LOS ANGELES - The Rock wants to give an impromptu English lesson. If the 6'5,'' 250 pounds wrestler wants to play Daniel Webster, is there anyone who could stop him?
"The term is candy a-- jabroni. It's a derogatory thing," says His Rockness, who is a hands-on type of teacher. Luckily, his hands aren't around your neck. "I'll help you use it in a sentence," he offers. "Say you don't like an actor's performance." "You can say Steven Seagal is a total jabroni," suggests the journalist. "Just don't say I'm a jabroni," growls the man dubbed the Samoan Elvis.
Right, like this reporter wants to be given a one-way ticket to ''the smack down hotel.'' Mr. Muscular sitting beside you isn't really worried about the insults. In fact, he seems so pleased with his little tutorial. You know because he bestows perhaps the highest compliment The Rock can give a mere mortal. He smiles and raises his left eyebrow into an inverted ''v''. The sneer says it all.
Another day. Another way he's giving America a piece of The Rock. And what's left but wisdom. We've already been sold the Rock doll, The Rock video, the book, the lunch box, the comforter ,the games and the tumbler gift set.
One word of caution: The Rock isn't just about his inventive verbal skills. Quite to the contrary just a few days ago, he was on the Universal lot filming his very own sequel to his upcoming sequel Mummy Returns, the (2001) which has just hit cinemas worldwide.
As for his own starring vehicle called Scorpion King, THE (2001) well let's just say it's not the dialogue that really counts. Yesterday, he shot a Harman scene. "I'm in the middle of all these beautiful women who are overwhelming me," says The Rock. "My line is: 'Ladies, I'm an ancient Egyptian assassin. And now is not a good time. 'One girl says, 'It could be a very good time." What else could he do at this point, but lift the brow.
"I will always take care of the Rock fans," he says with a satisfied smile. Soon there might be many more of them roaming the planet. Already some are calling him the next Arnold. He's been called better than Van Damme -- faint praise, but still it's something. Is the Rock the next action hero?
"He's a performer who is used to entertaining 40,000 people a night. And he knows how to bring it down for the camera lens," says Mummy Returns, the (2001) director Stephen Sommers who cast the Rock after watching a tape of him hosting ''Saturday Night Live.
The Rock actually got that show their highest ratings in 2000. "Now, people ask me a lot if I'm the next big thing in Hollywood. Who knows?" says the Rock. "At least I'm not saying, 'Dustin Hoffman look out cause The Rock is coming to Hollywood." Yet, Universal didn't call Dustin Hoffman on the set of Mummy Returns, the (2001) in Morocco and offer him a $5. 5 million deal and his own spin off movie Scorpion King, the (2001). And this was just based on the studio cheeses seeing a few minutes of rushes. "My agent is like, 'Hey, they really like what they see and it's a thought right now that they might make a movie surrounding the Scorpion King's life. ' I couldn't believe it," says the Rock
In Scorpion King, the (2001) he plays an assassin."It's ten years before Mummy Returns, THE (2001) and before he became a king, he was an Egyptian hitman," he says. "The first couple of scenes you see his brother murdered is in front of him. That is the last of his family. So he takes an oath to kill the sorcerer who sees the outcome of every battle," divulges the Rock.
And speaking of battles, all of the above doesn't mean he's quitting the WWF. "I have a passion for both acting and wrestling. I'll try to juggle both," says the Rock. But now isn't there a danger of breaking his movie star bones or risking his face for his close-up? "From a physicality standpoint, wrestling is demanding. At 28, I feel a lot older physically. You're getting pounded on every night. It's not seasonal. It's four hours of TV and not to mention two or three house shows in addition to the TV production. It's draining. But one way or the other, I'll always be a part of the WWF. There will always be those ties there."
Maybe acting is the more dangerous sport. Yes, the Rock has already suffered for his art. He was sick as a dog on the ''Mummy'' set in Morocco. "I remember Oded Fehr saying to me, 'Rock, you just got to watch out what you eat over here,' I said, 'Don't worry about it. ' He said, 'No, no, no. You will really get sick. I have tuna cans from home. ' I was like, 'Don't worry about it man. I've travelled the world with the WWF. I've gone some places twice. Give me some chicken," says the Rock who sheepishly adds, "I thought it would be okay because the chicken was on a skewer. It was barbecued. I was so sick," he says. "Sick as a dog. It was 100 degrees and I was shivering. We were outside in the desert. I had three blankets on between takes. I was like, 'I'm gonna die out here. I was living on toast and couscous for days."
