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Dwayne Johnson brings an adventurous spirit to 'Journey 2'

Luis Guzman, Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine
Luis Guzman, Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine
Warner Bros. Pictures

The 2012 movie “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” is the sequel to the 2008 hit film “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” begins when young Sean Anderson (played by Josh Hutcherson, reprising his role from the first “Journey” film) receives a coded distress signal from a mysterious island where no island should exist. It’s a place of strange life forms, mountains of gold, deadly volcanoes, and more than one astonishing secret.

Dwayne Johnson at the Los Angeles premiere of "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"
Getty Images

Unable to stop him from going, Sean’s new stepfather, Hank (played by Dwayne Johnson), joins the quest. Together with a helicopter pilot (played by Luis Guzmán) and his beautiful, strong-willed daughter (played by Vanessa Hudgens), they set out to find the island, rescue its lone inhabitant and escape before seismic shockwaves force the island under the sea and bury its treasures forever. “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” (a 3-D movie) was filmed primarily in Hawaii, where the Johnson did this interview at the press junket for the movie.

Have you mastered the art of pec-popping?

Well, it’s not much of a gift. Who’s counting the takes? Multiple takes. Method pec-popping. Stanislavsky would be proud.

As a co-producer of “Journey 2,” did you have a lot of input into the movie’s screenplay?

It’s funny, when I first read the script, it was fun. And I wanted to do a big 3-D adventure, but it needed some work So from the ground up, which is why it all made sense that I was going to co-produce and get involved. So, I was on an airplane and I was thinking, gosh, we have James Cameron’s first advanced 3-D technology, post-“Avatar.” So he did Avatar; he worked on it some more, advanced it more, and we were the first movie out of the gate to utilize it. So, I thought, “Well, how can I take his 3-D technology and utilize my body in a fun, entertaining way that’s appropriate?” I could easily go down that road too. It’s a totally different movie.

I was on a plane. I was with our producer on the movie. And I said, “What if I did something and made my pecs pop in 3-D? It might be funny and entertaining. But there’s another level to it, what is it?” And he was eating nuts on the plane. And he goes, “I got it. Throw the nuts, boom, right off into the audience.” And I said, “Great, not only that, but what if we created the scene and it was rapid-fire, multiple berries going off into the audience? Audience participation off my pecs might equal a fun time with the audience.”

What can you say about your “Journey 2” co-stars Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Hutcherson?

They’re great young actors. I think both of them have had great success. Vanessa [had] big success early. And both of them [are] very impressive.

What was great about Josh was I was able to really have a partner, in terms of the action in the movie. He’s coming into his own. He’s becoming a man. And he’s got great poise as an actor, too. That really impressed me.

Young actors always impress me. Making movies is a lot of fun but it’s a lot of hard work, and there are a lot of variables to it. I like those guys a lot, and loved making the movie with them.

Do you have any phobias? Are there any bugs that make you uncomfortable?

Well, sure. The spider thing I’ve never liked, but who does though? Not really, no. I grew up in Hawaii, so I was used to everything that was there.

Did you campaign to have “Journey 2” filmed in Hawaii?

I definitely campaigned for it. There’s just a texture where we shot in the rainforest, in those mountains where “Jurassic Park” was shot, that you really can’t simulate on a soundstage. And there’s a scope that was out there and a vastness in the beauty of it out there.

We shot there before. We shot “The Rundown” with Pete Berg. And personally, for me, it was great to come back in this capacity. I was a kid here, 14 years old, getting into trouble, getting arrested. And then finally to be able to come back and bring a movie here of tens of millions of dollars to the locals and the local businesses is very special to me.

What was it like coming back to Hawaii?

It was a bit of a stir, but it’s all hometown love. And there’s just a great spirit that everyone talks about — the aloha spirit, which I’m always very proud of. Visiting my high school was awesome. I haven’t been there since I was 14 or 15 years old.

