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How Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson reigns as king of the verbal smackdown in 'Hobbs & Shaw'

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Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, gives USA TODAY a lesson in talking smack. Johnson stars in the “Fast and Furious” spinoff “Hobbs Shaw.”
USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES – Dwayne Johnson figures it was about 28 seconds into Day One of shooting the “Fast Furious” spinoff “Hobbs Shaw” when he dropped a little surprise on co-star Jason Statham.

The two action stars had already reviewed and agreed on the verbal bombs their respective adversaries – Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard Shaw – would hurl at each other during a heated confrontation. But Johnson had inspiration for increasing the boom.

“So I go, ‘Jason I have an idea,’ ” Johnson recalls, re-creating the moment in vivid detail with a wide grin. ” ‘What if I say instead something like: ‘I know why after all this time I don’t like you. It’s your voice. It’s your prepubescent, nasally, Harry Potter voice.’ “

His British co-star was intrigued but hesitant. So Johnson continued: “And here’s what you say to me: ‘It’s your face, it’s your big, dumb, stupid-looking face. As if God projectile-vomited.’ “

“So,” Johnson throwing his hands up with a satisfied air. “I gave him ammo, too.”

The scene is now an entirely puerile, highly effective example of the verbal fires that burn along with the real explosions and full-on car action in “Fast Furious Presents: Hobbs Shaw” (in theaters Friday). It’s a moment that highlights The Rock’s ability to deliver a 360-degree screen smackdown. 

No one brings the verbal pain like the 6-foot-5 former WWE star.

“Dwayne wrote the insults for both sides that morning. This is his superpower,” “Hobbs Shaw” director David Leitch says. “It’s just a skill that he has and he loves to unleash on his cast members.”

The Rock, 47, credits his days as a defensive tackle on the brash Miami Hurricanes college football team that “thrived” on trash talk, and his WWE wrestling pedigree. 

“There’s a direct connection with honing the skills of the verbal smackdown,” says Johnson, who has insulted wrestling opponents, entire stadiums, even entire countries from the ring. “There’s nothing like being in front of a live crowd with a live microphone.”

Johnson now sticks with verbally tangling with co-stars who can keep up with the banter, including 5-foot-4 Kevin Hart, his co-star in 2016’s “Central Intelligence” and 2017’s holiday smash “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” 

The key with Hart is making sure there’s insult parity, despite their already comedic size difference. “Kevin can bite back in a big way,” says Johnson.

The chemistry with the more physically capable Statham is so strong that filmmakers propelled the “Fast Furious” spinoff ahead of the next installment in the main franchise. (“Fast Furious 9” is in production for a 2020 release.) This natural leap occurred after Johnson and Statham flat out stole 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” every time they bickered and battled onscreen.

‘It was so surreal’: ‘The Rock’ spills on the ‘Hobbs Shaw’ premiere drama

‘Hobbs Shaw’: Everything we know about the ‘Fast Furious’ spinoff

Even though Statham prefers sticking to the lines from the script, The Rock says he convinced the star to just “trust me” during an early “Fate of the Furious” scene. 

“We did the scene as it was written, fine. Then I went, ‘I’m going to say something and you respond however you want to respond,’ ” says Johnson, who then hurled a nasty, off-the-cuff, unpublishable cutdown that involved Hobbs punching Shaw so hard he’d need to use his toothbrush in an impossible anatomical situation to brush his teeth.

“I’ve had that in my arsenal for some time,” Johnson says proudly. “Jason broke up laughing, a genuine laugh, and we used that in the movie.”

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Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham team up in the new “Fast Furious” spinoff, “Hobbs Shaw.”
USA TODAY

The two were off and running, even as part of an ensemble cast amid a more somber “Fast Furious” vibe led by legacy actor Vin Diesel.  With the spinoff, Johnson and Statham “have the handcuffs off” playing rivals who hate each other but are forced to work together to stop a genetically enhanced supervillain (Idris Elba). The formula has the comedy baked in.

“With the great action and characters, my personal goal with ‘Hobbs Shaw’ is to make the audience laugh hard,” says Johnson.

The Rock equates success with making Statham blow a scene by cracking up while the cameras are rolling. Johnson hit it as the two went head-to-head in a verbal sparring match in a crammed coach section of an airplane.

“Jason, he’s not a big laugher,” says Johnson. “I know I’m hitting a button when he actually laughs. And he was crying in those airplane scenes when I told him I would slap the idiot off his face.”

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  • Frenemies Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, left) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Staham) team up to take on a supervillain in the action film Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw. (Aug. 2)1 of 10
  • Tej (Chris Ludacris Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson2 of 10
  • Paul Walker and Vin Diesel rev up the action in the3 of 10
  • 'Tokyo Drift' stars Lucas Black as an American teenager4 of 10
  • Dom (Vin Diesel) tries to rescue main squeeze Letty5 of 10
  • Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, left) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are frenemies on a new mission in Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw.6 of 10
  • When Dom goes rogue, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) takes the7 of 10
  • Boys, get out the way: Gina Carano and Michelle Rodriguez8 of 10
  • 'Furious 7' became a tribute to the late Paul Walker.9 of 10
  • Diesel breaks off a piece of The Rock  Dwayne Johnson10 of 10

“Jumanji: The Next Level” with Hart is out Dec. 13. Johnson will then face off with fellow motormouth champ Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot in “Red Notice” (expected in 2020).

He’ll be leaning into the movie insults for seasons to come. Not to worry, they are a renewable energy source.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but these are ingrained in my DNA,” says Johnson. “I’ve got a million more brutal smackdowns. They are all just waiting to come out.”

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  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: (L-R) Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366161 ORIG FILE ID: 11618699111 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Dwayne Johnson arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366161 ORIG FILE ID: 11618654422 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Jason Statham attends the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366157 ORIG FILE ID: 11618586483 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Idris Elba arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366161 ORIG FILE ID: 11618663324 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Idris Elba arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366161 ORIG FILE ID: 11618685275 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Jason Statham (L) and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley attend the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366157 ORIG FILE ID: 11618623186 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: (L-R) Sabrina Dhowre Elba, Idris Elba, and Isan Elba attend the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366157 ORIG FILE ID: 11618662887 of 13
  • Johnson made it a family affair, bring his mother Ata Johnson.8 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Eiza Gonzlez attends the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366157 ORIG FILE ID: 11618623499 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: David Leitch (L) and Vanessa Kirby attend the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366157 ORIG FILE ID: 116186039710 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Lindsey Vonn attends the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366157 ORIG FILE ID: 116185925611 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Dwayne Johnson arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366161 ORIG FILE ID: 116185863212 of 13
  • HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Shaun White arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures' Fast  Furious Presents: Hobbs  Shaw at Dolby Theatre on July 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775366161 ORIG FILE ID: 116185944713 of 13

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