The historic city of Norwich, England is about as far away from the thunderous theatrics of World Wrestling Entertainment professional wrestling as it gets. But these two contrasting worlds collide in the new wrestling-centric comedy Fighting With My Family, the result of an equally unlikely pairing between English actor/film-maker Stephen Merchant (co-creator of The Office) and WWE legend/global superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Merchant wrote and directed the film; and produced it alongside Johnson, who recruited Merchant for the job. Johnson also shows up on screen, playing himself.

Dwayne Johnson, left, and Dany Garcia, center, co-founders and co-CEOs of Seven Bucks Productions, and her brother Hiram Garcia. Photo / Supplied
Dwayne Johnson, left, and Dany Garcia, center, co-founders and co-CEOs of Seven Bucks Productions, and her brother Hiram Garcia. Photo / Supplied

Fighting With My Family was inspired by a British TV documentary that detailed the unique back story of WWE Superstar Paige (played in the film by Florence Pugh), who grew up in a family of hard-scrabble wrestlers in Norwich.

"[Johnson] was in England filming Fast and Furious 6," Merchant tells TImeOut. "He couldn't sleep one night, the documentary came on TV, and he leaned in. I think coming from a wrestling family himself, he related to them and responded to them."

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The wrestling-mad Knight family (as they're known in the film) comprises ne'er-do-well dad Ricky (played by Nick Frost from Hot Fuzz), unflappable mum Julia (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones), enthusiastic son Zak (Jack Lowden, Dunkirk) and feisty daughter Saraya (Pugh, The Little Drummer Girl).

All four wrestle in local events and both kids grew up dreaming of one day joining the WWE. But when the WWE came to England to hold tryouts, only Saraya advanced into the WWE training programme, leaving Zak devastated. Under her ring name Paige (named after her favourite character from Charmed), she went on to become an iconic WWE superstar.

Actor Nick Frost, right, who plays wrestler Ricky Knight, left, poses for photographs upon arrival at the Uk Premiere of the film, 'Fighting with my Family.' Photo / Supplied
Actor Nick Frost, right, who plays wrestler Ricky Knight, left, poses for photographs upon arrival at the Uk Premiere of the film, 'Fighting with my Family.' Photo / Supplied

"Somewhere along the line [Johnson] realised there was a sort of Rocky-style underdog story just sitting at the heart of this waiting to be turned into a film," says Merchant, who got the job indirectly as a result of having co-starred with Johnson in the forgotten 2010 film Tooth Fairy.

"I had worked with Dwayne before, so we had a good rapport and we'd stayed in touch over the years. They wanted an English authenticity to the writing and they came to me."

Merchant says he had no prior interest in, or knowledge of, wrestling but was bowled over by the documentary.

"I loved the relationship they all had with each other, I loved the dynamic with the brother and sister and the pursuing of this dream and him not getting it. It just seemed like there was so much humour and heart and drama and pathos built into it."

Many of those elements in the finished film rest squarely on the shoulders of Pugh, a burgeoning British star who suddenly had to learn how to convincingly simulate the over-the-top WWE pro-wrestling style.

"Stephen let us know that he wanted us to wrestle as much as possible," Pugh says. "And that was really exciting, to actually get stuck in. I can't do the ones where I basically jump to my death. It's really fun being in the ring. It's exhausting but I think we all had a great time."

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In addition to mining the conflict that arises in the family when only Paige/Saraya gains entry to the Florida-based WWE training programme, the film chronicles her struggles to fit in to that extremely competitive world while staying true to herself.

"I think the most exciting thing about playing her is, she doesn't hold back in saying anything, whether it's on-camera or off-camera," says Pugh. "She's very proud of what she is made of and that obviously is her family and her upbringing. And playing that was so liberating."

Paige herself, who is now retired from active wrestling, admits it was strange seeing her life story play out in a big movie.

"It's bizarre because at the time you don't realise how many obstacles you're actually going through, until it's being told on the big screen," Paige says. "So it's very surreal. [Florence is] so good at what she does, I forget that she's playing me, and I forget that it's my story. I've seen the movie four times, and every time I'm like, 'This is so great, I'm so happy she made it! What's she gonna do next?'"

Frost is a hoot in the film as a working class patriarch with a dodgy past.

"You can take wrestling out of this film and it's about a family, and my family was a bit like that family," Frost tells TimeOut. "I got the fact that Ricky had a past and had made mistakes. I got that man and understood what his motives were as a dad. It's nice to play hard nutters with soft hearts who cry easily."

"I don't think anyone needs to know or like wrestling to like this film," Frost continues. "Because everyone has a family. Wrestling could be ... pottery, you could swap it out for anything."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Stephen Merchant, Nick Frost and Dwayne Johnson
What: Fighting with my Family
When: In cinemas today