There are certain words that have become common in any conversation about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – professional, dedicated, hardworking, grateful. A new profile in Rolling Stone touches on all of those things, focusing on how The Rock is one of those rare people who doesn’t just have it all, but does it all.
“Having it all” is a phrase most commonly associated with career women, not men. But as we see time and again, there’s no proof that men are better than women at juggling families and careers, they just aren’t expected to be. That’s why this Jeffrey Dean Morgan quote stuck out to me:
"He's a freak of nature," says Johnson's Rampage co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan. "It seems like every month he's in a movie and making a killing. In the middle of shooting Rampage, he's off hosting SNL and doing ads for Apple and running for president and whatever else. He works out at 3:30 in the morning so he can get to set on time. I don't know how he does it. And the other thing is, he's a family dude, so not only is he juggling the 9 million things he's got on his plate for work, he's also raising kids and got a happy marriage. Jesus Christ. I kind of f-cking hate him."
It’s equal parts affectionate, admiring and exasperated – you can’t even be jealous of a guy like Johnson because he’s that good at being The Rock.
Of course there’s talk of his tough upbringing, his WWE days, his early movie career – that is part of the lore. And during the more topical discussions he comes off sounding not just reasonable but a little more engaged (there won’t be a 2020 run, but he said he will be more vocal around the next elections). He also talks about March for Our Lives and the current state of politics, sharing his views on political preparation:
“People are very excited, and it's so flattering that they're excited. I think it's also a function of being very unsatisfied with our current president. But this is a skill set that requires years and years of experience. On a local level, on a state level and then on a national level.”
I don’t doubt he is flattered and maybe even interested, but I’m also reading something else here. The Rock is not here to save us. The Rock knows his movies have happy endings (he makes it clear in the interview that that is a must) but joking about “what if so-and-so celebrity became president” is not cute and it’s not entertainment anymore. People are exhausted. And maybe that’s why he’s cooled on the specific 2020 talk and broadened the conversation around politics.
Still, he knows how to entertain us, whether it’s through his feud with Vin Diesel (he lets us know in the most civil way possible that he still can’t stand Vin’s candyass) or a rare story about him getting angry on set – just once, when he had to go later than scheduled and missed a flight home to see his daughter. In a real dad move, he gathered the crew and told them he was disappointed in them. (Do you think they cried? I would have cried.) He also touches on depression and seeing a therapist, a topic he’s been discussing more and more recently, which is clearly a purposeful decision.
The Rock has an “all man” persona, but I’ve also come to appreciate him as a masculinity bridge, connecting the old ideals with new ideas. Have you read Michael Ian Black’s NYT op-ed, The Boys Are Not Alright? If not, I would highly recommend it. In it, he talks about how strength, competiveness and aggression are toxic markers of masculinity. And I’m tying it into The Rock because he has flipped those qualities into positives: he is strong (physically, and in talking about his depression, mentally), he is competitive (with himself, through his work and workouts) and he is aggressive in his physicality, but not physically aggressive (even his claim-to-fame time at the WWE was scripted entertainment).
The Rock always gives the people what they want, but at the same time hasn’t let anyone tell him what kind of man he should be. So many guys who bro-down in his comments about working out might be shocked to learn that his strength coach is his ex-wife’s husband, Dave. And of course we know that Dany (his ex) is his manager and business partner. An angry man with a fragile ego would crumble at the very idea of this.
Part of what has made him so genuinely likeable is that there is a sensitivity he shows, along with the ability to listen, collaborate, empathize and express himself in a way that digs through the surface anger and finds the next layer. No one would begrudge him a moment of anger on set for missing an important flight, but he makes a conscious choice not to give into it, to dig deeper (probably because he’s had some therapy).
Black wrote, “Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others.” You don’t get the sense that The Rock wants power, but rather he wants to have security, and share it with others. It’s in the way he talks about his relationship with the audience (he fights against unhappy endings in his films), to his family (his older daughter Simone goes to school a half hour from Parkland, which grounded his support for March for Our Lives), to the way he asks a waitress to warm up his premade meal in the restaurant’s kitchen (without getting snippy when she cites the rules and checks with the chefs first – I mean it’s The Rock, are they going to say no?). But unlike so many would in his position, he doesn’t need to prove to the interviewer, or the reader, or the waitress that the kitchen would be happy, thrilled even, to warm up his buffalo.
Stardom is a tricky mix of luck, talent, hard work and more luck. And The Rock has come to us at the perfect time. He is the movie star we want. Is he the movie star we need?