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Hercules returns to the big screen and this time Dwayne Johnson is playing the demigod

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson had to train harder than ever to achieve his muscular physique in Hercules: The Thracian Wars.
Dwayne Johnson as Hercules. Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Dwayne Johnson as Hercules. Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

The wrestling star-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes the title role of Hercules, the legendary warrior whose reputation has led to a profitable life as a “sword for hire”. He faces his greatest test, however, when he is employed by the Thracian king to topple a bloodthirsty warlord, and a mixture of tragedy and fate will lead him to his destiny.

From the most unusual of beginnings, Johnson has carved a niche for himself as a “franchise saviour”, coming in as a new addition to the casts of the fifth and sixth instalments of the Fast & Furious series, the second GI Joe film and the sequel to Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

In those films, he was part of an ensemble, but he takes top billing in this one and for the 42-year-old, this is the passion project he has been dreaming about since he launched his acting career.

“It was a dream of mine to make Hercules,” he says. “Like a lot of people, I grew up with the Steve Reeves movies.”

Reeves was an American actor who famously starred in two Italian-made Hercules movies in the 1950s.

“I think seeing him in that role had a powerful effect on me,” says Johnson. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I first came to Hollywood, but it’s only now that I’ve had any kind of pull to try to get projects made.”

For the filmmaker Ratner, there was no doubt in his mind that Johnson was the perfect choice to play the demigod.

“Have you seen the footage?” he asks. “What I wanted to do was create a Hercules for a new generation of movie fans and we’ve done that with this film. Dwayne became Hercules in front of my eyes. This guy was born to play Hercules and I couldn’t imagine the film with anyone else in that role.”

Johnson has by no means ever been diminutive in stature, but even he had to knuckle down to a brutal training regime to achieve the mythical-like proportions seen on screen. “It’s a very precise diet and exercise programme,” he says. “It’s not that different from other movies I’ve done, except everything was taken up a notch. The training became very intense because with Hercules, we are telling a great story, but there’s also a physical aspect to creating this character. It had to be believable to audiences.”

With films such as Pompeii, 300: Rise of an Empire and The Legend of Hercules, starring Kellan Lutz, ­already making their bows in 2014, Ratner and Johnson had their work cut out to stand out from the ­competition.

As such, Ratner brought in real-life sets (as opposed to CGI) and had his star fight all manner of beasts and armies. Neither man complains about the scale of the task, however.

“It was a new challenge every day,” says Johnson. “For the physical effects, you had to choreograph the sequences so that no one got hurt, but still make it look real.”

Ratner revelled in the old-school aspects of the production.

“Walking on these huge sets every day was so exciting,” he says. “We tried to keep things as traditional as possible. It was so much fun. To be looking at those buildings and all those extras in costume, it almost felt like shooting a documentary.”

The film has been a hit around the world, making more than US$100 million (Dh367m) in box-office receipts and with many attributing that success to the appeal of the actor dubbed The People’s Champion during his wrestling days.

Such success breeds inevitable talk of a sequel, for which the movie certainly leaves the door open. While he won’t commit to a “yes” just yet, Johnson is enthusiastic about the character and its potential appeal.

“I loved every minute of this role,” he says. “It’s a character with so much history and what the director, and everyone involved, has done with this film is something I’m very proud of, and we think people are going to love it too.”

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: August 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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