Commentary

The Rock talks "Tooth Fairy" and more

Originally Published: January 20, 2010
By Sam Alipour | Special to Page 2

Tooth Fairy20th Century FoxDid you ever think you'd see The Rock starring alongside Julie Andrews?

Dwayne Johnson doesn't need your advice, thank you very much.

In fact, you could say -- in wrestling parlance, anyway -- that The Rock-turned-movie-star pretty much drop-kicked my ad hoc attempt at a career intervention.

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In his latest family flick, "Tooth Fairy," Johnson stars as Derek Thompson, a minor league hockey enforcer who's magically pegged to serve time as the mythical winged-one. The film, which received the backing of the NHL, marks the acting debuts of pros Kyle Quincey and John Zeiler, as well as skateboarder Ryan Sheckler, who plays hotshot teammate Mick Donnelly. Also featured are Stephen Merchant and Julie Andrews as Johnson's fairy caseworker and fairy boss, respectively. Ashley Judd plays his love interest, and Billy Crystal has a pretty funny turn as his fairy-gadgets guy.

The comedy (which hits theaters on Friday) is Johnson's third sports-related feature -- but it's also his fourth film targeted at moviegoers who are required to participate in recess. (Full disclosure: I abandoned an advance screening of the film at the one-hour mark, partly because I was hungry and partly because I'm not 7 years old.) His career choices have led many of us to wonder what happened to our Rock, the highly dangerous and yet immensely likeable next great action star? I mean, Johnson is living proof that all men were not created equal. That some men, Johnson included, were put on this planet to break things -- tackles, your face with a folding chair -- and some were built to, well, ask questions of those men.

I recently met up with the former University of Miami defensive tackle at a Beverly Hills hotel to talk teeth, his mostly failed attempt to transform into a hockey player, and his far too kid-friendly filmography -- from a safe distance, of course.

Blitz: First off, never said this to a man before, but you have amazing teeth.

Johnson: Thanks, man. Don't get lost in my eyes, though. Happens to the best.

Seriously, if I hung your teeth on a necklace and gave it to my girlfriend, she would probably propose to me.

But then I'd be gumming it. (Laughs.)

Take me back. As a kid, did you wait for your teeth to fall out naturally, or did you have sadistic parents like mine, who tied one of my teeth to a doorknob and slammed the sucker shut?

No, man, I was doing it myself. I tried everything to get those teeth out -- working them over, punching them. I was just so enthralled with the tooth fairy visiting. Didn't matter if my teeth weren't ready. I just wanted the cash.

My tooth fairy was cheap. I mean, I'm bleeding from the mouth, and all I get is one lousy dollar?

I'd get $1, too. Maybe $2. But there are other tooth fairies out there. I can tell you that there is one tooth fairy out there who leaves $20s.

[+] EnlargeDwyane Johnson
20th Century FoxJohnson also gets to try his hand at hockey in "Tooth Fairy."

Who's that?

The one who takes my little girl's teeth. (Laughs.)

So, you're dressed like a fairy in this film, with skirt and wings. …

I prefer the term "tutu."

You also wore a tutu in "The Game Plan," and before that, you danced around in a speedo as a wrestler. I'm scared to ask, but what do you wear in the privacy of your home?

Oh man, that's between me and all my other fairies.

Hang out with a lot of fairies, do you?

(Laughs.) Good one, there. Easily, this interview can take a dangerous turn.

Let's get real. If I woke up and saw you standing over me, your hand under my pillow, I'd slap your face and jump out the window. Just so you know.

I hear you. But I think most kids would be appreciative. They know I'm not there to do harm. I'm just there to take the tooth and leave a gift. And for all the kids out there who are reading this, the good thing about me being your tooth fairy is I'd never leave coins. Always paper money.

I spoke to your co-star, Ryan Sheckler. He said that if you showed up in his room in the middle of the night, he'd probably have a heart attack.

Shoot, if Sheckler saw me in his room, it'd be a dream come true. (Laughs.) Seriously though, let me tell you about Ryan. What makes a good comedy, in my opinion, is when you check your ego at the door and don't worry about looking cool. Cool is the antithesis of funny. So, when you get a guy like Ryan, who's an incredibly successful young athlete, who isn't worried about making a fool out of himself, you're very lucky to have him.

I was going to say, he's surprisingly good in this. Not that I was expecting a disaster, but it's his first acting role.

I know what you're saying, sure. He did a great job. I was proud of him. But he tried to get me on the skateboard a few times. I'm like, "No. Are you insane?"

