LOS ANGELES (AP) – When Dwayne Johnson sold the idea for a TV comedy about his colourful and challenging early life to NBC a year ago, he was delighted to tell his parents that a version of their family was bound for the small screen.
Days later, his father was felled by a blood clot-caused heart attack at age 75. His loss inevitably altered Young Rock, said Johnson, who plays himself in the series debuting 8pm EST tomorrow. A trio of actors portray Johnson’s younger iterations.
“I get emotional when I talk about this, when I talk about my dad and think about it,” Johnson said, pausing to compose himself. “I had a complex relationship with my dad, and he was a complex man.”
The series intended to include the elder Johnson’s highs and lows, but after his death his son decided to lean more fully into his “really uncanny ability to make anyone feel good”.
With a smile, he recited dad Rocky Johnson’s buoyant greetings, including a favourite: “‘Have you been working out?'”
Dwayne Johnson, billed in his dazzling wrestling days as The Rock, likely got a share of his skill and ambition from his Nova Scotia-born father, who held National Wrestling Alliance titles and was among the first Black champions in World Wrestling Entertainment history.
But he may also owe his dad for the charm and unforced warmth that make Dwayne Johnson instantly endearing, despite his imposing build and status as a box-office star with credits in the Fast and Furious and Jumanji franchises. The sports comedy Ballers is part of his TV resume. He’s the real deal, “generous and lovely”, said Nahnatchka Khan, an executive producer for Young Rock along with Johnson. “He’s collaborative, funny and willing to take chances. So much of comedy is trust… and I trust him completely.”
Bradley Constant, who plays the teenage Johnson yearning for girls, cool threads and a car, took on his first major role with guidance from him.
“He reassured me just to be myself. He’s a very genuine, normal guy who’s lived an incredible life, of course,” said Constant, who saw the family’s financial difficulties as a way to help ground him in the role.
Young Rock is structured around Johnson’s depiction as a 2032 presidential candidate — a less time-certain move the political independent has considered. Is he preparing America for his next chapter?
“I think the people will prepare me. I can say that,” he replied with a laugh.
In the debut episode, he’s interviewed by Randall Park, also playing himself but as an actor-turned-TV journalist. Park starred in Fresh Off the Boat, which Khan created and produced.
As Johnson recalls the past, there are flashbacks to scenes of him as a child, played by Adrian Groulx; a high schooler (Constant); and young adult, played by Australian actor Uli Latukefu. Joseph Lee Anderson and Stacey Leilua co-star as parents Rocky and Ata Johnson.
Matthew Willig stands tall as the late Andre the Giant, one of the wrestling world figures shown as a commonplace part of Johnson’s uncommon childhood and youth marred by setbacks he fought to overcome.