G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn't the first time Dwayne Johnson has lent his star power to a pre-existing franchise. It's actually the third time he's done it in two years - after jumping in to help boost the box offices for Fast Five and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Not to mention, he's open to doing it again for The Expendables if Sylvester Stallone asks).
In G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Johnson plays Roadblock, the Joes' second-in-command who is forced to step into the lead after the sidelining of Duke (Channing Tatum), the star of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. NOTE: Not a spoiler -- it was in last spring's trailer. In a group press day for Retaliation (read our G.I. Joe: Retaliation review), Johnson talks about his truly great chemistry with Tatum, especially during a scene where they ridicule each other while playing Call of Duty, and about his friendship with fellow wrestling legend Sergeant Slaughter, who made cartoon history when his WWF persona became a G.I. Joe character (since Slaughter, new Joe inductees now include Buzz Aldrin, Bob Hope, and Colin Powell).
Johnson also teased the room with an iPhone shot of his costume and make-up test for Hercules: The Thracian Wars - that's the Brett Ratner flick, not the competing Renny Harlin Hercules film, both of which are due in 2014. We had to leave our own cameras on the table, but from what we could see, Ratner's vision has the same dark, stark look as Steve Moore's comic book, though instead of wearing a pelt on his head, Johnson's hair was wet, long, and wavy. Think Jason Momoa in Conan the Barbarian crossed with Jason Lee's The Crow.
But first, there's Roadblock. And even though he's already been turned into a dozen toys, Johnson seemed legitimately excited to be transformed into a G.I. Joe action figure with his real-life tattoos, even if it means he might be tortured by children.
Since you're doing back to back to back projects, do you constantly have to maintain your physique or do you get days off, months off, weeks off?
I don't certainly don't get months off or weeks off just because of the consistent work. Depending on the role will dictate the type of training that I do. For G.I. Joe, it was probably about anywhere between an 11 to 14 week diet, conditioning, training, that type of prep, but also including fight choreography and stunt planning, things like that. I went into it committed and stepped up my game for G.I. Joe because it's already an established brand and already established character. This character Roadblock in the cartoons and in the series—no one looked like Roadblock, so you got to look the part. In terms of Hercules, you want to pay attention and respect to mythology of Hercules. [Pretends to act cocky] And there's a certain look that a demigod has....
Fellow wrestler Sergeant Slaughter was the first actor who play a new character who wasn't an original Joe. Did you talk to him, and what it mean to carry on that legacy?
It's an honored legacy. It's an honored tradition. It goes twofold with me. Did I speak to Sergeant? Yes, he's a great guy. When I was 11, 12 years old that's all I played with: G.I. Joes and my Star Wars. I had a massive collection of both, and at that time the WWE—which was known as WWF—didn't have dolls come out yet. They were about a year later their first dolls were created. I was a massive fan of G.I. Joes, Star Wars, and of course WWF because my dad was wrestling at that time in the WWF. Then I was a massive fan of Sergeant Slaughter. I remember meeting him backstage and my biggest thing with him was I always just wanted to see his riding crop, the crop that he used to lift big guys in the world of wrestling. He was always so nice and so gracious. When he was in G.I. Joe, that took it to a whole other level. Then you tap into my turbo nerd when that happens. I love the fact that he was the first G.I. Joe human brought to life. I love the fact that still to this day he has these awesome 8x10s of him as G.I. Joe, one of which he signed to me about three weeks ago. Very cool.
A couple times now you've stepped into a previously sustained franchise—and in a sense, you're a bit of a franchise yourself. How do you merge those two things?
We meet right in the middle. That's a great question and I think with something like this with G.I. Joe, I got the phone call about a year and a half ago that said, “Here's what we'd like to do. We'd like to essentially reboot in a way. We're still making a sequel but sequels can be tricky, but we would like to reboot, reignite, relaunch the franchise.” The franchise's first movie made a lot of money, but there was room for improvement and there was a better movie to be made. By that time they had already done their work in terms of understanding what I was going to bring to the table, to the franchise, and I get on the phone with them and I think, “Can I help elevate this? Can I help elevate the franchise and can I bring something special and unique to it and can we create a character that people are going to like that we were able to do for example, with Fast and Furious?”
It's also, by the way, a lot of fun I've got to tell you. Whether you do films that are big franchises or not, the franchise ones are fun. There's a great challenge in them for me because you're dealing with an already successful property and a successful brand. Then the challenge is, how do you elevate something that's very successful already and how do we create something different? How do we create a character that people are going to like and latch onto, then put this character in the middle of all these other characters that have already been successful? It's a fun challenge.
The banter that you have with Channing Tatum felt like you guys were really hanging out, not just reading lines.
You've had action figures made of you before, but was being made into a G.I. Joe special?
I played with the Roadblocks and the Snake Eyes, the Cobra dudes when I was a kid so to get these models in from Hasbro was a lot of fun and very surreal. All actors and everyone involved in movies make movies for different reasons and they're inspired by different things. I've had action figures in the past whether they were the Rock or the Scorpion King or some other characters that I've played, and they've all been cool and great. To get my own G.I. Joe is extra cool because the very first action figure ever made was a GI Joe action figure ever after the war. That's a big deal for what it represented. Then the fun part is, “My quads have got to be a little bit bigger, you've got to make my arms a little bit bigger.” We have my tattoos on this one now, by the way. That's very cool.
Are there things you used to do to your action figures that you hope kids don't do to you?
Want more G.I. Joe Retaliation? Behold: our G.I. Joe: Retaliation news archive where you'll find these featured articles along with much more:
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G.I. Joe: Retaliation is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.