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The Rock : Star of "Gridiron Gang" talks about being a troubled teen (southland tales mention)

Sunday 10 September 2006, by Webmaster

Former pro wrestler tells how football changed his life

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in Gridiron Gang as Sean Porter, a juvenile detention camp probation officer, who turns a group of hardcore teenage felons into a winning high school football team in four weeks.

Based on a true story, Gridiron Gang is scheduled for release from Columbia Pictures on September 15th. The gritty and powerfully emotional story touched a chord with Johnson because it mirrored his experience as a troubled teen whose life was changed by football.

“Gridiron Gang is a powerful example that if you can invest some time and care into a kid, that kid’s life will change,” says the film’s producer Lee Stanley, who initially directed and produced the 1993 Emmy Award-winning documentary of the same name.

No one knows this better than Johnson, who admits, “I had been arrested eight times before I was 14 years old. However, I was lucky because my arresting officer told me that he was either going to continue to kick my behind and arrest me every week, or take me off the streets and put me into the freshman high school football program. I was fortunate to have someone care enough about what happened to me at that point in my life. He took me out of a bad environment and filled the void in my life with football. It taught me so many things beyond the actual game, like teamwork, sacrifice and choosing to do the right things in life.”

Football became a major influence for the future actor. He excelled at the sport in high school and won a scholarship to the powerhouse football program at the University of Miami in Florida, where he continued to shine as a defensive end, becoming a member of the school’s national championship team in 1989. The following year, however, injuries forced him to abandon his dream of playing professional football.

Dwayne ’The Rock’ Johnson & Xzibit in ’Gridiron Gang’

Johnson remembers being excited when he first heard about Gridiron Gang. “Producer Neal Moritz asked me to watch the documentary before I read the script. I did and I was moved and inspired. The battle that Sean Porter and those kids went through was amazing. I liked the fact that most of the young men who accepted the football challenge back then went on to become productive citizens. It made me admire them even more,” he says.

Confronted with gang rivalries and bitter hatred between his teammates, Porter teaches some hard lessons (and learns a few himself) as the kids gain a sense of self-respect and responsibility. In a world where 75% of these juvenile inmates return to prison or meet with violent ends on the streets, Porter faces seemingly insurmountable barriers. No one wants to compete against convicted criminals, but through relentless pursuit and a jolt of inspiration, Porter and his team fight their way to redemption and a second chance.

Johnson has firmly established himself as an enduring popular film star since his breakout roles in The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. Johnson’s next film will be The Game Plan, in which he will portray an NFL quarterback living the bachelor lifestyle until he discovers he has a young daughter from a former relationship.

His most recent release, Southland Tales directed by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), is set in a dystopian Los Angeles of the near future, portraying an action star stricken with amnesia. Southland Tales, which was picked as a selection at the Cannes Film Festival, also stars an eclectic cast including Sarah Michelle Gellar and Seann William Scott.

The actor previously demonstrated his range, earning kudos from critics and audiences alike, as a gay bodyguard and an aspiring singer in Be Cool - a sequel to Get Shorty - alongside John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Vince Vaughn. Johnson also starred in the 2004 remake of Walking Tall as a sheriff who returns to his hometown after serving in the Army, only to find it corrupted. Before that, Johnson starred in The Rundown, a critically acclaimed action/comedy co-starring Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken that solidified his action hero status.

Born in San Francisco and raised in Hawaii, Dwayne Johnson excelled as a high school All-American and star defensive lineman for the University of Miami Hurricanes, helping lead his team over huge hurdles to become National Champions. After a stint in the Canadian Football league, a shoulder injury made him consider a different career, and Johnson soon became a third-generation professional wrestler, following the careers of his father, Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather, Samoan High Chief Peter Maivia. In 1996, he joined the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), later rebranded as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), working his way through the ranks and developing the charismatic and sympathetic character of “The Rock.” In the ring Johnson became heralded as “The People’s Champion” and went on to earn a record as a seven-time league champion.

His eventual love of acting and desire to branch out led to an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in March 2000, where he surprised many with his strength in the comedic ring, leading the show to its highest rating that year. Johnson was subsequently cast by Stephen Sommers in The Mummy Returns, which grossed more than $400 million worldwide. His character was so well received that a sequel was immediately planned. The Scorpion King, released in 2002, broke all box office records with the biggest April opening of all time.

Not content to remain in front of the camera alone, Johnson penned an autobiography, The Rock Says, which reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List shortly after its publication in January 2000.

A devoted husband and father, Johnson resides in Florida with his wife Dany and daughter Simone Alexandra.

Columbia Pictures’ Presents In Association With Relativity Media An Original Film Production Gridiron Gang starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Xzibit, Kevin Dunn and Leon Rippy. The film is directed by Phil Joanou and written by Jeff Maguire based on the documentary “Gridiron Gang.” Neal H. Moritz and Lee Stanley are the producers. Michael Rachmil, Shane Stanley, Ryan Kavanaugh and Lynwood Spinks are the executive producers. The director of photography is Jeff Cutter. The production designer is Floyd Albee. The editor is Joel Negron. The co-producer is Amanda Cohen. The costume designer is Sanja Milkovic Hays. The music is by Trevor Rabin.

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(Gridiron Gang has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for Some Startling Scenes of Violence, Mature Thematic Material and Language.)