Dominic Corry speaks to Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson about his new TV series Young Rock
Several years ago, a photo of a young Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson sporting big hair and a bum bag, looking particularly daggy, went viral on the internet.
In a recent Zoom call with the Herald, Johnson says the reaction to that photo partially inspired his new comedy series Young Rock.
"That was the entire pitch of the show," says Johnson with his trademark megawatt smile. "It was just me and the fanny pack and [American network] NBC said, 'We're in. That's all we need. Now let's work backwards from there.' "
The show takes place across three time periods: 1982 (when Johnson was bright-eyed 10-year-old), 1987 (when he was an unnaturally tall high-schooler who told girls his name was "Tomas") and 1990 (when he was a college football player with NFL aspirations).
The show, which premieres on Prime tonight, features a raft of Kiwi acting talent in supporting roles. And, portrayed by three different actors across three youthful ages, Johnson himself also appears in each episode to frame scenes set during his 2032 Presidential campaign.
The show is first and foremost a love letter to Johnson's parents: his loving, hard-working Samoan mother Ata (played by Kiwi actor Stacey Leilua) and his Black father, pro wrestler Rocky Johnson (Joseph Lee Anderson).
"Stacey Leilua playing my mom, really, truly, she is the rock of this entire thing. It all comes down to my mom, who, by the way, she's still going strong and she's here. And every time she sees a trailer or one of these episodes, she starts crying."
Johnson's father passed away last year.
"He would have loved this and he would have been so proud. Because for the first time, certainly in primetime, we are showcasing this world of he and all of his brothers of the ring through the lens of something that's positive. I know it would have meant a lot to my dad."
As much as the show is an ode to Johnson's folks, it is equally reverent to the world of pro wrestling, which experienced a huge boom in the 1980s.
"I grew up in a business that I've loved all of my life and learned some of my most valuable - while very unorthodox - lessons coming out of the world of pro wrestling. So to be able to highlight and showcase these men who were, in essence, my superheroes. They didn't wear capes when I was a little boy."
Among the many iconic pro wrestlers who appear as characters on the show are Andre the Giant, 'Macho Man' Randy Savage and tag team The Wild Samoans, who are played here by Kiwi actors John Tui and Fasitua Amosa. Other New Zealanders appearing in the Australia-shot series include Emmett Skilton (The Almighty Johnsons) as Johnson's football coach, Ana Tuisila (Harry) as Johnson's wrestling promoter grandmother Lia Maivia, and Josh Thomson (The Project) on fine deadpan form as Lia's assistant, Bob.
Unlike many other shiny happy family sitcoms, Johnson says he wants to acknowledge how difficult his upbringing sometimes was.
"It was incredibly complicated, and it was incredibly tough growing up. And in that complication came an extraordinary life that was full of travel. I lived in 13 different states by the time I was 13 years old. I also lived in New Zealand. There was so much breadth to this life that I had.
"All along, I'm bringing the fanny pack, though. Don't you worry. I'm bringing the fanny pack."
Young Rock premieres with double episodes on Thursday April 22 at 7.30pm on Prime