A fitness idol to millions thanks to the body of an Adonis and an incredibly impressive athleticism, Dwayne Johnson's transition from wrestling superstar to convincing hardman actor was an easy one thanks largely to the respect many have for his dedication to training and impressive strength and physique.
His next film, Pain & Gain, in which he stars alongside Mark Wahlberg, is set in the world of bodybuilding – tinged with crime, violence and gang warfare – and who better to play a muscle man than The Rock?
Q: How was the experience of filming Pain & Gain?
A: It was a movie which was a lot of fun to make. One of the best parts about making this movie was that I got the chance to sleep in my bed every night. It was so nice to be on location but sleep at home. I've been living in Miami for over 20 years now and I was very happy to shoot the movie here.
Q: What made you want to do this movie?
A: I wanted to tell this version of an event which rocked this city. I was down here when this happened. It's unbelievable. I think people will research the movie prior to them going to see it, or if not, they will research it afterwards, just to verify how much exactly was authentic. I think what is going to be incredible to people and intriguing is there is so much we left out too. It's hard to condense everything which took place over the years.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your character and who he is? A: What we have to remember about Paul Doyle is he is an amalgamation of the other Sun Gym gang members. There was a multitude of other individuals who were involved in the kidnappings and the murders who were tied into this. Paul Doyle is a composite of all their minds put into one, so that was a great challenge, an awesome challenge for me as an actor. Q: All of these guys hang out together at the Sun Gym. Having had first-hand experience of that bodybuilding world, can you tell us about the type of people who are attracted to it and why they do it? A: It's a whole other world and it's a fascinating one. What's so interesting about the bodybuilding culture, which I, in a way, grew up in – because I grew up in professional wrestling – and the men in the 1970s and 1980s, a lot of them were in the bodybuilding world and I spent a lot of time as a kid just hanging out in the gym and seeing these guys.
It's a great mix of individuals who are incredibly disciplined, focused, driven and finely tuned in terms of their vision.
Whether you're an amateur or professional bodybuilder, it all becomes a science and very detailed because you are judged on every little detail of your body, so their mechanics in their brain think that way.
Then you combine that with the fact that some of them are just incredibly insane individuals, who, when you get wrapped up in this culture, where the only thing you are doing is cooking your meals, eating, training, sleeping and just getting ready for your show, then on top of that you throw in drugs, whether it's hardcore drugs or steroids or orals or whatever it is which is going to screw with your brain that way.
Q: Being a Miami native and living here at the time when all of this was going on, what was the real Sun Gym like? Did you ever go? A: In the mid-1990s, the Sun Gym was an infamous place in Miami. I never went there, but I was playing football for the University of Miami and we were kings at that time and a lot of the Miami police would train with us at the university who would also train there as well, so there were a lot of interesting stories which were circulating and filtered over to us. The Sun Gym was an infamous place back then, for sure.
Q: Do you think to make it in Hollywood there has to be some pain to gain success? A: I think anything worth having or worth achieving goal-wise, you're going to endure some pain. That's just the way it is, whether it's physical pain or psychological pain. There's a threshold that you've got to go through and at that point, if it's worth it, then it's worth the pain.
Q: This character is unlike any you have played before. Doyle is sensitive, dangerous and has an addictive personality. How much of a challenge was this role for you? A: For me, it was the biggest departure I had for any character that I'd ever played over the past decade. Paul Doyle continued to trip every day, but he was trying to get better, and when he trips, he trips hard. He goes to these very dark, bad places. Being vulnerable was a great challenge and I wanted that. I'm proud of this movie.
Q: How was it working so closely with Mark Wahlberg? A: Mark and I had our different processes throughout this. Both Mark and I came into Hollywood in a very non-traditional way, with our backgrounds. We were successful in other areas before coming into this world. Like Mark says, you've just got to put in the daily work, regardless of the success you achieve. It never stops.
Q: This movie deals with the premise of the American dream – what does that dream mean to you? A: I'm living the dream. You bet. When I was 14, we were evicted out of our little efficiency (studio apartment) in Hawaii, and at that time, I didn't know it then, but I know it now, it defined me. I remember thinking back then, 'I will do everything I can to make sure this never happens again', that I would never come home and see my mum cry.
So I thought, okay, the men I admire, what do they do? They were big guys. They were either professional wrestlers or Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. I thought, right, those guys built their bodies, that's what I can do.
So that's what inspired me to build my body up to at least take my destiny in my own hands. I thought back then, and still do, if I can control something with my own two hands then I've got a shot at making it. The fact I am sitting here today with you, I'm living the dream.