Rock solid: How Johnson broke through as legit actor after wrestling career

06/21/15 by Rennie Detore

When you hear the words "professional wrestling," what words come to mind?
"Fake." "Phony." "Scripted."
Most likely, all of those are descriptions of how you feel about this unique blend of sport and entertainment. Those not in know assume that pro wrestlers are a hybrid of body builders and actors, with little sports involved. Anyone who has spent time within the professional wrestling business knows just how hard these guys work at their craft and that most of them are talented athletes.

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But still, they struggle to lose the stigma of the "fake" pro wrestler, and they certainly don't have much of a shelf life in the spotlight after their careers are over. Some have attempted to tackle Hollywood with marginal success, such as Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper in the 1980s, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in the early 2000s and currently.
Austin is a direct to DVD pioneer, while Hulk and Piper played to the huge contingency of wrestling fans with their roles and thus carved a superbly small niche of the silver screen market.
If those three, two of which in Hogan and Austin, who were mainstream stars in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively, couldn't crack that proverbial glass ceiling in Hollywood, then certainly no one else had much of a chance.
Except one.
"The Rock," better known today as Dwayne Jonhson, wrestled full time for World Wrestling Entertainment for nearly 20 years, and along with Austin, helped WWE reached epic heights in popularity in the late 1990s and retired from full time work in 2002 to pursue an acting career.
And let the laughter begin.
How could Johnson, yet another wrestler with wishful thinking on the brain, break out beyond his spandex tights and over the top wrestling promos? Well, that's exactly what he did.
Sure, his first few movie roles pandered a bit toward the pro wrestling audience, but in 2015, Johnson is a legit superstar, a movie icon who can carry his own flick the same way he carried wrestlers on his back in the ring, or be part of an epic ensemble cast when he's roughing it up in the "Fast and Furious" franchise or "G.I. Joe."
Simply put, Johnson is an established talent, and did it despite of his background as a wrestler. The fact that Johnson persevered isn't surprising if you paid any attention to his career, early on, as a WWE superstar.
Johnson struggled, fumbled and was largely panned by professional wrestling fans as being a flop. His dad and grandfather both wrestled, but Johnson, circa 1996, was a far cry from his predecessors.
He took the hatred the fans had for him as a "babyface," the wrestling term for good guy, and started to hone his craft as "The Rock," a smart mouth, trash talking bad guy who people loved to hate. His popularity soared, and Johnson worked hard to continue to be arguably one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
He won titles, but more so he had fans hanging on his every word, whether they were cheering or booing him. Those who have met The Rock in his wrestling days will tell you how much passion he has for what he does, and how genuinely humble he remains.
His likability in wrestling translated to movies and, low and behold, the guy can act.
Everything he's done, with the exception of a few swings and misses, has been appreciated by critics.
When Johnson started, those who review movies always said he did well for "a former wrestler turned actor." Nearly 13 years after his first starring role in a movie, they don't talk much if at all about Johnson being a wrestler.
Instead, he's Dwayne Johnson, the actor and a very good one at that.
No longer is he the butt of jokes about wrestlers who can't act unless they're body slamming someone. Today, Johnson is laughing at those who said he couldn't make it as an actor.
The same way he chuckled when he was told that wrestling wasn't going to be his profession, either.
Ultimately, there's nothing fake about Johnson or his passion for success.

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