Dwayne Johnson reflects on Young Rock with tales of his pro wrestling dad

 Want to feel good? Tune in Young Rock, the NBC series which takes a look at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s life with his family and friends during his formative years. It’s a hilarious ride through The Rock’s awkward adolescence, his troubled teens, and his cocky college football adventures. And Johnson swears all the stories are true, for the most part.

Adrian Groulx as young Dwayne in “Young Rock”
(Photo by: Mark Taylor / NBC)

 The show launched last month on NBC and can be seen on Peacock, the NBC/Universal streaming service. Johnson plays himself introducing the flashbacks to his childhood and teetering on the edge of manhood. There are uplifting stories as he grows up in Hawaii. And there are more complex stories about the relationship with his wrestler dad. Interesting too are the tales with Dwayne’s extended family, which included all the awesome characters of professional wrestling. Among them was André The Giant, lovingly played by Matthew Willig.

Prior to the series debut, Johnson, along with the cast and creative team of Young Rock had a virtual interview session with the Television Critics Association (TCA). The Rock was honest about not trying to sugarcoat his life.  He said, “We didn’t want to take the typical route of what you might think this could be. But, still, let’s talk about the complications. Let’s reveal things. But then also, very important, let’s talk about the good stuff. Because there was so much good stuff now when I look back at it, and the good stuff of growing up in this wild world with these characters who are larger than life.”

YOUNG ROCK — “Working The Gimmick” — Pictured: (l-r) Adrian Groulx as Dwayne, Joseph Lee Anderson as Rocky Johnson, Stacey Leilua as Ata Johnson — (Photo by: Mark Taylor)

Johnson explained that the stories included in the show about his dad pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, “was truly a love letter to professional wrestling. It’s a business that I grew up in and a business that I’ve loved all of my life. I learned some of my most valuable, while very unorthodox, lessons coming out of the world of pro wrestling. So to be able to highlight and showcase these men who were, in essence, my superheroes. All the actors who we cast truly embodied these professional wrestlers. All of our actors were so committed to these roles. It was a very tall order, especially for Joseph Lee Anderson who plays my dad in such an uncanny way. He had to go from not being a professional wrestler, to actually learning how to wrestle professionally, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. And my dad was a ‘bad dude’ in the game. He had a lot of charisma and he had tons of athletic ability, and Joseph really did a tremendous job. I was really quite proud of, not only Joseph, but so proud of our entire cast.”

Johnson revealed, “The relationship that I had with my dad was incredibly complicated, that was fueled by tough love. My dad was kicked out of his house at 13 and he was homeless, so that then shaped the man who then raised me. And in that complication came an extraordinary life that was full of travel. I lived in 13 different states by the time I was 13 years old. I also lived in New Zealand. There was so much breadth to this life that I had. Our creators (executive producers) Nahnatchka Kahn and Jeff Chiang figured out the right creative pathway to show that, and also rip some things open to realize the vulnerability going on. When I look back on this I can reflect this series has really allowed me to appreciate those hard times that much more. Through the brilliance of Nahnatchka and Jeff, they were able to craft something that made audiences feel a certain way and know that we all go through these tough times.”

Johnson also wanted to share something special about his dad. “My dad died one year ago. He died suddenly. He’s obviously featured throughout the show (played by Joseph Lee Anderson), and he would have loved this. He would have been so proud, because for the first time, certainly in primetime, we are showcasing this world that he and all of his brothers in the ring had. Those men in the ’70s and the ’80s gave their life to the ring. To showcase it like this through the lens of something that’s positive, I know it would have meant a lot to my dad, because a lot of times the world of pro wrestling isn’t always looked at through that lens in a positive way. And there’s a lot of positive that we can take out of this.”

Tune in Young Rock, Tuesday nights on NBC.

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.