Dwayne Johnson builds on his popularity
by R. Scott


The Rock's wrestling career is considered the most successful in the history of the sport

The rise of Donald Trump had highlighted just how fractious the United States has become as a nation of citizens. The gap between nominally left-wing people and right-wing people has never been wider or more obvious. However, there seems to be something that both sides agree on: Everyone like Dwayne Johnson, the former professional wrestler turned movie star, who became the highest paid actor in the world in 2016.

Johnson, whose father was Canadian and mother was of Samoan ancestry, grew up in California, New Zealand, and Connecticut. Wrestling wasn't just a pastime for him, it was in his blood. His father and maternal grandfather were professional wrestlers and his mother was a wrestling promoter. A lot of people in his extended family are in the wrestling business. Actually, Johnson's father was against Dwayne going into the family business at first but eventually decided to oversee his son's training himself. In 1996, at the age of 24, he made his WWF debut as Rocky Maivia, a combination of his father's and grandfather's ring names. Johnson's "character" was invariably clean-cut, an attribute that purposely worked against him. Not long afterwards, he took the role of "heel," meaning bad guy on the wrestling circuit. Having never liked the Rocky Maivia moniker he shortened it to The Rock, the name that stuck with him for the rest of his wrestling career and followed him when he started acting in movies full time.

The Rock's wrestling career is considered one of the most successful in the history of the sport if measured by box office appeal, which was carried over to his acting work. He started working in films while he was at the top of his wrestling popularity, usually in supporting roles in action films. However, it was in comedies like The Rundown that he showed a flair for character development. Director Richard Kelly was so taken by this character that he gave Johnson a lead role in his offbeat and very strange science fiction movie, Southland Tales.

In 2008 he was nominated as Favorite Movie Actor at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards but lost to Johnny Depp. It would probably be the last time he ever lost to anyone in terms of popularity. He soon came to be known for his ability to recharge franchise series, like G.I. Joe and the Fast and Furious movies. Eventually, he started his own production company with his ex-wife, making not only movies but also a TV series, Ballers, for HBO, a comedy about professional football, a vocation that once interested Johnson.

Johnson's watershed year 2016 saw him costar with Kevin Hart in the action-comedy Central Intelligence and voice the lead role in Disney's animated hit Moana. There was also another Fast and Furious movie, not to mention the cinematic version of the popular TV show, Baywatch, which was an unexpected flop. This year, Johnson, reteamed with Hart and starring alongside Jack Black, was generally thought to be responsible for the huge box office success of the long-delayed sequel to Jumanji. He also put his mark on the disaster genre with San Andreas, which was so successful the studio ordered a sequel, something that rarely happens with disaster films, for obvious reasons.

At first, it seemed that Johnson was finally going to get his stab at a superhero role when it was announced he would play Black Adam, a villain in at least two films about the DC Comics hero Shazam, but later he bailed on the part, though he will stay attached to the series as a producer. Considering how well-loved he is, maybe it was too much to expect him to play a bad guy.

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