DWAYNE JOHNSON on 'RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
February 25, 2009
In the action-packed sci-fi family adventure Race to Witch Mountain, down-on-his-luck Las Vegas cab driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) finds himself caught up in a wild ride when two youths from another planet (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) involve him in their mission to save their dying homeworld and prevent an invasion of earth. Pursued by both the US government and a Predator-esque bounty hunter, they must break into the secret facility of Witch Mountain and retrieve their crashed spaceship, with the fate of two worlds precariously resting in their hands. They are also assisted in their endeavors by an enthusiastic but discredited astrophysicist (Carla Gugino) speaking at a local UFO convention.
A re-imagining of the 1975 Disney classic Escape to Witch Mountain, Race to Witch Mountain reunites Dwayne Johnson with director Andy Fickman in the wake of their box office success with 2007's The Game Plan.
In this interview, Dwayne Johnson talks about working on the movie on location in Las Vegas, brushing up on his extraterrestrial studies, and having way too much fun behind his director's back.
MEDIA: What attracted you to this project, and were you familiar with the original Escape to Witch Mountain?
DWAYNE: Sure. I was familiar with the movie. I was a fan of it when I was younger. And Andy had come to me with the idea about doing a "re-imagining," as they like to describe it, of the movie. I loved his take on the movie, and I loved the idea of working with him again, I loved the idea of partnering up with Disney again. And he had a great take on the movie, a script came in, I really enjoyed it, and we were off to the races.
Did you have to restrict any aspect of your performance while shooting to ensure this film got a PG rating?
That's a good question...Andy wanted to infuse a lot of action with the comedy, and certainly with the fantasy element. He didn't shoot it in a way that was ever restraining for us in any way. We shot it with all the action, with all the special effects, as if it were going to be a strong PG-13. If we had to dial it back in editing, then he did. And it just so happens that we made the best version of that movie in a PG setting that we could. And we pushed the envelope in it quite a bit.
Did anything have to be heavily edited or cut back?
Yeah, sure. For example, like the final fight scene with myself and the [alien bounty hunter]. It was a very long, intricate fight scene. There was a lot happening in it. And that was pared down considerably. And I'm sure in the DVD version, you'll see the fight in its entirety. [laughs] It was a pretty big fight.
How much of the car stuntwork did you get to do yourself, if any at all?
I actually did all the stuntwork, which was great for me. It was a lot of fun. It reminded me of just how fun and cool movies are. I had never shot action sequences like that, car chase sequences, so it was a lot of fun. We had Scott Rogers, who was the action coordinator for the Bourne movies, who came onboard, put together these really great action sequences, car chase sequences. And much to Andy Fickman's chagrin, I was able to do all the car stunts without him knowing. [laughs] Because second unit shot--that's how he didn't know that I was in the car.
Would he have said no to you doing that?
He would have said no. Correct. Yes. [jokes] But I would not have listened, much like I normally don't when he gives me direction.
This movie has a lot more action than your previous collaboration with Andy, The Game Plan. Did you indoctrinate him into the whole action/adventure genre?
I did...By making him watch old Clint Eastwood movies, and then I ultimately punched him in the mouth. [laughs] Andy was great. And for those who know Andy Fickman, he's really a wonderfully warm, happy guy who's constantly joking. But there's a streak to Andy that's great, who really, really enjoys action movies and is pretty hardcore that way. So he was really excited to jump into this and sink his teeth into something that had a lot of action in it. He's a very big Steve McQueen fan and Clint Eastwood fan. And a man of action. Though he doesn't look like it, he is indeed a man of action! So it was great. Andy did a great job with the movie, and I was very happy to work with him again, considering our relationship we had on The Game Plan. I've been friends with him now for years, and I'm happy to be developing stuff with him now.
There's a notable amount of bluescreen use in this movie. Is that something you've worked with a lot?