Not that his Moroccan fans cared that the Rock was a little pale. Brendan Fraser who incidentally stars in Mummy Returns, THE (2001) gripes, "The minute we landed, all I heard were these chants. People who didn't speak English were screaming, 'Rock! Rock!' No one cared about me." "He might be the Rock. I felt like the pebble," gripes his other costar John Hannah who also went ignored by the hordes who showed up to the set. "People don't chant everywhere I go," The Rock says, humbly. "But when you get a cluster of people around me, they get a little rowdy."
It wasn't always that way. The former Dwayne Johnson says that growing up first in Hawaii and then in Philadelphia. The son of '70s wrestler Rocky Johnson and the grandson of '60s champ Peter Maivia, he was predictably a tough kid. Hey, he didn't even get beat up for having a name like Dwayne. "Oh, they didn't beat me up," he says. "I was an athlete in high school and I associated with everyone. Of course, I had my fair share of trouble. I wasn't a bad kid," says the Rock. "But I would get in a lot of fights."
In fact, the Rock invented his trademark eyebrow lift in the hallowed hallways of Freedom High School in Philly. "I used to do it just to piss people off. I would wait for somebody to say hello to me. They would walk down the halls and say, 'Hey, what's going on Dwayne?' And I would be like. .. ." He does the eyebrow thing again. He needed the shtick.
At home, things weren't quite so carefree. "I watched my family live paycheck to paycheck. Money was a constant struggle for us because wrestling didn't pay much back then," he says. "We're no stranger to not being able to afford things. And I felt their pain." He also felt their pride when he got a full scholarship to the University of Miami at age 18 to play football. "Everything was great. I was working hard and committed," says the Rock. "I thought I would have a fantastic NFL career and it would make up for the fact that throughout school, I was still always broke. I couldn't afford to do anything."
But during his senior year at the University of Miami, he hurt himself on the field. And the NFL passed on him. "I'm fine with it. That's life," he says, mentioning that he changed his plans and went to the CFL -- Canadian Football League.
His living circumstances in Calgary, Alberta, Canada were even more bleak. "I lived with four other guys because I was paid $350 a week -- Canadian money," he recalls. "It was so bad that I couldn't afford a bed. I had to get a mattress from one of those No Tell, Motels. They sent me to the back dumpster and said, 'Pick out what you want. ' And when you take that kind of mattress home there are some interesting stains. It took a few bottles of Lysol to get them out," he says.
In 1985, he was cut from the CFL. With no choices or options, he went back home. "I left home at 18 to conquer the world. I came home lost. I had to accept life. Now I was 23 and moving back in with my parents and I had about seven bucks in my pocket. I was really depressed. I knew I had to start another chapter in my life," he says.
The family name got him an audition with the WWF in 1996 where he went by the name of Rocky. "My first day in the ring, I thought, 'Wow this is where I belong. This feels right to me.' But there were no guarantees. I could have just as easily failed." He came up with the Rock persona and all the shtick quickly.
"The Rock is Dwayne Johnson with the volume turned way up," he says. This includes his trademark line, "Can you smell what the Rock is cooking." One wonders: Is he a good cook. "I wish for your story I could say yes," he says. "But no, I mostly just barbecue steaks. I can't really do good hotdogs. But who has time for backyard cookouts?"
The Rock is out there hyping his first movie and plotting his return to wrestling. "I think when I go back to wrestling, the right thing to do is to be a baby face. For those who don't know wrestling, a baby face is a good guy," he says. "I think there is great business to be done when I go back," he says. He will also log a lot of time at his Santa Monica and Miami homes this summer with his wife Danny, a Merrill Lynch exec, and their baby - due at any moment.
Finally, the Rock cracks. "I'm very nervous about fatherhood," he admits. "I'm not really sure what to expect from this little baby who I know will reduce me to a pile of mush." The Rock will have to clean up spit. "It will be life changing," he says. Will it turn him into a blubbering jabroni? Or as he says, "a roody poo candy a--?" "Nah," he says, sweetly. "It might just humble me because someday the kid will turn 18 and I'll just be his father. I won't be the Rock. In fact, he might think I'm a total jabroni. .."