STACK chats with the cast and director of the FX-filled monster movie and discovers that to know Dwayne Johnson is to love him.
We know Dwayne Johnson is big – but even he’s dwarfed by Rampage’s giant gorilla, monstrous reptile, and a wolf so big it can topple a helicopter in mid-air.
It’s all in a day’s work for the former pro-wrestler, however, whose box-office numbers prove he has the clout to take on all comers; his everyman appeal enough to persuade even Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris to take a chance on The Rock. Not that 007’s Eve Moneypenny didn’t take some convincing, beaten into submission by director Brad Peyton while en route to a premiere of Moonlight.
“I wasn’t in a great mood that day, I don’t know what was going on, I was just tired, and I had this call from Brad that was supposed to last 20 minutes and I couldn’t get off the phone and he stayed with me throughout the whole journey, and by the end of it my mood had entirely lifted. Brad is so full of energy and passion and I was like, ‘Where do I sign?’” recalls Harris when STACK meets with Rampage’s cast on a Hollywood studio backlot.
Rampage marks Johnson’s third outing with Peyton, having collaborated on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas. “Brad and I are like a couple of kids when we get together on a project like this,” he concedes. “We always want to push things farther than we did before and to constantly raise that bar. Or possibly go over it.”
Unafraid to be surrounded by fellow tall beefy action stars, Johnson shares duties with True Blood’s Joe Manganiello and The Walking Dead’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
“Jeffrey brings that same swagger and machismo, but he does it with a smile and a cool wink which is always more dangerous and more entertaining,” says Johnson of Morgan’s Agent Russell, a savvy government fixer.
Having played his share of bad guys, Morgan points to his more loveable rom-com characters, or his role in Grey’s Anatomy. “In order for a character to be as real as possible, no-one can always be just great and loveable. Likewise, no-one is just an asshole, and I enjoy trying to show different sides of that.
“Even with Walking Dead’s Negan, I try to inject him with something relatable because I think there’s two sides to everybody. You can’t just be one or the other: the jerk or the nicest guy in the world. There are layers in there, so if I’m going to be a big asshole, then I try to make him a really charismatic asshole,” he says, flashing his most charismatic grin.
Portraying a military Black Ops fighter was hardly a stretch for Manganiello. “Up until I went to study classical theatre at Carnegie Mellon, I was going to go into federal law enforcement. There is something in me that loves that kind of lifestyle and some of the guys I’ve worked with have said, ‘Yeah, you could do this’. It’s like the life I maybe could have had . . . minus giant mutant wolves,” he says of the plotline’s rogue genetic experiment gone awry.
Friends for eight years, Peyton has witnessed Johnson’s star grow from big to bigger to enormous – a bit like the creatures that populate Rampage.
“He was a star on Journey 2, but he wasn’t a superstar at that point like he is today. Dwayne works a lot and he’s everywhere, and he’s so dedicated to what he does and he doesn‘t stop working.
“He also has a really young family,” says Peyton of why the concept of relaxation is alien to the action star.
We also discover that to know Johnson is also to love him. “He’s a big giant teddy bear who oozes charisma. He just walks on set and everyone’s happy; he’s positive and ready to go, and he smiles that big smile and you just kind of go, ‘Oh I get it, I get why the ladies melt around him’,” offers Malin Akerman, the unlikely villain of Rampage.
Unlike her co-stars, Akerman actually had to audition. “I had to fight for the role,” says the beautiful blonde, who conceals her hair beneath a dark wig. “Brad had to continually remind me to stop smiling, because it made her too sweet. And even when I wasn’t smiling, he’d tell me that I was smiling with my eyes, which is really hard to not do, too. But we got there.”
Defining the film’s goals, Johnson concludes, “We wanted to create something epic. Instead of just one gigantic gorilla, we have an immense crocodile from the swamps of Florida and an insanely big wolf from the Northwest…and then this big, bald, brown, tattooed guy running around with them.”
Rampage is in cinemas now.