By Miki Turner
Special to Page 3

LOS ANGELES -- About two years ago I got an assignment to do a story on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He was starring in "The Scorpion King" back then. I groaned.

At that time all I knew about him was that he was a professional wrestler, and in my book that made him a professional Neanderthal.

Dwayne Johnson
The Rock made the jump from the wrestling ring to the big screen, starring in "The Scorpion King."
I had to put that book down, however, when I met him. Yes, the former University of Miami defensive lineman who enjoyed a brief career with the Canadian Football League, is a fine piece of eye candy. But he also uses words that even I had to look up in the dictionary. Not only that, he's a humble dude who never takes anything for granted.

So, if in fact the 33-year-old Hayward, Calif. native is the heir apparent to the aging action hero trio of (Sylvester) Stallone, Gov. Schwarzenegger and (Bruce) Willis, Hollywood has picked itself one rock-solid action stud with both brains and brawn.

Page 3 caught up with the seven-time WWF champion recently to chat about his new movie. "Walking Tall" is a film loosely based on the life and times of Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser (portrayed by Joe Don Baker in the 1973 original "Walking Tall"). Armed with a four-by-four, Buford took it upon himself to flush out the criminal element in his town. There was also some discussion about The Rock's college football days, his goals as an actor and his most memorable defining moment.

1. What did you take from the original "Walking Tall" besides that big stick?

The Rock: The first "Walking Tall" always inspired me. It moved me. It wasn't necessarily the fact that this guy was giving out old-fashioned a-- whoopings. It was more like standing up for yourself will always be the answer. That can never ever be questioned.

2. But some critics are saying that it kind of celebrates vigilante justice by taking the law into your own hands.

My character, Chris Vaughn, has the heart of a soldier because he was a solider. Not only that, his family was directly affected by this man who was running a dirty casino. So for him, his intent, his focus is all very myopic in the way that he's going after this character Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough). And, it's one of those things where he was cut up and left for dead. That really happened 40 years ago to Buford.

Some of your co-stars said they could take you out.

Yeah, yeah. I'm sure they did. Everybody's talking trash. Who said that?

Johnny Knoxville, Neal and even Ashley Scott.

It's all good, you know. Come on with it.

3. What's been the defining "Walking Tall" moment in your life?

Dwayne  Johnson
What a surprise; The Rock looks quite comfortable with the pig skin.
Well, I'll tell you. The first time it happened I was in third grade and this guy, I'll never forget his name, Rico, kept pushing me in front of this girl that I liked. I just didn't like it, and I finally waited for him after school. I walked up to him, and that's when we had our confrontation. I got my a-- whooped but I wasn't going to back down.

4. Have you heard from Rico since?

No, it's a good thing I haven't. If I ever see him again, forget it.

5. Talk a little about your college football days. What's your most vivid memory?

Of course, one thing is winning the national title back there in '91. The part I remember the most, and I talk to Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis all the time, is that I miss that camaraderie. Back then, you weren't playing at a professional level and no one was really getting paid -- at least not that much at the University of Miami! I'm just kidding. I'm kidding! No one had any money. We just had each other and it was a grind, a daily grind.

6. Why is it that so many of athletes want to be actors and vice-versa?

I think a lot of it is the way sports are. Sports are very animated and very passionate. And if you love what you do, whether it's in football or whether it's in basketball or even wrestling, then it shows and it comes out. A lot of guys get very animated and a lot of guys like to take it to another level. Like I've always said, Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis and The Rock; all three of us together making a movie (laughs). It could happen. You never know. It would be live!

7. Would you rather have a Super Bowl ring or an Oscar and why?

Oh, hands down, an Oscar. Because I've played the game, and I have a national title, and I'm now making my living as an actor. It's my goal, and I aspire to that. Whether or not it ever happens, you never know. But it's my goal. Eyes on the prize.

8. Do you want to break out of your box any time soon and stop beating folks up all the time? Is there a romantic comedy in your near future?

Yeah. Halle (Berry) just doesn't know that she's going to do it with me yet.

I'll let her know.

Would you please? Yeah, for sure. I think so. I'm doing a movie now where there's no action called "Be Cool." It's a comedy with John Travolta and Uma Thurman. I'm very excited about that.

Dwayne Johnson
Would not want to be the dude seeing The Rock from the perspective.
What's your role in that?

Funny you should ask. Again, it's a chance for me to be self-deprecating because I love that type of humor. I play a half-black, half-Samoan villain and bodyguard. I'm trying to break into Hollywood, trying to convince John Travolta that I can act; I can sing. I raise my eyebrow, and I'm gay.

9. From what I hear, men and women love it when you raise that eyebrow. Are you comfortable being a sex symbol?

That whole sex symbol thing is very weird. My breath stinks in the morning like everyone else.

In some cultures that could be considered sexy.

Yeah, right! Nobody wants to wake up to stinky breath.

10. You still seem really hungry. What keeps you motivated after all this time?

I never want to go back to how I used to live. It was pretty bad in college and when I got out of college. I graduated and had a degree, and after five years of working hard I thought I'd be enjoying the fruits of my labor like a lot of my friends (a back injury kept him out of the NFL Draft). We talk about Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis. Those guys are signing multi-million dollar contracts, and I wasn't. I didn't want their pie. I just wanted a piece of it, and I never got it. That was a really, really hard time for me. And I want to take care of the people around me, like my mom and dad.

During that time, what was the worst job you had?

I collected carts at Costco in the parking lot.

Were you good at it?

Oh, I was awesome. I was the best damn cart collector you ever saw!

Miki Turner can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.