Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is big. Not just big in stature, but he’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world headlining some of the biggest movies in the world. Now Dwayne Johnson stars in Rampage, and for perhaps the first time in his career he’s not the biggest thing on the screen, as he’s forced to stare down three giant monster demolishing Chicago in the blockbuster based upon the classic arcade game. At a recent press conference in Los Angeles, Johnson along with co-stars Naomi Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffery Dean Morgan, and Joe Manganiello as well as director Brad Peyton discussed bring the monster-fueled mayhem to the big screen, which was moderated by the film’s co-star P.J. Byrne, probably best known for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Going into Rampage, Dwayne Johnson and the creative team behind the film were well aware of the long-standing tradition of underwhelming video game movies. “We were all very aware going in of the video game curse that has been rampant throughout Hollywood over the years. I made Doom, so I know. I’ve lived the curse,” Johnson said with a self-deprecating smile. “I think it was just a matter of being aware of the movie we were making, and not trying to be anything else than what we were and what we are. What we are is a big fun ride.”
Johnson continued, “It’s a crazy idea. The conceit of it is crazy and absurd, and it’s a fine needle to thread. What’s happened for us in making the movie, the goal was to lean into the absurdity of it and bring in the best filmmakers we could.”
Rampage sees Dwayne Johnson reuniting with director Brad Peyton, the two having worked together on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas. However, there was a time crunch on this production that had Peyton working a hectic schedule. “The movie was shot really fast. It was done in 55 days, which is 20 less than San Andreas. And then we had six weeks less in post. So, for me, I was doing visual effects, the mix, the music all at the same time, which is not normal,” Peyton explained.
Working on such a rushed schedule meant that Peyton was able to marvel at the mayhem as it all came together. The director elaborated, “It was interesting because the end of this movie was a lot of green screens and Dwayne, and there’s a giant wolf there, and look at that stick and run around. And so it came together so quickly that even I on the mix stage seeing the music and sound come in so quickly, for the last 25 minutes of the movie even though I drew it all, storyboarded it, pre-vised and all that, I had moment of ‘Holy god, this is bananas.’”
Bringing a bit of swagger to Rampage is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays a mysterious government agent. The actor best known for his role on The Walking Dead was happy to join The Rock on the big screen. “It’s a dream come true doing a movie like this,” he said. “I mean, look, when someone calls and says, ‘Hey, would you be interested in doing a movie with Dwayne and it’s got monster in it,’ it’s sort of like when you were a little kid, even though I’m older than he is.”
Morgan also had plenty of praise for Brad Peyton’s preparation which allowed the actors to get a better feel for their work despite being surrounded by green screen and tennis balls. “Brad, he’s so on top of it. There’s a lot of green screen and look at the tennis ball, but we could also see – he was so meticulous in his prep that he had scenes kind of done on an iPad which we could see. Thank god, because when you’re talking about monsters and buildings it really helped a lot.”
Though she’s a veteran of action films with her role as Moneypenny in Daniel Craig’s Bond films, Naomie Harris found herself facing an entirely new challenge on the green screened sets of Rampage. “I actually went into it thinking it was going to be the same kind of deal. Actually, it was completely different because Bond doesn’t have green screen. We’re out in the real world doing those stunts, and we’re doing them for real,” the actress said. “This was reacting to tennis balls. You’d have a tennis ball over here – one to seven. They’d say, ‘Look at three. The building has collapsed. Look at five. The wolf is flying across at you.’ And I was completely out of my mind because I was absolutely terrified because this was something new to me, so I had to really lean on Dwayne. He’s a master of this. This is his world. I felt completely lost at the beginning, but the way to get through it is to pretend you’re a kid and just to play and have fun, and I did.”
In her role of the film’s corporate villain, Malin Akerman savored the nefarious aspects of her character. “It was so juicy. It’s so much fun to play something – to be the villain, to be the mastermind, to be so intelligent to conjure all that stuff, I really loved it. It’s always fun to go the other way. I’d always like to think that I’m not as power-hungry. It was really fun to play,” the Canadian actress said.
Joe Manganiello took an unusual path into the cast of Rampage, one that started with work developing a Dungeons and Dragons movie. “I wrote a version of a Dungeons and Dragons film when it was at Warner Brothers,” the actor revealed. “I found out that Brad was a big fan of the property and was looking to direct a Dungeons and Dragons film. [To Dwayne Johnson] I think they were talking to you about that, as well. I got my agents to connect me to Brad. I said, ‘I wanna talk to Brad. I want to see what his idea is. I have got this script.’ We got on this Skype call and after a couple minutes Brad was like, ‘Hey, I’m down in Atlanta. I’m about to shoot this movie Rampage. I’ve got this great role if you want to play. We’ll shoot this movie. We’ll talk about Dungeons and Dragons and then we’ll go from there.’ And that’s how I wound up in Rampage.”
“There was a time when we were creating this script and kind of chopping it up we thought, ‘What if my best friend had the personality of a 12-year-old?’ Not too far from my own personality,” Dwayne Johnson said with a laugh about the albino gorilla he stars opposite, played by Jason Liles in a motion capture performance.
“You know the relationship between myself and the gorilla George is something we’ve talked about very early, just in terms of who we were going to produce the movie and make it. We felt like you could have the calamity of a movie like this, the expectation of a group that created and did San Andreas what the next iteration of their film is going to be like. Especially with Rampage, because the conceit of this idea is an absurd one. It’s a ridiculous one in that we have three gigantic monsters completely destroying the city of Chicago. Much like the original video game, there wasn’t much of a storyline like you find in today’s video games, so it was fairly one note. We took a lot of swings, a lot of cracks at it, got it to a really good place where it was viable and believable, and more importantly fun,” Johnson said of developing the movie.
The Rock elaborated on his relationship with George and its importance to Rampage, “Then we also, when we sat around the table, we thought, ‘We need an anchor. What’s going to anchor this movie in heart and soul?’ That’s going to be the relationship between myself and my best friend and my best friend is a rare gigantic albino gorilla. We felt like if we were going to nail that anchor that we’d have a movie that people would really want to go along on the ride with but most importantly we had a shot to make a movie that really stood the test of time, and that’s important, too. This is in the monster genre. There have been a lot of great ones in the past – your King Kongs, your Godzillas, even Jurassic Park I include. We just wanted to raise the bar a little bit and anchor it in a relationship.”
Amidst the rubble that adorned the press conference stage, director Brad Peyton had a moment of realization. “It’s weird that my comfort zone is destruction,” he said with a laugh. “I got to the end of the movie with you and like, ‘Yeah, let’s give Dwayne a rocket launcher and blow some shit up.’ And I was like, ‘Why is this my comfort zone?’”
Rampage is currently in theaters.