The Rock brings the heat to 'Jumanji'
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson sat down with USA TODAY's Bryan Alexander and shared the inspiration behind his 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' character, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, and how his own teenage past helped him master the role.
LOS ANGELES — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doesn't fear facing Star Wars.
Johnson says he's thrilled his Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, out Wednesday, arrives in time for the holidays, even though it will compete with The Last Jedi at the box office.
Besides, The Rock already has Luke Skywalker’s blessing for his comedy adventure.
“I had this awesome Twitter exchange where I told Mark Hamill, 'Best of luck, just leave our little Jumanji a little room,' ” says Johnson. “He responded that 'The Force is strong with Jumanji. You’ll be fine.' ”
Even island-dwelling hermits like Skywalker know that Jumanji stars one of Hollywood's last bankable megastars with Johnson — along with Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas — in the story of video game heroes stuck in a real game.
But there’s another force at play pushing Jumanji: Johnson’s sizzle factor. Playing a 16-year-old gamer inhabiting the impossibly brawny body of a game avatar, the 6-foot-5 Johnson unleashes what he calls “the smolder look."
That concept initially took some convincing with director Jake Kasdan.
“You should've heard the conversation," says Johnson, relaying the call. "I was like, ‘My character’s trait is, he smolders!’ Silence. ‘What do you mean by smolders?’ "
Johnson explained his hero would ooze machismo. Still nothing from Kasdan. Johnson finally turned his iPhone on himself, delivering a full eyebrow-arching "smolder" video.
Kasdan was convinced. Dr. Smolder Bravestone was born. With true Rock bravado, Johnson explains he has those captivating qualities.
“It’s one of those things. God delivered, I signed for it," Johnson says. "And it just comes."
Recent proof? Hours before he drove his co-stars to the Hollywood world premiere Dec. 11 in a rickety Jumanji jeep, Johnson revealed on Instagram (to 97.3 million followers) that girlfriend Lauren Hashian is expecting.
“We announced we’re having a baby girl, and three hours later I’m on the red carpet holding her baby bump," says Johnson. "It was one of the greatest nights in Hollywood I've ever had."
Literal bump bonus: The baby news prompted worldwide headlines promoting Jumanji, showing the heart and muscles Johnson flexes to stay atop Hollywood. His work ethic and showmanship impressed co-star Jonas.
“I soaked up everything I could and learned from him,” says Jonas. “He puts a project on his back.”
With positive reviews and strong word-of-mouth, comScore box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian predicts Jumanji will thrive with around $35 million opening weekend, saying, "Never count out The Rock."
But Johnson, who had a rare misstep this summer with Baywatch, hasn't taken chances, promoting Jumanji around the globe. He'll take rare holiday downtime with family in Florida, where a room is already painted pink and a new Ford Raptor pickup truck waits — "my gift to myself."
But then its back to work on Skyscraper (July 13), Disney's Jungle Cruise and his Fast & Furious spin-off with Jason Statham (both 2019).
There's even that possible run for president he's still "seriously considering."
"If I ever become president," says Johnson. "You'll see the first smoldering president in the history of presidencies."