Did you feel that? The ground shaking? It wasn't an earthquake – just Dwayne Johnson rocking our world.
Johnson (a.k.a. the Rock), the brawny 43-year-old cinematic charmer and smack-down king who stars in the blockbuster disaster film San Andreas, appeared recently on The Tonight Show, where a high school graduation skit he performed with host Jimmy Fallon took its cues from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
It was 1989 and Johnson, playing a wide-eyed jock and self-confident idiot, told his classmates to "focus on the future," and that he was going to be "this generation's O.J. Simpson." Remember, this was 1989 – pre-white-Bronco Simpson, when the sublimely talented NFL running back hurdled through airports for Hertz and then landed movie roles both dramatic and comic. Of course, the Juice is no longer on the loose. But Johnson, briefly a CFLer for the Calgary Stampeders who turned to professional wrestling and then to acting, is Simpson and so much more. And like his Fallon-sketch nitwit, the Rock, no dummy, has absolutely graduated.
Johnson is the pectorally gifted son of Canadian wrestler Rocky Johnson, and something of a Renaissance man. In addition to playing a heroic helicopter pilot in San Andreas, the still active WWE wrestler stars in a stylish Entourage-like ensemble comedy series set in the world of professional football. For Ballers, which premieres June 21 on HBO, Johnson plays a retired player seeking to reinvent himself. Well, of course he does.
You have to believe Johnson will pull it off. It is the rare athlete who transitions from the field to the screen, and even more exclusive are the ones who succeed beyond brute roles. Johnson, whose prematch speeches in the WWE revealed a sharp wit and an improvisational comic flair, was a captivating delight in 2012's Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The "pec pop of love" scene? It was Johnson's idea. The man whose catchphrase is "Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?" has the scent of champions. But who in the world taught him how to cook so well?
"The Rock is not going to be taught anything," said Brad Peyton, who directed Johnson in Journey 2 and now, again, in San Andreas. Peyton was speaking a couple of years ago about Johnson's self-assured authority on and off the screen. "You meet Dwayne and you realize right away that he's Superman."
Or Hercules, as in last year's loin-clothed epic, in which his acting earned praise, even if Brett Ratner's direction did not. "Johnson may have been born with screen presence wired into his DNA," wrote Variety's Scott Foundas, "but he's gradually cultivated the skills of a canny actor who knows just how to play to the camera and whose brute physical prowess is cut with a sly self-awareness. More than anything else, it's he who gives this Hercules his human-size soul."
There is depth to this strongman, then. And despite the geological disaster depicted in San Andreas, Johnson is not in danger of falling off Hollywood's map. Think of his unique ability to transcend genres. He succeeds in something like the fluffy 2010 comedy-fantasy Tooth Fairy and out-shines one-trick tough guy Vin Diesel in The Fast and The Furious franchise. Not since Arnold Schwarzenegger – who literally tipped his hat to Johnson in 2003's The Rundown – has an athlete shown such shelf life and versatility.
Last week in London, at the world premiere of San Andreas, Johnson set a Guinness World Record for taking the most selfies – 105 – in under three minutes. Apparently there is nothing this man cannot do. We get the picture.