I visited my high school unannounced. I wanted to go to where the football field was and where the weight room was where I spent so much time and where I understood the value or started to understand the value of discipline and hard work. I went there, word spread very quickly, all the students gathered around, and I had a quick word with them afterwards.

What did you say to the students?

I spoke with the principal. I wanted to know how the students were doing and how the school was doing. He was very, very happy and proud to tell me how the students were doing. And told all the kids that after all these years, it’s amazing to come back I told everybody to keep up the great work and keep chasing their greatness. I was very proud of them. I started getting into trouble when I was 13 or 14.

Did you drive past any of the places where you got into trouble?

I did. It became my reflective moment as I’m driving through town and looking at all the places I got in trouble at and all the places that I got arrested at for a multitude of things. And I was very fortunate at that time that I had great parents who were patient.

And I also had a couple of coaches at that time who believed in my potential, even when I didn’t. And that’s an admirable thing to do, I think, in any coach or any adult figure in someone’s life to a kid who’s getting in trouble. “I see your potential. As we take our handcuffs off you, we still see your potential” So I’m grateful about that.

That kind of reflects that scene in “Journey 2” when Hanks reaches out to Sean and gives him leadership, wouldn’t you say?

Leadership and guidance, too. And seeing the potential of that relationship and really seeing the potential of having a father figure in his life when he didn’t have one. And that’s one of the elements that I enjoyed. Working from the ground up with the producers, director and writers, about creating this character that could be a great father figure in a young man’s life and yet still could be funny and still be entertaining for a movie’s sake. But yet the key is the notion of family and how important that is.

How important is it for you to create a sense of wonder for children when you make movies?

I think it’s incredibly important. They’re at that age, whether they’re young children [or not], they’re at that age where their imagination is key and becomes crucial in their growth. I think that is one of the beauties and the awesome part of my job. I’m able to make a movie like this where we can explore Jules Verne’s novels, whether it’s Captain Nemo’s submarine or the mountain of gold or whatever it is, the giant bees and things like that. There’s enough of me being intense and hunting bad men down and doing bad things to them — and I love doing that. But there’s also space for this.

Do you get bored easily?

No, I don’t think I generally get bored easily, because I’m generally involved in things that I’m passionate about. Every once in a while, if I go down a road where I feel like, “I’m not too passionate about that, it’s so important that people know,” and we speak up, and I speak up and say, “I’m not feeling this right now.”

I don’t ever find myself in a position where I get bored easily with a project. But I will say that at home, I like doing nothing. What many may deem boring is heaven to me.

Was it your idea to play the ukulele in “Journey 2”?

I love music. I grew up in a musical family, and that’s what happens, I think. In the Polynesian culture, people love to play ukulele. They love to sing. They love to dance Polynesian dances. And that was a big part of our growing up.

With this movie, that was the fun part about creating this character from scratch, compared to just dropping in and dropping out of the movie — trying to think of moments. What’s another fun moment for the audience. There’s enough tension in the movie when the island is sinking, so where can we find some nice levity.

So, it was my idea to sing, where we would play the ukulele. And, of course, we gave the ukulele to Luis Guzmán’s character. Then the fun part was coming up with the song. There’s a famous Hawaiian singer, his name is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, and he’s from here in Hawaii. He has since passed away. It’s a very long name. But his name is Big Iz. Beautiful voice.

There’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that he did. His version of it. It’s beautiful. He also did “What a Wonderful World.” So I thought, “What if we took ‘What a Wonderful World’ and played it in my tempo on the ukulele?” Compared to picking it like he did, and change the second verse around to fit the riding on giant bees. “You look older than Yoda” or whatever the line was …

The big-band version we sang too. It [the singing] was all me. I love music. I grew up with Hawaiian music. I love blues. I love country. I love traditional country.

Are you still playing Charley Pride in a movie?

