Dwayne Johnson rocks quake movie

Dwayne Johnson plays a rescue pilot who attempts to save his ex-wife and daughter when earthquakes hit. -- PHOTOS: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Dwayne Johnson plays a rescue pilot who attempts to save his ex-wife and daughter when earthquakes hit. -- PHOTOS: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, is the main draw of disaster movie San Andreas

Dwayne Johnson is a huge global star.

But why has the action hero, seen in this year's Furious 7, not starred in that most popular of genres, the comic-book sci-fi blockbuster?

Judging by Spider-Man, Batman, The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and others, the only colour in the superhero universe - at least in Hollywood's opinion - is white.

The half-African Canadian, halfSamoan star of disaster flick San Andreas, opening tomorrow, says that he loved the Star Wars franchise as a kid.

But the 43-year-old tells Life! that if an actor who looks like him is to avoid playing minor parts in major sci-fi movies, he has to create and own the franchise.

"That's what you gotta do. Five or 10 years ago, I would have loved to have been in a franchise movie. Of course, I would have.

"But if you can't be - not what I would not have been, it just wasn't on the cards - then you gotta create it," he says.

That is what he has just done. He is co-developing and starring in Alpha Squad Seven, a movie the former wrestling star describes as "Independence Day meets Guardians Of The Galaxy".

It is just a concept for now, but it has the support of major player DreamWorks. Alpha promises to deliver something too rarely seen in summer sci-fi.

"It's coming. Big brown man. He's coming to space," he says.

In San Andreas, Johnson is Ray, a rescue pilot who has to traverse California to save his ex-wife and daughter when massive earthquakes shake Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Johnson first gained worldwide recognition as a professional wrestler, fighting under the ring name The Rock, a tag he dropped as his movie career took off. Of wrestlers who have turned to acting - the list includes John Cena, Jesse Ventura and Dave Bautista - Johnson has been the most successful.

When he got his first movie role, in 2001's The Mummy Returns, he was very much the outsider, says Johnson, who was born into a wrestling dynasty (his father and maternal grandfather were wrestlers) and grew up in California, Hawaii and Pennsylvania.

"I didn't have Hollywood connections, I didn't go to a performing arts school. My goal was to break into acting and have a long and diverse career. I cut my teeth in the world of wrestling, which is a whole other beast from acting," he says.

"I thought the best thing to do was to go through a trial by fire and jump in head first," he adds.

He took up as many parts in as many different kinds of films as he could, from action (The Scorpion King, 2002) to drama (Southland Tales, 2006) to comedy (Get Smart, 2008).

And now, his face and name are front and centre on the posters for San Andreas. Disaster movies usually feature an ensemble cast, but marketing for the film has focused on his star power.

He feels the pressure, he says.

"We are an original property, so in essence, this big movie is the underdog," he says, referring to how San Andreas will face off at the box office against popular franchises such as Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and, later, Jurassic World.

"But we gotta create our own franchise, our own intellectual property. We gotta swing for the fences," he says.

"If there can be big bald brown men in space, for multiple movies, let's do it."

PREPARED FOR QUAKES

For actress Carla Gugino, 43, a long-time resident of Los Angeles, earthquakes have a special meaning. She had a memorable experience in 1994, after a tremblor struck in the wee hours when she was in bed.

"I was sleeping naked but I could not find my clothes. I was terrified and ready to run out like the day I was born. But by the skin of my teeth, I found a robe and put it on and now when I'm in California, I never sleep without full clothing," she says.

She talks about how, having worked as an actress for so long, different audience groups lay claim to her as one of their own.

Sci-fi and fantasy fans see her as the sultry siren in films such as Sin City (2005) and Watchmen (2009), while others see her as the "cool sexy mum" type in the Spy Kids series (2001-2003) and Mr Popper's Penguins (2011).

"I do love playing different genres, but I do love playing women who are defined by their jobs - I've played a contingency analyst, a US Marshal, a neurosurgeon, a police officer, a lawyer," she says.

But in San Andreas, it is not her character's job that matters. Gugino plays Emma, the ex-wife of rescue pilot Ray (Johnson). She lacks survival skills, but she is far from helpless and is vital in helping him rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario).

"She is smart and thinks on her feet. I think she's the representation of a real woman," the actress says of her character.

In some ways, the career of actress Alexandra Daddario, 29, seems to be following the same sexpot-to-versatile actress arc as Gugino's.

The New York-born actress was just another starlet working in low-budget horror (Texas Chainsaw 3D) and taking one-off parts in television when she broke out in the highly acclaimed cable television series True Detective, in which she played Lisa, the girlfriend of philandering cop Marty (Woody Harrelson).

Though it was not a major role, she was in a few scenes in the adult-oriented series that galvanised attention.

"Lisa was a compelling character. She screws everything up. It was fun to play and fun for people to watch," she says.

"And I got naked and people got excited. We like naked people," she adds.

Daddario keeps her clothes on in the family-oriented San Andreas, which relies on other ways of ensuring visual interest.

Director Brad Peyton, 34, makes no bones about how excited he was to be part of a movie that would summon the destruction of cities from the ground and sea.

The Canada-born director, who had directed Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), says that the notion of staging the largest earthquake in history, one that would swallow swathes of California, got his attention.

"A lot of scripts I read, I put down, they are too boring to shoot. Not this one. Blowing s*** up is fun to shoot," he says.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

San Andreas opens in Singapore tomorrow.