I’m starting a new column on here called Career Advice. In it, we’ll explore why some big name actors (or any entertainer that comes to mind) make the bad decisions they make, and I’ll suggest ways they could do things differently to improve their prospects at the box office, in their reviews, during awards season or any combination of the three. I have three people in mind for this already, but I’m gonna start with a man whose career choices have puzzled me for nearly a decade: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
Disclaimer: All of my suggestions here for Mr. Johnson presume he has the desire to one day be considered a good actor. That doesn’t seem to be the reality, but let’s play in the World of Make Believe for the purposes of this post, mmkay?
Let me get this out of the way. I like Dwayne Johnson. It’s impossible not to. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy and a good person; one of the few celebrities who probably is exactly as they seem to be. He deserves his success. He works his ass off. He’s great on social media. His “rivalry” with Kevin Hart is adorable. He is the only former WWF/WWE wrestler to ever become a legit movie star. That’s a pretty big deal.
Johnson has been starring in movies since 2002, when his cameo role from The Mummy Returns got its own spinoff: The Scorpion King, a movie fondly remembered by nobody. But I’d argue he didn’t become a “movie star” until after his supporting role as Hobbs in Fast Five (still the best Fast & Furious movie) in 2011. That’s when he stopped making middle-of-the-road action vehicles and the studios started putting him in his own $100 million blockbusters.
The fact remains he doesn’t make good movies very often, but I like him anyway. What I don’t like is wasted talent. I don’t like how much pride he seems to take in promoting his bad movies. Does he not know they’re bad? Or is he actually the greatest actor alive because he can so easily convince us he does believe in these films? I can think of no other major movie star who has made more bad movies and who refuses to work with good directors. So that’s my first major piece of advice…
Work with better directors. We’ll just use a five-year sample to prove my point. Since 2015, here are the directors Johnson has worked with on his feature films: James Wan, Brad Peyton (twice), Rawson Marshall Thurber (twice), Ron Clements & John Musker, F. Gary Gray, Seth Gordon, Jake Kasdan (twice), Stephen Merchant (kinda – his role in Fighting with My Family is a glorified cameo), David Leitch, Jaume Collet-Serra. There are some decent directors in there, but approximately zero household names.
So why is that? Why has he only worked with one A-list director (see below) in nearly 20 years of being a leading man? There has to be a reason for this. Damned if I can come up with it, though. I’ve never seen his name even attached to a project with a big director on some random project that later fell apart. There don’t appear to have been any close calls, like “but he almost worked with Martin Scorsese one time.” No, he didn’t. I’ve never heard about him being difficult on set or a pain in the ass to work with. But even if he were, that hasn’t stopped great directors from working with an actor before. Is he not even getting offers from big name directors? NONE of these people wants one of the few box office draws we have left in their movie? Is it because he’s only interested in safe, generic star vehicles that these directors don’t want to make? Is he considered a bad actor within the industry? Is it because he’s so goddamned swole that nobody can find a good part for him that requires a man of his size? I DON’T KNOW. I’d wager it’s a combination of several of those.
If you want to contrast Johnson’s approach with how another movie star makes great movies while prioritizing working with top filmmakers, look no farther than Tom Cruise, who cares (the vast majority of the time) just as much about his movies being good as he does about how successful they’ll be. Cruise has worked with the following: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ron Howard, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Rob Reiner, Barry Levinson, Edward Zwick, Cameron Crowe, Doug Liman, J.J. Abrams. And he’s the last modern movie star who can say he worked with Stanley Kubrick. That’s a bucket list for most actors. Cruise is even good at making stars of directors (Christopher McQuarrie, Joseph Kosinski). It’s almost like there’s a link between great directors and great movies.
Sidebar: Did you read the story from last year where Johnson, Jason Statham and Vin Diesel have it written in their contracts they have to deal out an equal amount of punishment to each other in their fight scenes? I don’t like the term ‘toxic masculinity’, but holy shit READ ALL ABOUT HOLLYWOOD‘S DICK CONTEST FOR THE AGES.
Now, obviously not every actor can attract talent the way Cruise can. But Johnson is in the rare position of being able to choose his material and have a say in who directs his movies, yet he still chooses poorly most of the time. Easily the biggest name he’s ever worked with was Michael Bay on Pain & Gain. It figures he’d work with Bay on Bay’s worst-performing movie ever. He had a small part in Adam McKay‘s The Other Guys, but that isn’t a Dwayne Johnson movie. That’s about it. He hasn’t worked with either of those guys again since.
To be fair, I’ve never heard him say he wants to work with the best filmmakers in the world. Not once, honestly. The only thing he really ever says about his career goals is that he wants as many people as possible around the world to be able to see his movies. Vomit. He’s much more a populist than an artist. But at least he’s honest about that. It’s respectable, if not disappointing.
