Long before taking Hollywood by storm, Dwayne Johnson gained prominence as a professional wrestler in WWE. Despite a short babyface run as Rocky Maivia following his debut at Survivor Series in 1996, he came into his own following a heel turn when he joined the Nation of Domination in 1997. He doubled down on being a heel in 1998 at Survivor Series when he joined Vince McMahon and secured his first WWE Championship win as the Corporate Champion of the company.
Dwayne Johnson would also go on to have a number of successful runs as a top babyface in WWE, but in a new interview, he detailed how being a heel helped prepare him for his upcoming titular role as Black Adam in a project he’s been wanting to get in the works for a number of years. Black Adam debuts in theaters this weekend in both the United States and the UK.
Dwayne Johnson’s Role As Anti-Hero Black Adam Was Heavily Influenced By Playing A Heel In WWE
Speaking to the New York Times ahead of Black Adam’s theatrical release, Dwayne Johnson detailed the process of getting the film made, saying it’s a role he’s wanted to play for years.
“Almost 15 years of fighting for this and pushing for it. Admittedly, I was a DC boy growing up. I liked Marvel but I loved DC. My Saturday-morning cartoon was “Super Friends.” I get it from a studio perspective. It’s the safer bet to continue to invest in the I.P. [intellectual property] that the world knows. The Justice League — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman. I understand that.
“But it took convincing to get the studio to look past the Justice League into the DC universe, and there’s some really cool characters there. You’ve just got to give it a shot and trust the investment. Black Adam has been sitting around for almost 80 years.”
Despite playing heroes in most of his theatrical releases, Dwayne Johnson spent a good deal of time playing a villain in WWE, and he says that experience helped him embrace the less-than-moral characteristics of Black Adam even when some may see the character as a risk.
“I embraced all the characteristics that would deem him a supervillain — his violence and his brutality and his philosophy on justice. Hardcore justice. He’s very economic with his words but also with his powers. It’s not a killing spree. It’s those who, well, have it coming to them. But I never looked at it as a risk. It’s one thing if he’s violent and he’s brutal and he’s full of rage. But when we take our time to tell his origin story and show why he became that way, it’s not a risk.”
Dwayne Johnson detailed what he learned during his time as a heel in WWE, saying that The Rock could get away with saying anything as a villain as long as his reasoning was sound, and this lesson has helped him immensely when it comes to portraying Black Adam.
“It really did, yeah. Even in the wild, unpredictable world of professional wrestling, there was a great benefit in playing a heel. I became, at that time, the best and greatest heel the company had going.
“That Attitude Era, I call it a very special time in the world of pro wrestling. The company wasn’t publicly traded, so we flew under the radar. And some of the things — many of the things — that we were able to get away with, we’d be in big trouble these days. But that time as a heel really did teach me that you could do anything — as long as your reason why is relatable.”
As The Rock, Dwayne Johnson learned to embrace the crowd booing him when he portrayed a villain in the squared circle.
“Before I became a great bad guy, I came in as the babyface [the good guy]. I was told, “You can’t smile enough.” Vince McMahon told me that. “You have to go out there and be grateful to be here.” I was booed in every arena across the country. So I did have to withstand that kind of vitriol. By the time I did turn heel, I couldn’t have opened my arms wider to get them boos, to come in and embrace them.”
Dwayne Johnson hasn’t appeared in WWE since October of 2019. Despite announcing his official retirement from in-ring competition earlier that year, there is heavy speculation that he may be facing family member Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 39. However, Dwayne Johnson refuses to confirm or deny whether these rumors are true. However, he did recently acknowledge Roman Reigns as Tribal Chief.