Unlike a lot of actors, Dwayne Johnson wasn’t born to act. He was, however, born to entertain. He played college football for the University of Miami where he played for their 1991 national championship team. After playing in the Canadian Football League, he followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by becoming a professional wrestler. Widely recognized as one of the best professional wrestler’s ever, he won 17 various championships during his time in the ring.
After hitting #1 on the New York Times Best seller list in 2000 for his autobiography, The Rock Says…, he set his sights on Hollywood. In 2002, he was cast as the lead for The Scorpion. He was paid $5.5 million which was a record for an actor in his first leading role. Fast forward to 2016. After consistently being one of the biggest box office draws due to films like the Fast & Furious series, Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people of 2016. He was also the highest paid actor of 2016. Part of that is due to his latest film, Moana.
For centuries, the greatest sailors in the world masterfully navigated the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, 3,000 years ago, their voyages stopped for a millennium – and no one knows exactly why. The latest from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Moana, tells the story about an adventurous teenager who is inspired to leave the safety and security of her island on a daring journey to save her people. Inexplicably drawn to the ocean, Moana (Auliʻi Cravalho) convinces the mighty demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to join her mission, and he reluctantly helps her become a wayfinder like her ancestors who sailed before her.
Together, they voyage across the open ocean on an action-packed adventure, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills her quest and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Moana is directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid) and features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights, Hamilton), Mark Mancina (Speed, Twister, Tarzan, Planes) and one of the most successful Pacific musicians of all time, Opetaia Foa‘i.
Johnson has starred in dozens of movies. Moana, however, could be his most personal film.
“The main reason I wanted to do the movie is because it was an opportunity to showcase a culture that’s very important to me. It was an opportunity to showcase my culture – to be a part of something that was truly historic. This is a history-making movie. I’m not just saying that because I’m a little biased since I’m in the movie. It truly is with Disney showcasing the Pacific Islands for the very first time.”
Though Maui is an animated version of an ancient Hawaiian mythological figure, Johnson was able to relate to his character.
“There are different variations of Maui. We all grew up as kids with stories of Maui – the great demigod, the shape shifter. He’s charismatic. He’s larger than life. As children, you’re blown away by the mythology of Maui. Maui’s very determined. I’ve been known to be very determined. Maui’s incredibly charismatic. I’ve got a little bit of that. Maui’s got a tremendous voice. I’ve got a little bit of that. When Maui sings, the room stops and you watch the man sing. Just between us, he’s incredibly good looking [laughs].”
Football player. Professional wrestler. Action movie star. Johnson is a guy’s guy. But guess what? He’s not too tough to show his vulnerable side.
“There was one part in the movie that really struck me. It was when he finally decided to rip himself open and become vulnerable. [Maui basically says] ‘here’s my truth. My truth is this and this happened to me and I’m still struggling with this today.’ I really appreciated that. It’s one thing when I’m performing lines in a studio and it’s another when you watch it materialize onscreen. That was an element that struck a chord with me because we’re all that way. We all have ‘a thing’ that we struggle with and we just hope to get better.”
And no matter how tough you are, you can’t do everything on your own.
“Moana starts to understand the story of Tafiti and the story of the Heart of Tafiti – to improve the land; improve the people; improve our world essentially. The one person who can help her do that is Maui. Maui was responsible for stealing the Heart of Tafiti and he lost the Heart. In the process of losing the Heart, he lost something that was the most important to him which was his magical fish hook. It gave him his powers or so he thought. Moana has to seek out the great demigod Maui because she needs him to help her on her journey in order for her to succeed. We find out that Maui actually needs her as well to help him find his magical fish hook. They need each other.”
The Moana co-directors are Ron Clements and John Musker. This is the seventh animated film they directed together with Moana being their first CGI movie. Johnson was excited to work with the animation legends.
“It was great to finally meet Ron and John because they are Disney OGs [original gangsters]. These guys have been around a long time. They had tremendous success with Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog and all these amazing movies. It was really cool to know that we had a project like this that was important to all of us – and selfishly with me being half black and half Samoan. It was great to know the project was in the hands of guys who took the care and the time with everything. When you meet them, they’re not only incredibly astute filmmakers, but they took their time and really helped me a lot. They explained the process to me because I like to get as much information as I possibly can. And they put in a lot of time to understand the culture including specific details that are important in our culture. I think they really made something special.”
I mentioned before that Moana could be Johnson’s most personal film. The prevalent theme of Moana is a universally personal one.
“What I took away from watching Moana and what I hope people take away is not only a better understanding of our culture and our traditions and our mana, our spirit – but they will take away the most important thing we all have – family and the power of family. You can go out and you can conquer the world, but don’t ever forget where you came from. Always acknowledge where you came from.”
Moana is now playing in theaters.
Moana Sing-Along opened in select theaters January 27th.