Wait, getting on a skateboard is insane, but playing hockey is somehow perfectly reasonable?

Well, it is when you have great stunt doubles. (Laughs.) That's different.

Let's say we leave here right now, put you in some skates and throw you on the ice with a puck and stick for five minutes. What happens next?

I'd fall about 98 times. I'd also separate my head from my neck. And I'd be sitting down on the ice by Minute 2. Seriously, I attempted to skate, but my mobility these days is awful. I'm very awkward on the ice. When you do see me skating, it's mostly movie magic. They made this incredible device where they pulled me across the ice.

Yeah, you don't strike me as someone who had a lot of exposure to hockey before this.

No, not at all. Raised in Hawaii and all throughout the South. Nashville, Memphis and Tampa, all hockey hotbeds, as you might imagine. No, not at all. But I have a newfound respect for hockey players.

Let's talk about your playing days. Did you catch "The U," the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary about your old football program?

I haven't seen it, no, but I have it at home and I know the producers. They asked me to be a part of it, but I declined.

Why? Because you're a big movie star now?

Oh, way too big. Get out of here with that s---. (Laughs.) No, to be honest with you, I think it was a case of scheduling. I was shooting something, so I was unavailable. But of course I know what it's about, I know a lot of the players involved and everyone said it was great.

The movie addresses the whole The Badass U vs. The Nation thing. Where did that mentality come from?

Look, oftentimes perception becomes reality. That era started a couple of years before I got there. I got there in 1990, and '95 was my last game. Here's the thing: Were we proud? Absolutely. Did we play with reckless abandon? Sure. We were responsible for changing how the game was played. In a lot of ways, we challenged the officials. Then the NCAA implemented some rules, like you can't leave the bench for a fight. We were involved in some massive fights, by the way, which were awesome at that time.

Did you get any good shots in?

Oh, yeah. We got in a great fight in Colorado, and a huge fight at San Diego State where I wound up chasing the mascot into the stands. That was cool. But the one thing that I always remind people of, which is always left out: Sure, it was "thug life," convicts, things like that, but we also had the mentality that we were going to play with passion and outwork everyone, in the weight room and on the field.

[+] EnlargeThe Rock
Russell Turiak/Getty ImagesThe Rock, before he became a big-time movie star.

While talking trash.

Sure -- which was a lot of fun, by the way. For me, a lot of The Rock came from The U.

Warren Sapp once told me you could've been a great lineman. But you suffered some injuries, and they moved Sapp from tight end to your position. The rest is history. Safe to say you're happy with the way things turned out?

I'm very happy. For a long time, I wanted more. But, see, I was good in college. But I can honestly tell you that, when I was watching Ray [Lewis] and Warren play, I very clearly saw that they were great. That's the difference.

So, you've done a few kiddie movies now -- which is cool, I guess …

(Johnson laughs maniacally. In response, I scoot my chair back a few inches.)

Seems you know where I'm going with this. Any chance you'll get back to cracking skulls with clubs and stuff?

Right now, as a matter of fact, I'm doing a badass movie called "Faster," with Billy Bob Thornton. It's a great action movie that has great characters and badass cars. I'm involved in a heist, where I'm double-crossed. They shoot my brother and shoot me, but I live. I serve 15 years in prison, then I go out and systematically go after every single person.

And you crack skulls with clubs and stuff.

I'm cracking skulls. You know what a Ruger is?

Something dangerous?

One of the biggest handguns out there. I'm breaking skulls to pieces with those big bullets. But here's the thing with family movies -- I like to make people laugh, but there's nothing like kicking ass. I've been waiting to get back to that. The material that was coming in has been good, and a lot of it got made with other people, but it wasn't good for me. I was waiting for something without all that CGI. Something where it's, "You took something from me and I want it back."

Like "Taken." You would've killed in that.

Loved "Taken." Looooved that movie.

Something struck me while I was watching you in that tutu: you're still insanely ripped. At what point do you go, "You know what, I'm too old for this. I don't need to work-out anymore."

(Laughs.) It's different with me. I was raised in that physical environment, in wrestling, by uncles and grandfathers. At 10 years old, it was "Get your ass to the gym." I still love training.

So you're going to end up like Sly Stallone, with wacky veins popping out of weird places?

(Laughs.) I don't think I'll ever be that. Different body types.

Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears regularly in ESPN The Magazine and occasionally on Page 2. You can reach him at sam.alipour@gmail.com.

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Sam Alipour is a Senior Writer at ESPN Magazine and contributor to ESPN and ESPN.com. Contact him at sam.alipour@gmail.com and on Twitter.