance companies go – is that, despite being billed as Dwayne, the 42-year-old Johnson just can’t quit being The Rock every so often.

The event that almost gave two studios and director Brett Ratner a heart attack was a WWE WrestleMania match last year at New York’s MetLife Stadium, where John Cena “beat” him in front of 60,000 fans (part of a verbal agreement he has with Vince McMahon to add his name and fame to WrestleMania events).

It’s understood these days that wrestling has “plotlines,” – i.e. it’s scripted. But the punishment is often real – as Johnson discovered when he walked into his doctor’s office to hear he had torn his adductor and rectus muscles “practically right off the hip.”

His choices: surgery, and a year of physio, or cross your fingers and trust the “shreds” of tendon to reattach with scar tissue via physiotherapy.

“I told the doctor, ‘I have a movie to shoot in six weeks!’ He said, ‘Does it involve a lot of physical activity?’ I said, ‘It’s Hercules, so… yeah.’”

Faced with a similarly torn quad tendon, I took the surgery. But I’m not Dwayne Johnson, and there’s not a literal cast of thousands waiting in Budapest for me to start work.

“Because it was such a big movie, the crew had been there for four to six months already, prepping, building these massive sets. And in the entertainment business, if you push a project of that magnitude, the likelihood of it coming back with the same cinematographer, the same director, same players, is slim to none. So I wanted to keep everything intact. I called Brett Ratner and said, ‘I’m walking with a limp, let’s see where I am in six weeks.’”

Then, as his muscles were being assessed, a lump was found in his abdomen. Back to the doctor. “I dropped trou, and the doctor said, ‘Wow, that’s one big hernia!’”

In fact, while operating, surgeons found three hernias.

“I called MGM and they had to push the movie by two weeks, which was a million dollars a week.”

Life for Johnson during the 95-day shoot was “entirely dedicated to healing. At 3:30, 4 in the morning wake up for cardio, had the cardio machine in my room, had food ready. Every minute was accounted for when I was doing something that supported the healing.”

In the movie, based on the Thracian Wars graphic novel by Steve Moore, the son of Zeus finds purpose by intervening on the side of good in a war against Thrace.

As for Johnson, he found his mojo in a Thracian battle scene on the first day of filming. “It was a very epic scene, battling these warriors who you see in the trailer, are all painted green. There are massive, sword-swinging, action sequences, I’m riding a chariot.

“As you start to swing that sword, that’s when you feel the tightness. But little by little, the conditioning takes hold.”

In long hair and wearing Hercules’ trademark lion’s head, this is not a familiar Dwayne Johnson. “The lion head-dress, while very iconic, was a pain the ass. It was heavy and it didn’t have a chin-strap, so it would fall off during fighting. It was take after take after take. It was a three-hour process every day, and I really only felt like Hercules when they put that last bit of armour on.”

If Johnson is hearing a siren-call away from punishing action films, it’ll be tough to escape. Hollywood now considers him a “franchise saver,” after injecting Fast & Furious series with new blood in Fast 5 and goosing the box office in the second G.I. Joe movie. He’s set to do a third.

But unlike Hercules, he says it’s not in his nature to coast on past glory. “I could have been in the WWE for an additional 10 or 20 years. I could have done nothing but action movies (indeed, he has put in some decent performances, as a flamboyantly-gay Samoan bodyguard in Be Cool, and as a Christian bodybuilder-turned-coke-addict in Pain & Gain).

As for WrestleMania, his verbal agreement still technically calls for one appearance. If it happens, he says, “I’ll do my best to protect myself.”

From ringside, perhaps.

The evolution of ‘The Rock’

Unquestionably the most successful wrestler to move from mat to movies, here’s a career rundown of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

- Son of Canadian wrestler Rocky Johnson and grandson of Samoan wrestler Peter Malvia.

- Attended high school in Honolulu, ran afoul of police for petty thefts and fighting. Years later, while shooting Journey 2: Mysterious Island in Hawaii, “I passed by places I was arrested, and it was very reflective,” he told us. “I was very fortunate to have great parents and coaches who believed in my potential.”

- Played football: For the University of Miami Hurricanes and, briefly, the Calgary Stampeders. “I was making $250 a week, Canadian, and had to move back with my parents when I was cut.”

- Joined the WWF/WWE in 1996 as Rocky Malvia, and the next year adopted the ring name of The Rock. He’d go on to win 10 wrestling World Championships and become the most famous wrestler of his generation.

- In 1997, he posed as a Toronto Sun SUNshine Boy as Rocky Malvia. "Oh my gosh!” Johnson said when he saw a copy of the photo. “The fanny bag, the hair... Look how far I've come.”

- First on-camera role, an alien wrestler in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager

- First leading role, the Mummy spinoff The Scorpion King (a character who appeared as a cameo in The Mummy Returns).

- First role anybody took seriously: His flamboyantly-gay Samoan bodyguard character in the film adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty (in which he sang You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man). “The critics weren’t kind to that movie, but they were to me.”

- Other movies: Walking Tall, Doom, Gridiron Gang, Journey 2: Mysterious Island, Pain & Gain, Tooth Fairy, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6.

- Soon to be seen in: Fast & Furious 7 and Ballers, an HBO series about professional football players, which he co-exec produced with his Pain & Gain co-star Mark Wahlberg.

- As for Fast 8, Johnson doesn’t know if he’ll be back – or whether there will be an eighth. “...You don’t want to think too far into the future. But... I think because this is the last one with Paul, it would be a good way to go out. It feels good.”

Twitter: @jimslotek

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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