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Set Visit: Dwayne Johnson opens up about his big, badass Rampage movie

Being driven to my hotel across the Atlanta highway I found myself staring at the city’s picturesque skyline, and naturally began imagining every building being demolished by mutated monsters bent on causing mass amounts of destruction. I mean, I was heading to the set of a movie called RAMPAGE, which is based on a beloved video game about monsters smashing crap. Of course, this chaos would only exist in my head, and my visit would not likely involve seeing destroyed buildings, and I would instead be confined to a room laced with green screen. But how the set of this massive blockbuster proved me wrong.

As we arrived at the movie’s set, which took place on the back lots of Third Rail Studios in Atlanta, the hot Georgia wind brought with it piles of rubble that could only come from the ruins of a demolished city. Newspapers, black debris, particles of once tall structures; all of it came from the numerous, massive mounds that made up the movie’s annihilated setting. Helicopters were laid among ruins, bent and charred. This was a war zone, and at the center of it was a bloody and beaten Dwayne Johnson, a far cry from his seemingly invincible standing.

Yes, he and co-star Naomie Harris (also covered in cuts and bruises) were indeed surrounded by enormous green screen walls, but the ground they stood on, the surrounding destruction, were clear signs that they were in a monster movie – and one that is going to turn its video game inspiration into the most real of scenarios.

Interview with Dwayne Johnson

About why making RAMPAGE stood out more than other video game adaptations:

I can only speak for me personally, so I just know for my taste – my experiences in playing the game – I loved the game when I was a kid, and when I got a little older I had it on Nintendo and loved it then. It’s such a simple premise, so the challenge was to take this simple premise and branch out and hopefully make a cool movie out of it. I think we’ve been doing some good stuff that might lend itself to a good movie. And, again, I think there’s also some really cool elements and I think that if you do it right can really turn into something really cool. You have three gigantic monsters that have been mutated through genetic editing, and you have a hero in Naomie Harris’ character and then you have some big bald brown guy shooting shit and driving all cool and not trying to get killed [laughs].

On establishing a believable rapport with George the ape so that the relationship is believable on screen:

There’s layers to it. So I’m an animal lover – I have a lot of dogs and horses up in Virginia and I raise fish – love animals. So the first part about it was what great relationship with an animal do I have in my life that I can apply to, and I have a little Frenchie [bulldog] named Hobbs, and I applied that, and also the idea that amidst the calamity and science going wrong in the wrong hands, it still comes down to this core relationship and that’s one of the reasons that really attracted me to begin with. The element and the anchor of the relationship between man and his best friend – his best friend happens to be a gorilla – that was the final anchor that sealed the deal for me. I was thinking, “Well have these cool elements and great CGI and a great director in Brad Peyton who I can know can deliver on a big massive scale, but what’s the anchor and what’s the heart?” And the heart is in this relationship. The A-Side to everything got me excited, but THAT, the B-side, is what got me really excited.

 What are the differences between making a disaster movie and making a monster movie?

That’s a good question. I think probably, from my experience, the difference between a disaster movie and a monster movie is that with one you’re dealing with Mother Nature – very unpredictable – and the other side you’re dealing with mutated monsters, which are unpredictable, but at the same time one is a friend of mine, someone who I treated like my brother or even like my kid. What’s funny is that I can only answer that now after we’ve shot for a couple of months and putting everything on its feet. But what I’m finding is as we’ve been moving along with the story and shooting these scenes is that, unlike with SAN ANDREAS, we had time between earthquakes – we had a sense that something was coming, that something else was coming, the big one was going to happen, we had a little bit of time. In this with three gigantic monsters and they – at their height of the serum taking effect – there’s no time and everything happens very quickly and everything’s happening from different angles, and not you're not only dealing with with the destruction and the collapsing of buildings and all of Chicago, but then you’re dealing with alpha animals who are trying to everything that they can to kill everything around them, and then they’re fighting for territory and they’re trying to get to the beacon – there’s a whole bunch of things like that happening.