The idea was about two or three years ago. First of all, Terrence Howard and [director] Craig Brewer, were originally supposed to do that. It fell apart. I had always been a big fan of Charley Pride, listening to his music when I was 4 or 5 years old, and I talked to my agent and said, “Let’s give it a crack.” Then we went down to Charley’s house. We pent some great time with Charley down in Dallas. And we’re currently working on it.

How was it trading quips with Michael Caine in “Journey 2”?

We had a great time. You could tell … It was a fine balance of trying to jab at each other, but in a fun way. I think the audience knows we’re having fun. It’s also a balance not only in the delivery but in the actual words that I never come across as being a bully to him, even though he gives it right back to me, which was nice in how we set it up. I had a blast with Sir Michael. He’s a guy’s guy and obviously an icon in our business. And he tells an incredible dirty joke. I loved working with him.

What was the dirty joke?

“Two white horses fell in the mud” was his first opener. It got worse.

You’ve gone through some head times when you were broke and practically homeless. How are you dealing with your success? How often do you think about how much your life has changed?

Every day. Every day in some form or fashion, I have a moment of gratitude. And I’m lucky. I believe in hard work, and I believe hard works pays — and that’s a mantra that I have that hard work pays, in many ways. There’s great value in that, but also a little bit of luck, too.

How did the visual effects work with the giant bees in “Journey 2”?

It’s a big rig that goes up and down. We had multiple cameras that go all around. We were against a green screen. We had cranes … It’s a very big sequence. When you read it, the scene written on the page doesn’t do what’s on the screen justice.

When you read it, you think, “OK. Giant bees. Can someone explain it?” And the producer flew down, [director] Brad Peyton flew down. He had all the visual effects laid out. He showed me how the entire scene was going to look. I went, “Wow, if we can accomplish this, it’s going to be visually stunning and amazing, especially with the colors.”

What about when you were on the saddle?

It was me and Luis Guzmán. And there’s a grip throwing a bucket of white goo, which is bird crap, on Luis. And I’m thinking, “I’m getting paid today. I’m getting paid for this. I’m going to get a paycheck, riding with Guzmán.

Can you talk some more about working with Luis Guzmán?

He’s a great character actor. He has great depth. So it was nice to see him have fun. He’s a funny, funny guy. I think what’s great about Luis is he’s very endearing and a sweet, gentle man and a family man. He loves his kids. I loved working with him.

Are you filming the sixth and seventh “Fast” movies back-to-back?

I don’t know if they are going to go back-to-back. That was the idea. A lot of times, a movie of that size and where we would go with the story, it would make more financial sense to try and do them back-to-back. I’m not quite sure if we’re going to do them back-to-back, because I think we’re going to have an issue with the weather. I know we’re going to do one.

I think we’re going to Germany. I can’t wait … That series is a lot of fun for me personally, just the notion of taking one of the biggest action stars of the world and hunting him down. I enjoy that. We’re going to start shooting mid-May [2012].

What else is next for you?

I’ll probably do a movie with Michael Bay called “Pain and Gain.” It’s a smaller movie before he goes and does “Transformers” and I go and do “Fast 6.” It’s a personal project that he’s had for about a decade now and we talked about doing it together seven or eight years ago, so it’s nice that it’s coming into fruition. I’m excited about it. [The movie is based on a] true story.

Is there anything you want to do in the entertainment industry that you haven’t been able to do yet?

I want to do it all, as long as I’m passionate about it. It’s true. Direct, write, produce. We got two great television shows now, one with [Jerry] Bruckheimer now, that I’m producing, another one with Ben Silverman. So when I’m passionate about it, I’ll do it. And the goal is to always be diverse and be broad in the approach. Sometimes we hit homeruns, sometimes we don’t. We swing for the fences.

Are you interested in being on the TV series remake of “Hawaii Five-O”?

Not now. Those guys have locked in. That show is very successful. It’s tough. When you bring back a show, people are a little unsure of how you’re going to do or how successful it’s going to be. They’ve been great. Those two main characters have been great.

For more info: "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" website

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