Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, gives USA TODAY a lesson in talking smack. Johnson stars in the “Fast and Furious” spinoff “Hobbs Shaw.”
LOS ANGELES â€“ Dwayne Johnson figures it was about 28 seconds into Day One of shooting the “Fast Furious” spinoff “Hobbs Shaw” when he dropped a littleÂ surprise on co-starÂ Jason Statham.
The two action stars had already reviewed and agreed onÂ the verbal bombs their respective adversariesÂ â€“ Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard ShawÂ â€“ would hurl at each other during a heated confrontation. But Johnson had inspiration for increasing the boom.
â€œSoÂ I go, â€˜Jason I have an idea,â€™Â â€ Johnson recalls, re-creating the moment in vivid detail with a wide grin. ” ‘WhatÂ if I say instead something like:Â ‘I know why after all this time I donâ€™t like you. Itâ€™s your voice. Itâ€™s your prepubescent, nasally, Harry Potter voice.’ “
His British co-starÂ was intriguedÂ but hesitant. So Johnson continued: “And hereâ€™s whatÂ youÂ say to me:Â ‘It’s your face, itâ€™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 sceneÂ is now an entirely puerile, highly effective exampleÂ of the verbal fires that burn along with the real explosions and full-on car action in “Fast Furious Presents: Hobbs Shaw” (in theatersÂ Friday). It’s aÂ moment that highlights The Rock’s ability to deliver a 360-degree screen smackdown.Â
No one brings the verbal pain like theÂ 6-foot-5 former WWE star.
“Dwayne wrote the insults for both sides that morning. This isÂ his superpower,” “Hobbs Shaw” director David Leitch says.Â “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 thatÂ “thrived” on trash talk, and his WWE wrestling pedigree.Â
“There’s a direct connection with honing the skills of the verbal smackdown,” says Johnson, who hasÂ insulted wrestling opponents, entire stadiums, even entireÂ countries from the ring.Â “There’s nothing like being in front of a live crowd with a live microphone.”
Johnson now sticks with verbally tanglingÂ with co-stars who can keep up with the banter, including 5-foot-4Â Kevin Hart, his co-star in 2016’s “Central Intelligence” and 2017’s holiday smashÂ “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”Â
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 isÂ so strong that filmmakers propelled the “Fast Furious” spinoff ahead of theÂ next installment in the main franchise. (“Fast Furious 9” is in production for a 2020 release.)Â This natural leap occurred after Johnson and Statham flat outÂ stole 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” every time they bickered and battled onscreen.
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Even though Statham prefersÂ sticking to the lines from the script, The Rock says he convinced the starÂ to just “trust me”Â during an early “Fate of the Furious” scene.Â
“We did the scene as it was written, fine. ThenÂ I went, ‘I’m going to say something and you respond however you want to respond,’ ” says Johnson, who then hurledÂ a nasty, off-the-cuff, unpublishableÂ cutdownÂ that involved Hobbs punching Shaw so hard he’dÂ need to use his toothbrush in an impossible anatomical situationÂ to brush his teeth.
“I’ve had that in myÂ arsenal for some time,” Johnson says proudly.Â “JasonÂ broke up laughing, a genuine laugh,Â and we used that in the movie.”
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham team up in the new “Fast Furious” spinoff, “Hobbs Shaw.”
The two were off and running, even as part of an ensemble cast amid aÂ more somberÂ “Fast Furious” vibe led by legacy actor Vin Diesel.Â With the spinoff, Johnson and StathamÂ “have the handcuffs off” playing rivals who hate each other but areÂ forcedÂ to work together to stop a genetically enhanced supervillain (Idris Elba).Â The formula has the comedy baked in.
“With theÂ great action and characters, my personal goal with ‘Hobbs Shaw’ isÂ to make the audience laugh hard,” says Johnson.
The RockÂ equates success withÂ making Statham blow a scene by cracking upÂ while the cameras are rolling. Johnson hit it as the two went head-to-head in aÂ verbal sparring match in a crammed coach section of an airplane.
“Jason, he’s not a big laugher,” says Johnson.Â “I know Iâ€™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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“Jumanji: The Next Level” with Hart isÂ out Dec. 13. Johnson will then face off with fellow motormouth champ Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot in “Red Notice” (expected in 2020).
He’llÂ be leaning into the movie insults for seasons to come. Not to worry, they are a renewable energy source.
“I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s a good thing or not, but these areÂ ingrained in myÂ DNA,” says Johnson. “Iâ€™ve got a million more brutal smackdowns. They are all just waiting to come out.”
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