On if in the movie we will be rooting for the animals to destroy everything (like in the game), or if we will be cheering for the humans to stop them:

I think it all depends on what you like [laughs]! Because everyone is gonna get satisfied! Also, I think what you’re gonna be doing is…look, I know when I’m watching the movie I’m going to be rooting for the monsters, because I love the monsters, and I’m also rooting for the relationship, and just taking myself out of it and watching it as a fan. I think everyone is going to be satisfied, there’s something for everybody. You know, the fun of the destruction of RAMPAGE [the game] and when you were just completely destroying everything, that’s in here [the movie]. There’s Easter eggs in here too that I think people are gonna like.

What’s the secret to making a good movie adaptation of a video game?

I’m not quite too sure what the secret is. I can tell you that what we wanted to do was we wanted to collectively get together the best team possible and execute on the script and that means bringing in all the great department heads, and you got a great studio who does this very well, and you got a team of me and Brad Peyton. Yes, we’ve done SAN ANDREAS, before ANDREAS we did JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, which then in of itself I found out how talented Brad was. At that time we were using James Cameron’s new cameras right off of AVATAR – it was pretty cool – and how Brad was able to execute that. It all starts with a story, it all starts with characters, and I can tell you the idea of making of RAMPAGE I thought was interesting just because I love the game, right, because if you love something you’re like, “Yeah let me see!” But you’re always a little bit cautious because especially when you know it’s a video game and it’s an interpretation of a video game, and you always want to try and study video game [movies] in the past that didn’t do well, and a lot of those filmmakers who made those video games movies I know, and we talk to them and get as much information as possible. I think it goes back to finding an anchor, so yes we had the CRISPR science, and rooted that in science, rooted that in reality which is happening today. [There’s also] the love of animals, me being a primatologist, and also the anchor of a relationship. There’s the calamity and the craziness and everything’s happening, but it all kind of funnels down to just me and this silverback gorilla. We have not only this awesome relationship, but we do sign language and he tells me “I love you,” I say, “I love you” back, and he shows off in front of pretty ladies and gives you the finger and I say, “No don’t do that!” [laughs]

MR: Did you have any time to work with any actual apes in preparation for the role?

We did, yeah. So I spent a lot of time at the Atlanta Zoo with primatologists and also with the Dian Fossey Foundation, which when you want to root something in a reality, especially in Hollywood, you wanna do your best to be as authentic as possible and have some roots in a foundation that people feel good about seeing compared to just being a big commercial movie with three monsters. So I spent a lot of time with scientists from CRISPR, I personally spent a lot of time primatologists and people from Dian Fossey and people from Atlanta Zoo, and I spent some time in the primate department – but you can’t actually go in and touch these gorillas because they’re large animals – but they are very friendly, they come up to the cage and I was able to feed them, I was able to spend some time with a silverback named Taz. So I had an opportunity to spend some time with primatologist, understand them, understand what their passions are, what their goals are especially when it comes to animal conservation.

On if the advance in motion-capture technology helped convince him that making a movie like this could be possible:

Yeah absolutely. So we went to those filmmakers, and we went to Weta (digital company) as it relates to LORD OF THE RINGS and with the new AVATAR movies and the motion capture company. [The secret] is to try and find those filmmakers who did it right, and those department heads and those companies who did it right, and see if they responded to the script – which they did – because they think of something like this in their minds – and they’re WAY smarter than I am especially when it comes to tech stuff – this is the kind of kind of script where they’re like [he begins rubbing his hands in excitement] “Oh yeah! I can’t wait to do that and be up all night!”

On what surprised him the most about working with an actor using motion capture:

I was really blown away by the immersiveness of how he [Jason Liles] committed, and when he comes [on set] he comes on as George, with his emotions and with his facial expressions and with his grunts. There modulating grunts that gorillas have that have different meanings. His sign language for when he’s in pain, especially when the serum is taking effect and he knows that something is wrong with him. I was really blown away and really captivated by his performance, and he really reminded of how remarkable motion capture acting is. Now after being on set with Jason, someone who has committed to the role – months and months and months studying gorillas – and being on these apparatuses where he is a silverback for weeks and weeks and weeks running up and down the Santa Monica stairs…I can see why when the, I think, the first or second to last PLANET OF THE APES movie came out, where the discussion of an Oscar nomination [for Andy Serkis as Caesar] started happening. That dialogue started happening and filling up our rooms throughout Hollywood, and like now I get it. I thought I got it before and understood it then with Andy Serkis and what he was doing, but wow, when you look at some of these guys and what they’re doing it’s spectacular.

