When Dwayne Johnson got the script for San Andreas, he knew it could be a classic Hollywood disaster movie and join the ranks of those who came before, from Earthquake to 2012. But, he also saw something else. Johnson plays a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot and thought that San Andreas could also serve as a salute to first responders and how they are the real-life heroes of our time.
“Just how special and unique they are, it’s why so few are able to do it,” Johnson told Movie Fanatic. “[They are] really exceptional human beings and I’m very, very lucky. It’s why I say, a life-changing experience for me.”
Even though Johnson plays the hero, there are a lot of moving parts in making a movie of this scope, and Johnson and director Brad Payton worked closely so that the film kept the focus on two things actually -- the reunification of the family torn apart by disaster, led by Johnson at the heart of the story (teased in the San Andreas trailer), and those first responders.
“I think when you’re trying to construct a heroic character, one that can play a part in being an anchor in a big movie like this, that’s a real world movie playing real men and women who live and exist today in terms of first responders,” Johnson reported.
“There were a lot of detailed conversations because you have a responsibility when you play first responders, which I’ve learned. This is why I say it’s been a life-changing experience for me. But also there’s an expectation, I think, that fans globally have with what we have been used to delivering. So now we want to take that and we want to raise the bar, which was why honestly everybody came together with this script. The script was very well written. We had an opportunity to create something that was very special and unique but also ground it in heart and anchor it with amazing heart and science.”
And in that scientific vein, there’s a character played by Paul Giamatti who is an earthquake expert at Cal Tech and he provides the audience the science behind what is happening. Johnson was struck at the attention to detail filmmakers took to ensure that, although this was an extreme case of what would happen if the San Andreas fault erupted, it was still rooted in true science.
“The element of the first responders and the family element is important, but then also just as important, if not more important, is the anchor you have with the scientific side of the movie. We had the best seismologists and earthquake scientists from Cal Tech and USC pour over the script, challenge the script and then ultimately walk away from it saying, ‘This could happen. We hope it doesn’t, but it could happen,’” Johnson said.
“I think when you have that in a script and then you have the top scientists say that and give that that stamp, then you have to have equally someone to come on board and apply it and then act it (Giamatti), but then also act it in a way as these guys were saying with such conviction -- the level of detail is really extraordinary.”
Johnson is no stranger to committing to training for a role. But this time out, it was extra special because it meant spending loads of quality and informative time with the men and women who are charged with putting their lives on the line, should the call require it.
“The training part is pretty consistent, but the difference was actually participating in something I’d never participated in before -- spending time with first responders, spending time with LAFD rescue pilots, operating a helicopter and going through the processes with these guys and girls for a pretty good amount of time. So that was the different part for me. It was exercising a different muscle,” Johnson said.
“We’ve played characters like this where you’re pretty proficient, you hope to be, at taking care of business, whatever that business is. But in this case, it was very different than anything I had experienced before. So I spent a lot of time here in LA and a lot of time in Australia with those men and women.”
There is no question that Johnson is living a dream. He is still basking in the success of Furious 7 and even spoke earlier about Furious 8 and a Hobbs spin-off. We finished our chat with the man (more) formerly known as The Rock, by asking if he ever dreamed this big.
“I was born in Hayward and raised a lot in Hawaii. Did I ever think I would be in this position? No. When I was eight years old, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in Charlotte, North Carolina. I walked out of there, I was so inspired, loved the movie and went, ‘I want to be that guy. Charming and cool, kicks ass, cool with the ladies,’” Johnson said.
“But I had no connection to Hollywood. So to be sitting here today, [I am] grateful and very happy.”