So have you ever wondered what it's like to be in a room with the Sexiest Man Alive? Honestly, Dwayne Johnson “The Rock” was nowhere near the top of the list of people on my list of celebrities and people I'd love to interview/meet. Maybe because I already had heard that he's a pretty normal, down-to-earth guy. After all, he went to high school with my brother-in-law and my husband's best friend/best man in our wedding. In fact, I was so indifferent about meeting The Rock to interview his role as Maui in the Moana movie, I gave my seat to my friend Leanette from Funtastic Life for that interview because she was all about The Rock.
But there's something about him, so much more than I realized. Dwayne Johnson, the 2016 Sexiest Man Alive, sauntered into the interview room, all 6'5″ and 260 lbs. of him and I only half melted in awe. He's charming, funny, brooding, yet mischievous in a way that's perfectly Maui. We talked to The Rock about Moana fun facts of the movie and his role as Maui.
Dwayne Johnson said he was excited to take the role of Maui so he could showcase his Polynesian culture to the world (he's half Samoan). Who knew if he would get the opportunity to showcase his culture again.
Our culture’s very rich, and we’re very proud of it, so it was the opportunity, and it was also an opportunity to work with Disney in this capacity, in a classic animated capacity with the element of music. I’ve done two Disney movies in the past—live action movies,but this is a different machine. It’s still the same umbrella, but it’s a different machine. It was the opportunity to hopefully make a movie that was not only good, but you have a real good shot at creating something that was like a classic. And that’s what I wanted to do.
It speaks to all cultures and ages and religions, and everything else that our world has. We have this little voice inside of us, and to always make sure that we got to follow that voice, and listen to the voice—a gut intuition—and have that kind of faith, not necessarily religious faith, but faith that there is more. And you can be more, kind of relevant today, right?
With any project there are challenges, so we asked him what his challenges on this project were.
It’s just a different muscle to exercise, and it was almost like a baptism by fire. I had a lot of help around me, which was nice, and what I mean by the help is finding ways to really add real zest and life to words and to sentences, and as you’re articulating things and in conversations with Moana, who’s played by Auli’i [Cravalho]. I'd say that was the biggest challenge—making sure that the words that I spoke had life and the correct energy and the correct temperament and tone and intonation where it had to go to different places and pitch and things like that. It was a real fascinating experience for me.
One thing I do find so fascinating about Dwayne Johnson is his versatility as an actor, which I feel he's not given enough credit for. He's often pegged as a jock, seen mainly for the wrestling roles and such—but when he takes on a role like this with singing and rapping, it's clear he's capable of so much more than what he's often realized for. Here's what he had to say when I asked him about being stuck in a box.
Let me talk a little bit about that—yes! Of course. So I used the word opportunity before; it was a great opportunity to push myself, and to sing, and you know, the bar’s set very high in a Disney movie when there’s the element of music. I felt confident going in because I felt confident that I could prepare and do the things that I can control.
And also surround me with really amazing collaborators musically, masterful musical people, and Lin-Manuel [Miranda] , and Opetaia [Foa'i], Mark Mancina—very, very special. So I was excited to sing a song, and to Lin’s credit, he did a lot of deep-dive research, and I’ve sung in the past, but fun, like I would go on a talk show—Ellen, or something—and I would break out a guitar and sing, and just make it kind of fun and silly. But he did his research and he found a comfortable range that I could sing in, and then he also pushed me a little bit, and I had a really good time. And rapping, too, and the whole thing, so, I’m a rapper.
We talked about the symbolism of tattoos in the movie Moana. If Dwayne would pick a tattoo to represent an accomplishment in his life he would pick a tattoo to represent being a father.
In any animated character, there are elements of the voice actor infused in that character. Often the animators study the voice actor and used those elements in their creation of the character. And then sometimes it's as simple as being able to relate to the character on a personal level. Maui's eyebrows are most definitely Dwayne Johnson's. My friend Leanette asked about the pectoral muscles, which lead to an exchange that actually caused The Rock to blush and sweat. That happened. Walking into a room of 25 women interviewers didn't make him blush or sweat, but Leanette did. He even told her, “We have bonded.”
Yeah there was a good amount that was infused in Maui. I think that there’s a part of Maui that I can appreciate because it’s my DNA; I share that with him as there’s a fun side to Maui and a need to keep things and a desire to keep things fun and keep them a little bit on the lighter side. I'm not quick to show the vulnerability, and not quick to go down that route. I would say that. And some bravado, a lot of bravado, because you can mask a lot with bravado. Yes.
It’s a really cool process. There’s multiple cameras in the room as you’re sitting in the studio, and you’re going through these lines, and your facial expressions will then inform the animators on the facial expressions of Maui. So, if I say, ‘You can’t do that!’ my eyebrows go up, then that will inform the animators, compared to, “You can’t do that.” So there’s all these really amazing unique little things that take place that they capture that informs the animation. And what I found was in the animation, especially when you’re on the ocean—and it is the ocean; it’s outside and it’s mother nature—it becomes really, really beautiful, and gorgeous.
Dwayne talked to us about how being a father impacts the roles he chooses as an actor and the projects he works on. He cares about the messaging of the projects he works on.
I think that there’s a responsibility there, and I think what’s interesting—I have an 11-month-old baby, her name is Jasmine, a 15-year-old daughter whose Samoan, and they’re both here and they’re going to go to the uh—you have me sweating after that. I literally sweated. We have bonded. Alright. What was the question?
Oh! Responsibilities. So yeah. I think with every role, there’s that added responsibility, and to think is it not necessarily is it appropriate for her or for them to watch, but more so, are there qualities there that we look for that are important and is the takeaway there. That’s important—the messaging is important, even within the context of something more on the comedic side, those questions always still come up, and I always make sure that those boxes are checked.
And this is what I was going to say, what’s interesting is, when I had my first daughter, I was probably 29 or 30, you know, and like a lot of us, especially guys, it takes us a very long time, like, ‘Oh, this is who I am. This is what I’m comfortable being.’ So even though I was checking boxes at that time, since then, as you get a little older in life, those boxes are still there, and the wonderful part is now there’s a lot of new other boxes that are there too.
Dwayne Johnson wants his kids, and all kids, to take away a few things from the movie Moana.
I think number one that is having confidence in yourself, and you are good enough. And you can do this, and it’s often, like there’s a saying that we have in Polynesian culture, it’s like, ‘Don’t go beyond the reef.’
And we showcase that in the movie. Well, you can go beyond the reef. And also, going back to listening to the little voice inside of you that you know, life is so noisy and there’s so much noise, and how important that is to listen to. You always want to revert back to the little voice that you have inside of you, saying you are good enough and you can do things.
MOANA arrives in theatres everywhere on November 23rd!