On working with Naomie Harris:

She’s been the best; she’s been amazing. I love that woman, love working with her. I’ve been really, really lucky to work and share the screen with some amazing women over the years, and Naomie, she really takes the cake. She’s so incredibly committed and disciplined and phenomenal with her work, and you immediately can tell “Ah, well this why you were nominated for an Oscar. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were nominated for two or three more.” Really wonderful. And the best part about Naomie is just that she’s an awesome girl – like really cool, down to earth, cool to talk to. So I have nothing but great things to say about her. Before every take, I go up to her and say, “Okay, I need the Oscar performance.” [laughs]

On his character’s dynamic with Naomie’s, especially seeing as how his doesn’t much care for people:

Well, it makes it very challenging. Here’s a guy who's been around the world, he’s fought in wars, and he’s been in anti-poaching unit in Rwanda, which was based on Dian Fossey and some of those anti-poachers I had the opportunity to spend some time with – and he’s seen a lot of the grim parts of the world, and he's hunted down and tracked down a bunch of bad people. So for him the interpretation of what a good human being is a bit skewed, but he is justified in his ways and how he feels, so it makes any relationship with somebody very challenging, and that includes Naomie and the people he works with. The one thing that draws him to animals, and especially with George, is that you always know the truth with them. There’s a great quote in the movie which is, “If animals like you they lick you; if they don’t they eat you.” [laughs]

On if other movies inspired this one, or acted as a reference point:

I think there were a few movies visual effects wise that we were talking about, and these were all movies that Weta had worked on. Of course, we all watched KING KONG [SKULL ISLAND] when it came out, and then GODZILLA [2014]. There’s movies like that in the past where we get a semblance of the gigantic gorilla and a gigantic lizard – or in our case an alligator.

*Below artwork was done by Stephen Sampson (Twitter: @thedarkinker; Instagram: @thedarkinker)*

Was there anything about this movie that was different for him on a physical level?

This was easily the most physically demanding role I have ever done. Easily. I didn’t really anticipate it because I knew it was going to be physically demanding…you know, you read the script and things start to happen at a catastrophic level and things are going down all around you. But it wasn’t until I got to the set that you start to realize it is constant. Unlike with SAN ANDREAS where – boom – a tremor would happen and a little bit of rumbling and a little bit of time, this is just constant onslaught. So I think we’re gonna make a movie that really, truly feels like a ride with amazing twists and turns and your heart will beat really fast, and then we’ll slow it down just a little bit, add a little bit of humor in certain places, and BAM, you’re on it again. You know the FAST AND FURIOUS movies can be very physical because there’s always a fight – you gotta fight somebody, right? But in this case, there’s a lot of running and almost being eaten [laughs]. There’s a big C-17 and George is on it and he’s growing very rapidly and he’s getting angry, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is on it. The plane starts going down, and it is a terrifying scene that just continues and continues because the plane is just nosediving, and we’re trying to get off it. There’s a moment [during the shoot] – this is 12 hours every day – and finally, me and Naomie were just like this [he slunks down in his chair and imitates passing out] and her hair’s like this [mimics hair collapsing on his face]. I’m like, “Are you okay?” And she’s like, “[email protected], man! This is tough.” [laughs].

No matter what is it still awesome to have those classic action movie moments sprinkled throughout the movie?

It’s awesome, man. I still feel like a big kid at heart, I certainly act like it at times. At the end of the day, we’re on this treadmill of life and it just goes and we’re all just trying to do good and do our job and hopefully, we put in good work and learn from our mistakes – all the things we check off our boxes every day. But at the end of the day I feel like we have the best job in the world, you know, we’re on this big soundstage and it’s total destruction, and I’m looking up at a giant albino gorilla who’s my best friend and I’m like, “We’re gonna kick some ass,” and he’s like “Yeah!” It’s the best, and I never take it for granted.

Check out the rest of our set visit here:

Naomie Harris and Brad Peyton, Everything You Need to Know, and producers John Rickard and Hiram Garcia.

RAMPAGE is in theaters April 13.

Source: JoBlo

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