Not particularly a lot. The very first time I was exposed to it was on The Mummy Returns, which was my first role...And it's always a lot of fun. It's always just like a fun challenge to act against the bluescreen, whether it's a car chase sequence, or you're being chased by an alien, or you have to fight an alien, or whatever the case may be. But I think it's always pretty fun and unique, and it reminds me, again, like I was telling you earlier, just how really fun and cool movies are. When you think about a movie like 300, where it was all essentially bluescreen... [laughs] What a great challenge it was for those guys.
Your character Jack is a Vegas cabbie. Any interesting cab stories of your own?
Ummm...Well, my experiences, not driving a taxi, but in a taxi...They've been very interesting, and they date back to college, where there was usually a good amount of alcohol involved, and things taking place in the back of the cab that are pretty unmentionable at this point. [laughs] But you know, what's interesting about a cab driver--what I realized early, especially in Las Vegas--is the length of their relationships. You see shows on TV about cab drivers and Taxicab Confessions and things like that, but typically the cabs that I got into in Las Vegas, the relationship lasts from Point A to Point B, and there's not much conversation going on at all. Even when the drivers knew it was me, it was very quiet and uneventful, and, really, unexciting, to be honest with you. [laughs]
How did you like shooting in Las Vegas?
It was great. And I'm sure people will tell you this who have shot in Vegas (and we followed the last Oceans movie when we were there): Vegas is great because it's always alive, and there's a certain energy that Vegas has. If you like that. But for me, I'm pretty quiet and a homebody, so I spend a lot of fun time in my room. [says self-deprecatingly] So much fun! [laughs] But we did shoot nights, though, which was kind of cool. And we closed the Strip down, and they have ordinances and certain rules that the city has. You can only shoot on the Strip and close it down from the hours, I think, from 2:00 to 5:00 a.m. So there was a lot of sitting around and waiting and making sure that everything was lined up perfectly to shoot our scenes. But, again, movie-making is a lot of fun.
Do you believe in UFOs?
Sure, I do! I do. I do. You know, I think that we would be, as a society, incredibly arrogant to think that we're the only life out there in our existence, in our galaxy. I haven't actually seen a UFO. I thought I did, but then I realized that it, again, was the alcohol that I had consumed. [laughs]
What sort of UFO information have you studied or read up on?
Well, there's incredible footage out there that's hard to dismiss. And you know, I'm grateful to Andy, because Andy was born in Roswell, New Mexico, he's very passionate about UFOs and alien life. And his whole office is decorated--and this was prior [to] even doing this movie--with alien life. And he's very passionate about that, and he's a big believer. He supplied all of us actors with hours of footage that we were able to view, and the archival footage was really spectacular. And upon seeing that, if you're a non-believer, it's hard not to question your beliefs.
In this film and others that you've done, you demonstrate a flair for comic timing. Have you always been a big comedy fan?
Well, that's interesting...I like laughing and having a good time. I think we all do. I've always been drawn to comedy, though, even when I was younger. Like my favorite movie when I was eight years old was Stir Crazy. And I had no business watching Stir Crazy when I was eight years old. However, I was a big fan of comedy then, especially self-deprecating comedy. And you'll see that in a lot of my movies, if I can try and inject humor and comedy, then I do. And I'm drawn to comedy. I always think that if you can make people laugh and feel good, it's a pretty special and cool thing.
One of the more comic moments involves Jack being at odds with a dog. What's the acting dynamic like when your co-star is a canine?
[laughs] It's incredibly humbling because he steals the scene from you. You know, I'm always a fan of animals. Especially if it's done creatively and funny. And I think what always makes the animal in movies work is if there's a great collision with the other character. And that's where I think you find the comedy, is when the animal is paired with someone who doesn't quite like animals that much. [laughs]
And how was the dynamic with your human co-stars, AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig?
They were great. You know, I think in any movie, whether it's an action or a comedy or a drama, you always rely on your partner and the volley. But very specifically, it's very important [in comedy], just in terms of its timing and having a great partner. And those guys were great. They're talented, talented kids. So it was great to work with them. And it's always really cool to see child actors who still maintain being a child, and also have this pretty good capacity about acting and understanding the process, and watching their process, as well. So they were great. And they were great in the movie, too.
Thanks for your time.
Thanks for coming out, guys. I know it was a far drive. Thank you!