Dwayne Johnson takes it to the next level as Danny DeVito's avatar in Jumanji sequel
When Dwayne Johnson walks into the interview room at the Montage Los Cabos hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the first thing you cannot help but notice is his physique.
"Well, it helps that the shirt is smaller. I go smaller in the shirts," he says, laughing.
"But I am preparing for Black Adam. We shoot that in June, so it's about a six-month prep for the role."
He is referring to the DC Universe origin film in which he plays the titular anti-hero, a reinvention of the supervillain of the comic books.
But we are here to talk about adventure comedy Jumanji: The Next Level, opening here tomorrow.
In the sequel to 2017's Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, which grossed US$962 million (S$1.3 billion) worldwide, the four teens who were sucked into the fantasy world of Jumanji through a video game are now college students who have to return to Jumanji once more to rescue one of their own.
But this time, Jumanji is broken and fighting back - and no longer is it confined to the jungle.
Johnson, also one of its producers, says: "This film is taking things to the next level in a lot of ways with our action sequences that are just really spectacular.
"What we've established is that there are multiple Jumanji universes, so we are going to the snow-capped mountains, we are in the desert dunes, we are back in the jungle. If you're lucky enough to have a movie as successful as the first Jumanji, you've got to raise the bar."
This time, the 47-year-old US actor, as the intrepid action hero adventurer Dr Smolder Bravestone, is the avatar for an irascible old man recovering from hip surgery (Danny DeVito).
Returning to the cast are Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas as fellow avatars in the game world, alongside new additions DeVito, Danny Glover and Awkwafina.
Johnson loved playing 75-year-old DeVito's avatar.
"It was a real pleasure because it allowed me to get to know Danny. I had been a big admirer of him for years and years," he says.
"What made it a joy was getting to know him, he is just such a wonderful soul. But it was a challenge because he's very specific, with a very specific tone, cadence, tempo and energy."
But what was most gratifying for Johnson was receiving a text from returning director Jake Kasdan "telling me Danny DeVito just saw the movie and he loved it and he loved you".
One of the elements in the film is the acceptance of oneself - even one's weaknesses.
Johnson said that did not come easy to him in real life.
"For some time I struggled with that, just trying to figure out my own place, especially when I transitioned into Hollywood. At that time, there was no blueprint for a pro wrestler who was half-black, half-Samoan, who could make a funny face with half an eyebrow.
"It was a lot of, you can't be this name, you can't be this size, you can't do a lot of things, therefore you have to change. Those things were pointed out to me. You buy into that, as I did for a little while."
Till he did not, and now he is the biggest movie star in the world - and the highest paid one with US$89.4 million, according to Forbes magazine.
But getting older has made it harder for the soon-to-be DC superhero to get in shape.
"Now I've started to realise that my lazy days are actually my body telling me to take a break. I've got to a point where I listen to my body, well-being and energy."
He enjoys working out with his wife Lauren Hashian, whom he married in August in Hawaii after 12 years and two daughters - aged three and one - together.
He also has an 18-year-old daughter from his first marriage.
"We have a house full of babies and animals, so it's our time to get away."
He adds: "Once I became a dad, I realised there's a difference between being a dad and being a father, and I embrace that and love it.
"I was raised by women, and I'm still surrounded by women, and the only piece of testosterone in the house other than myself is my dog.
"(My daughters) continue to be my biggest, not only inspiration, but source of love and also my biggest educators. I continue to learn constantly."
Even though Johnson had a difficult relationship with his own father, his mother was always there for him and he received "a great deal of love" from her.
"I think you just have to go through life and experience, and then you understand love. And then often times, you fall in love and out of love, and love kind of ebbs and flows and you hope that you meet the right one, which I believe I have with Lauren. We better, because we just bought another house," he said with a laugh.
The writer is the chair of the board of directors of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.
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