Johnson clearly doesn’t need any career advice when it comes to success. But I would suggest he not take so much pride in being in a slew of successful bad movies. It’s possible to make a successful movie that is also critically acclaimed and earns the respect of your peers. He’s got a LOOOOONG way to go when it comes to being respected as an actor. If that’s something he even gives a single shit about. All evidence says it isn’t. So along those lines, Dwayne, it’s time to seek out better material. Stop caring ONLY about the box office prospects of a project. Lord knows he hasn’t worked with any good writers, either. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see this guy in a Quentin Tarantino movie? He could do one of those Tarantino monologues. I have no doubt about it. He’s capable of so much more than we get from him.
Third – he’s too committed to his brand, which is that he has to be a big star while also being a huge human being. He needs to consider laying off the weights. Maybe he was born too early, but the age of muscled-up action stars ended in the mid-90s. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme…that kind of action hero is a thing of the past. And even in the 80’s and 90’s, those were the only guys who were built like that physically who could carry their own movies. He’s really the only muscular leading man we have right now, unless you count Vin Diesel, which I don’t because the only time people show up to see him is when he plays Dominic Toretto. I guess Chris Hemsworth qualifies, but he does that whole slim-ripped thing where he’s still small enough physically to look like a normal human being when he’s wearing a shirt.
I sometimes think Johnson wants to be the first person ever to overdose on weightlifting. He’ll turn 48 this year, and still thinks this is necessary to preserve his public image:
Can you picture a movie Johnson is in where he gains weight to play a fat guy? Or slims down to play a skinny/normal-sized person? That seems as likely to happen as a black hole opening up in Times Square. They have to adapt the role for him because he doesn’t look right to play most people. So he’s actively choosing to limit the roles he can get because he’s not a normal-sized person. You can’t have a guy this big playing a dramatic role as an out-of-his-luck father in some low-budget kitchen-sink drama. He can’t play a lawyer or a teacher or a drug addict/alcoholic. Shit, at this point he’s too big to play a normal cop.
Even in movies where he’s supposedly playing a regular guy, they have to explain his physique by saying he’s ex-military or a “security expert” or some other bullshit. He can’t just be a regular dude.
My last piece of advice: leave the WWE behind. Forever. Stop making random appearances at pay-per-views. Stop doing cameos at their awards shows or Hall of Fame events. Yeah, they gave you the chance to be where you are, but you’ve repaid that debt 100 times over. You don’t need that shit. As Anne Hathaway said to Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, “You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.”
His best movie (where he’s the lead): Pound-for-pound the best movie he’s been in was probably Moana, but should an animated movie count? If we’re going live-action only, it was probably Fast Five. Or the Steve Carell/Anne Hathaway version of Get Smart, which is one of the better TV adaptations in recent memory. But he isn’t the star in either of those movies. The best live-action movie he’s in and the star of? Fuck. I dunno…probably the same one I’m about to mention…
His best performance: He’s legit good in Snitch, which was a surprisingly good movie with a godawful title. It showed that he didn’t have to punch his way through a movie or gratuitously show off his muscles to have an impact. It had realistic action where his character had to adapt to get through the story. He struggles and never seems invincible, which is, you know, compelling. It’s the rare part where he seemed like the right choice. He holds his own in the movie playing against Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Michael K. Williams and Jon Bernthal, all of whom outclass him as an actor in the big picture. But again, that’s a rare part where someone his size can play a regular guy and still seem credible. I wish he would seek out more roles like Snitch than fucking Rampage or Skyscraper.
He also got to show a lot of range in his HBO show, Ballers, but that was always more entertaining than it was good. It’s basically an inferior version of Entourage.
To recap, here again is my prescription for Dwayne Johnson:
- Choose better scripts. They’re available to you.
- Use that higher-quality material to attract top-tier directors.
- Realize that you don’t need the physique for audiences to like you.
- Close the door on WWE. Let “The Rock” die.
He’s never been nominated for an Oscar, an Emmy, a Golden Globe, not even as part of an ensemble at the SAGs. His next few years’ worth of projects don’t look promising, but I hold out hope that one day, he’ll get a call from someone like the Coen Brothers and say yes. But to get in that position, he needs to heed my advice.
Tell me which of his upcoming movies you’re actually excited about: Jungle Cruise, Red Notice (a Netflix action movie with Ryan Reynolds – a pairing that I guess was inevitable), San Andreas 2, his big DC movie Black Adam (well, at least it can’t be as bad as Suicide Squad or Justice League– can it?), Doc Savage, and he’s still attached to a fucking remake of Big Trouble in Little China, which is ENTIRELY unacceptable.