March 7, 2021

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Dwayne Johnson on how his ‘Forrest Gump-ian life’ inspired NBC sitcom ‘Young Rock’

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Is Dwayne Johnson’s new autobiographical NBC sitcom “Young Rock” any match for his real life?

The former wrestler-turned action movie star, who has topped Forbes’ list of highest-paid actors for the last two years, mines his upbringing for the new half-hour sitcom debuting Tuesday (8 EST/PST). Three actors portray the pioneer of the People’s Eyebrow at different stages of his life: Adrian Groulx (Johnson as a kid living in Hawaii), Bradley Constant (as a teen in Pennsylvania who shoplifted designer goods) and Uli Latukefu (as a University of Miami football player). 

Johnson also appears in the series, bookending each episode in mock interviews with a journalist (Randall Park) as he reflects on his life while campaigning for president in 2032.

Dwayne Johnson flexes the People's Eyebrow as his wrestling persona "The Rock" in 1999.

Johnson, 48, sources storylines from time spent with his dad, wrestler Rocky “Soul Man” Johnson’s pals, including André the Giant, and his family’s financial struggles. He applauds series creator Nahnatchka Khan for tackling the portrayal of his “wildly Forrest Gump-ian life that I have been lucky enough to have, (which)was complex and awesome and crazy and unbelievable,” he says in an interview.

Johnson also welcomes the chance to “look back on that stuff and laugh and deliver it to the audiences in a way that will make them smile and make them laugh.”

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Dwayne Johnson is running for president in "Young Rock," a sitcom inspired by his upbringing.

Tuesday’s premiere features all three versions of the onscreen Johnson, bouncing between the different actors and stages of his life. Future episodes will focus on one part of his life at a time. Johnson insists the stories are all true (or at least true-ish). 

“The fun thing about ‘Young Rock’ is everything that people see in this first episode and throughout the season, everything happened,” says Johnson. “Now, what we do is, maybe it happened in a different year, maybe it happened in a different city.” 

The series has to make an entertaining show that’s suitable for network television.

At one point in the premiere, 10-year-old Dwayne (then also known as “Dewey”) offends a group of wrestlers by calling the sport “fake.” In response, Andre (Matthew Willig) lifts the young boy by his shoulders so they are at eye level and directs him to “never use the F word.” Then the two hug. Johnson describes this TV moment as “the family version” of the incident. 

“Honestly, what would happen is when I stepped out of line like that, I would be brought into the ring,” he says. “Their way of discipline was to take me in the ring. And beat my a– in a way that I learned actually how not fake wrestling is.” 

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Andre the Giant (Matthew Willig) lifts a young Dwayne Johnson (Adrian Groulx) in the debut episode of "Young Rock."

In the “Young Rock” premiere, the teenage Johnson buys a car to gain some independence. And while it was a bargain at $103, it came with a couple of unexpected occupants. In his real life, Johnson remembers driving down the highway in the first car he purchased “from a crackhead” when “I had to swerve off into the shoulder because another crackhead popped up from the back. And then I pulled over and I had to kick him out, and I said, ‘This is my car now.’ So that actually happened.”

Does that dedication to presenting the truth mean Johnson wants to preside over the Oval Office? In 2017, the actor said he was “seriously considering” a run, and still hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

“I would consider a presidential run in the future if that’s what the people wanted,” he says. “Truly I mean that, and I’m not flippant in any way with my answer. That would be up to the people…So I would wait, and I would listen. I would have my finger on the pulse, my ear to the ground.” 

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