Nobody expected to see the Jumanji franchise revisited any time soon, but when Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is on board for a spiritual sequel, people line up to make it happen. Johnson is just one member of an impressive ensemble cast led by director Jake Kasdan, hoping to recapture some of the spirit and adventure of Jumanji in a not-quite-sequel, definitely not a prequel, legacy-honoring follow-up Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. And thankfully, how this new film connects to the original Jumanji was just one of the topics we covered while speaking with Johnson on set.
Much of the specific story is being kept under wraps, but the premise of a “Breakfast Club meets Indiana Jones” does plenty to turn heads on its own. While visiting the set, we had the chance to speak with the cast and crew, with Dwayne Johnson giving up details on how the movie reveals a big secret from the first Jumanji, how he’s making sure his own Indiana Jones has a Star Wars Easter Egg, and most importantly, how this new Jumanji will honor Robin Williams. Specifically, how the shadow he casts raises the stakes and demand for quality – and how his character in the first movie helped set the standard for the spirit now expected from a film called Jumanji.
How you guys doing?
Good, good. So Jumanji…
Wrong set, brother.
What was it about this project? You’re producing it, you’re starring in it…
When it came to me it was just really the opportunity to tell a great story. Hopefully we tell a great story. It was the opportunity to take something was beloved, that I loved, that me and my family loved years ago, by the way. So it was that. It was the opportunity to tell a beloved story to a whole new audience. When the script came around it really moved very quickly. So the script came around, for me, in April. I read it and I really, really liked the script. I was scheduled to make a movie called Rampage with Brad Peyton, and we had to push it and that will be the next movie I shoot after this. Sorry, after Ballers. So I had a window, and as these kind of things happen in Hollywood, I got the script, really loved the script, spoke with Jake our director, we had a great meeting, and things kind of just blossomed from there.
So you’re decked out as an Indiana Jones type, but you’re the avatar for what we’re told is a nerdy kid. Can you tell us about playing those two sides?
Yeah. And that’s another thing by the way I just want to go back… To your point, it’s a great point you bring up. There was an element about the script that I really liked that took the spirit of the original movie and the spirit of the original story and added this other great layer to it. And in this case, as you said, the great layer is that I am decked out as I’m decked out right now. As this avatar. But in reality, in the real world I’m a sixteen year-old kid. Which was a great juxtaposition and I think as an actor and producer, the opportunity to tell that kind of story… in essence, it would be like if you took The Breakfast Club and those characters and put them in the world of Jumanji.
A lot of fun by the way, and a great challenge, right? So the great challenge of me being who I am as this avatar – Dr. Smolder Bravestone – because throughout the film I just… I well smolder, right? That’s the thing that I do. [Laughs] I have no control over that, I just smolder. And then also the juxtaposition of playing a sixteen year-old kid who’s extremely uncomfortable to begin with. Not a people person. Epic nerd.
What was fun for you to create that continuity between your performance and the teenage actor’s performance? You guys are kind of sharing the same role.
Yeah it’s an interesting thing, so… my performance now will help inform how he’s going to play his high school self. Have you guys had a chance to meet him? He’s a great actor. He’s in the Boston Bombings [movie] with Pete Berg, a friend of mine. He’s really, really fantastic. So yeah my performance now will inform him as he shoots his stuff. He’ll shoot some stuff here and also shoot in Atlanta.
Well… let’s start with the animals [Laughs]. I don’t know if there are stunts in this movie that I’ve never done before, but I think it’s in how we’re executing them. And the variables that we’re placing around the stunts that would make them different. So for example, in our world of Jumanji the animals are bigger, they’re meaner, they’re faster… and then we also start with the fact that I’m pulling off all these stunts efficient and able… but as a sixteen year-old kid as well.
So there’s this really cool wish fulfillment factor that happens. When I was 16 I would have loved to become whoever my favorite characters were. Especially video games. So there’s this really cool dynamic that I hope we pull off. As I’m in these fight scenes, because I’m like, a turbo geek with video games… I’m actually calling out the moves before I’m doing it. Like, you know how a lot of the times playing, it’s [gun noises, ducking]. If we do it right, it should be very funny.
Is there a game specifically that sort of informed that, that you played?
That’s a good question. I gotta come up with a better answer than I’m going to give you. Because I think these are really just the video games ‘of the nineties.’ So in the spirit of the game itself, the board game of Jumanji, that was in the nineties… You’ll see in the creative device that we’ve used within the movie, it goes from the board game now to the video game. But it still has the spirit of the nineties, so it’s characters like that, that are very stereotypical characters from the nineties.
We know Indiana Jones didn’t like snakes, is there an animal in the jungle that Dr. Smolder Bravestone is afraid of?
That’s a great question! So Indiana Jones… like a lot of us… one of my top movies of all time. It was literally the movie when I was eight years old I thought ‘Wow, I want to do that!’ Not necessarily ‘I want to be an actor’ but ‘Wow, I want to be that guy. Like that guy is cool!’ That’s why there’s nods in the movie to Harrison Ford, and to that movie.
Like I have my hat… this is such a dorky thing, but this [grabs machete holster] is my nod to Harrison in Star Wars. Right? Just kind of slung real low… there’s little things, little Easter Eggs. Umm… what was the question again?
Animals that your character is afraid of?
Oh, yes! All of them. Every single one. Literally every single one, yeah [Laughs]. Because I’m terrified out here! Completely terrified. Completely out of my element. Video games I’m good at, but all this other stuff? No.
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