Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in the upcoming monster movie Rampage as a primatologist whose expertise—and physique helps—save the world. Rampage, which is based on the vintage videogame of the same name, plays like an American Kaiju, pitting colossal creates against puny humans.
Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a man who keeps people at arm’s length but shares an unbreakable bond with George, an unusually intelligent, very rare albino silverback gorilla. Davis is “a phenomenal character. I loved playing him. His history is that he led an anti-poaching unit of the United Nations, and that was after years of serving in multiple conflicts around the world as part of the Army Special Forces. So, considering all the things he’s seen in his life, he’s lost a lot of faith in mankind.”
George, who’s an amalgam of motion-capture acting and computer-generated characteristics, has lived in a sanctuary zoo since he was rescued as an orphan from poachers by Davis. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry mutates the gentle ape into a murderous creature of enormous size and strength. To make matters worse, it’s soon discovered there are two other similarly affected animals. As these newly-forged alpha-predators tear across the U.S., destroying everything in their path, Davis teams up with disgraced geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to secure an antidote.
Fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield but never at a loss for quips, Davis races to stop a global catastrophe and save the fearsome creature who was once his friend. “The science is fascinating, but we had to maintain a balance between a scientific perspective that makes sense while also making sure we’re right around the corner winking at the audience and letting them know we’re all in on this: Hey, we’re making a big, fun movie about a crocodile with a thousand giant teeth, [a killer wolf], and a gorilla the size of a house who likes to flip me off.”
When asked how much thought went into the bond behind the two main stars of the show, Johnson said, “The relationship with myself and the gorilla George was something we talked about very early on, just in terms of how we were going to produce the movie and make it. Because we felt like you can have the calamity of the movie like this, the expectation of the group that created and did San Andreas, what this next iteration of their film is going to be like – especially with Rampage, the conceits of this idea is an absurd one, a ridiculous one, in that we have three gigantic monsters completely destroying the city of Chicago. Much like the original video game. There wasn’t a complex storyline like you find in today’s video games, so it was fairly one-note. We took a lot of swings and a lot of cracks at it and got it to a really good place where it was viable and believable and, more importantly, fun, then we also, when we sat around the table we thought well we need an anchor. What’s going to anchor this movie in heart and soul? And that’s going to be a relationship between myself and my best friend… and my best friend is a rare gigantic albino gorilla. We felt like if we were going to be able to nail that anchor, then we have a shot at making a movie that people really want to go on a ride with but also more importantly, we had a shot at making a movie that could stand the test of time. And that was important to us in the monster genre, the great ones of the past, your King Kongs and Gozillas, even Jurassic Park, so we just wanted to hopefully try and raise the bar just a little bit and anchor it in a relationship.”
That fact that Johnson is a real-life animal-lover helped sell the onscreen friendship. “I love animals,” Johnson said. “I have horses and dogs and raise fish. Yes, fish. I raise bass in particular. I’ve got a farm. I love animals and to be honest with you that was probably the best part of making this movie was my opportunity to [meet interesting experts] – we consulted with the Dianne Fossey Foundation for many, many months. We were down in Atlanta and I had the opportunity to go to the Atlanta Zoo, spend time with the gorillas there and their primatologists. I now understand their behaviors, their emotions, their nuances, and that was an amazing process for me. Also spent a little bit of time down in the Everglades. I actually posted on Instagram where I spend a little bit of time with an alligator. [laughs] I don’t recommend it. It’s very dangerous. But yes, I’m an animal lover.”
Johnson is well-aware of the so-called “videogame curse” in the film world, and admitted he still feels the sting of failure from his starring role in 2005’s Doom. “We were all very aware going in, [about] the video game curse that has been rampant throughout Hollywood over the years. I made Doom. I know. I think it was just a matter of being aware of the movie we were making and not trying to be anything else than what we were and what we are – what we are is a big, fun ride. It’s a crazy idea, the conceit of it is crazy and absurd, and it is a fine needle to thread. I think what’s happened for us in making the movie, the goal was to lean into the absurdity of it and bring in the best filmmakers we could. For example, Weta Digital, they’re so incredibly ambitious. They raise the bar with these monsters because they were beholden to a mythology, but they knew they had room to expand. The flying wolf, the alligator, [are 100% digital]. Also, what was very cool just on side notes with the effects company Weta, was they were so ambitious and excited because these monsters throughout the movie don’t stay one size. They actually continue to grow, so by the end of the movie if you look closely, you’ll see the alligator is the size of a football field and a half. I think it was a matter of leaning into the ridiculousness of it and I mean that in a most positive way, but then also trying to find a rooted anchor in it and having a relationship. And we had to make sure that the relationship was fun. So we use sign language with the gorilla, and we thought, ‘What if my best friend also had the personality of a 12 year old?’ Not too far from my own personality! So again, it was a combination of all those things and then with the rest of the cast. Sending them the script and saying ‘Hey, I know everybody here has got a lot going on and come from different genres and areas in our business – what do you think?’ And they all loved it and here we are.”
Johnson said he’s always loved larger-than-life adventures. He remembered being spellbound by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Jurassic Park. He loved Steven Spielberg movies. “Watching Jurassic Park and feeling the theater shake, especially when the dinosaurs started to walk. I was really blown away by that experience. And you see a lot of that in Brad’s filmmaking too, the influence of that and you certainly see a little bit of that too with our monsters.
“I like working with Brad. This is my third movie with him. There is ambition there. He’s a very ambitious director. I enjoy working with him creatively as well. I come from a world of sports at a very early age and I enjoy being coached, and I enjoy being pushed – and not a lot of directors are comfortable in that space. That’s okay because I’ll find my inspiration or motivation some other way, and we make the project work. The don’t all have to have a coach’s mentality – but Brad does have that. Despite him always underplaying it – ‘Well, I’m from Canada and I like to apologize…’, he’s also a very ambitious guy. I love the fact that he loves movies. Loves movies. He loves movies that make people feel good and I like that too. We’re very similar in our DNA because I feel we invest so much time in these movies, and as you know, movie making is hard, takes many, many months, and then months of post and then promote it like we’re doing now, it’s a long time. But especially for directors. I have the ability to make a movie, and even if I produce a movie, I still can go on and do other movies in development because I’m not directing. Brad is on a movie two, three years, and the passion shows. He’s influenced by those kinds of movies [Spielberg] and I like that. I like that about anybody who is in our business, specifically a director We wanna make this movie fun for the audience and literally want to make sure that they’re walking out floating in some way, feeling great about what they just saw.”
When asked about playing the hero of yet another action movie, Johnson said it’s still enjoyable. “It was a lot of fun playing a total badass. But the key for me personally is just finding those moments where it’s fun and cool to be a badass, it’s awesome. But I find it more interesting and fun, and more entertaining, when something kind of undercuts the badassness. For example, a scene that I love is when George [comes around] and I say, ‘Alright buddy, let’s go kick some ass!’ and he pounds his chest and he poses and screams, and the alligator screams back at us, and I’m like, ‘Holy shit!’ and I start running away. Little moments like that where we’re undercutting the badassery, if you will. But look, at the end of the day, this kind of movie that really was so much fun [to make] and I’ve had the opportunity to play some really cool characters in the past, some pretty cool bad ass guys. But there’s just something inherently interesting to me when you can play a badass but also the foe that you’re looking at, the antagonist, you’re looking up at them and running from them, I love that.”