By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HONOLULU—Dwayne Johnson returns to his old stamping grounds here for his latest film “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” a family friendly action film that incorporates the adventure tales of Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jonathan Swift.
In this sequel to 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Johnson plays an Ohio stepfather trying to bond with his surly teenage son (Josh Hutcherson reprising his character from the original) by joining him for a trip to a mysterious South Pacific island to find his missing scientist grandfather (Michael Caine). To get to the remote island, Johnson’s character hires a local helicopter pilot on Fiji, who brings along his pretty daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). After crash-landing on the island, the visitors are in for an adventure they never expected, with all sorts of unusual creatures, but also facing a deadline to get off before the whole place sinks into the ocean.
The former professional wrestler also served as a producer on the film, which meant he had a lot of creative input into the story. It was his idea, for example, to utilize his ability to pop his pecs, making good use of the film’s stereoscopic (3D) technology. He also got a chance to show off his competent singing skills for another scene.
Front Row Features: How many takes did you do for the popping your pecs scene?
Dwayne Johnson: When it’s that much of a gift, I mean really, who’s counting. It was Method pec popping. Stanislavski would be proud.
Front Row Features: Why did you want to do this movie and, as a producer, did you insist that scene being written into the movie?
Johnson: When I first the read the script, I thought it was fun. I had wanted to do a big 3D adventure for some time. But it needed some work from the ground up. I was on an airplane with one of our co-producers, and I was thinking, how can we take advantage of this 3D technology and utilize my body in a fun, entertaining way that’s appropriate. I said to him, “What if I did something where my pecs pop in 3D? It might be funny and entertaining.” He was eating nuts at the time. So he said, “Oh, I got it. Bounce the nuts right off into the audience.” That’s how it happened. When we shot the scene, it was berries, not nuts, though.
Front Row Features: Can you talk about working with Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens? Did they impress you?
Johnson: They’re great young actors. Both of them have had great success. What was great about Josh, in particular, was that I was really able to have a partner in terms of the action in the movie. He’s coming into his own. He’s becoming a man. He’s got great poise as an actor too that really impressed me.
Front Row Features: Did you see or trip over anything gross in the jungle?
Johnson: Not necessarily. I grew up in Hawaii, so I was used to everything that was there.
Front Row Features: Was it always going to be shot on Oahu?
Johnson: I definitely campaigned for it. There was a texture where we shot in the rainforest and those mountains where “Jurassic Park” was shot. You can’t simulate that on a soundstage. I shot “The Rundown” with Peter Berg there too. It was great to come back.
Front Row Features: What was it like coming back for the people here?
Johnson: It was a bit of a stir but it’s all hometown love. There’s a great spirit that everyone talks about, the aloha spirit, that I’m always very proud of.
Front Row Features: You stopped by your old high school the other day. What was that experience like?
Johnson: It was awesome. I haven’t visited there since I was 14-15 years old. I visited my high school yesterday unannounced. I wanted to visit the football field (where I played) and where the weight room, where I spent so much time, and started to understand the value of discipline and hard work. I went there and word spread very quickly. All the students gathered around and I had a quick word with them.
Front Row Features: What did you say to them?
Johnson: I told the kids after all these years, it’s amazing to come back and I told them to keep up the great work, keep chasing their greatness, and I was very proud of them.
Front Row Features: That’s a theme in this movie in a way. You’re character is reaching out to Josh’s character to try to keep him out of trouble.
Johnson: Absolutely. (My character tries to) provide leadership and guidance as well. He sees the potential and the potential in our relationship and the importance of having a father figure in his life when he didn’t have one. That’s one of the elements I enjoyed working on with our producers, our director and the writers about creating this character that could be a great father-figure in a young man’s life. Yet could still be funny and entertaining for our movie’s sake. The key, though, is the notion of family and how important that is.
Front Row Features: How important is it to instill a sense of adventure in kids?
Johnson: It’s incredibly important. Whether they’re (Josh’s) age or young children, imagination becomes key and crucial in their growth. That’s one of the beauties and awesome parts of my job is I’m able to make a movie like this where we can explore Jules Verne’s novels, whether it’s Capt. Nemo’s submarine or the Mountain of Gold, whatever it is, the giant bees and such. There’s enough of me being intense and hunting bad men down and doing bad things to them, there’s enough of that and I love doing that, but there’s a space for this.
Front Row Features: Was that your idea to do the ukulele and sing?
Johnson: I love music. I grew up in a musical family. In the Polynesian culture, people love to play the ukulele. They love to sing and dance Polynesian dances. That was a big part of our growing up. With this movie, the fun part about making this character from scratch, compared to dropping in and dropping out of the movie so it’s about thinking of moments, what’s another fun moment for the audience. There’s enough tension in the movie where the island is sinking so where can we find some nice levity. So it was my idea to sing and have the ukulele. I thought, what if we took “What a Wonderful World” and played it in my tempo on the ukulele and changed the second verse around to fit (the action in the movie). I also sing a Big Band version in the end credits.
Front Row Features: Did you have fun working with Michael Caine?
Johnson: I had a blast with Sir Michael. I think it worked: my sense of humor and he’s a guy’s guy. He’s an icon in the business but he can tell an incredibly dirty joke. Two white horses fell in the mud was his opener and then it got worse.
Front Row Features: What about working with Luis?
Johnson: He’s a great talent, a great character actor with great depth so it was nice to see him have fun. What’s great about Luis is that he’s very endearing and a sweet, gentle man. He loves his kids. He brought them to Hawaii. I loved working with him.
Front Row Features: Can you believe how well you’ve done in your career? Are you thankful?
Johnson: Every day. Every day in some form or fashion I have some moment of gratitude. I’m lucky. But I also believe in hard work and that hard work pays. That’s my mantra.
Front Row Features: You’re shooting two “Fast and Furious” movies at once?
Johnson: I don’t know if they’re going to go back to back. That was the original idea. For movies of that magnitude and size, it would make financial sense to try and do them back-to-back. But I’m not sure now whether we’ll do them back to back because of the weather. I know we’ll do one, starting in May.
Front Row Features: Are you going back to Brazil?
Johnson: No. That was the last story. I think we’re going to Germany.
Front Row Features: It’s a lot of you and Vin Diesel staring and glaring at each other.
Johnson: Sometimes no words are needed. (He laughs.) That series is a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun for me. Just the notion of taking one of the biggest action stars in the world and hunting him down, I enjoyed that one.
Front Row Features: Anything before that?
Johnson: I’m doing a movie with (action filmmaker) Michael Bay. It’s called “Pain and Gain.” It’s a small movie.
Front Row Features: A small movie? For Michael Bay?
Johnson: Yes. (He laughs.) Smaller. It’s before he goes and does “Transformers” and I go do (“Fast and the Furious 6”). It’s a personal project he’s had for about a decade now. We talked about doing it together about seven or eight years ago. So it’s nice that it’s coming to fruition. I’m excited about it.