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How Dwayne Johnson got an indie wrestling film to the big screen

2019-03-13 14:25
 

Utah — Believe it or not, Hollywood executives told Dwayne Johnson "no thanks" when he pitched his latest movie.

It was an unusual rejection for the industry's reigning box office champion, whose Jumanji reboot in 2017 made nearly $1bn worldwide. And so before he trades insults with Jason Statham in Hobbs & Shaw or straps in for Disney's Jungle Cruise, the artist forever known as The Rock put on his independent film producer hat and went outside the traditional studio system to make Fighting With My Family.

His Seven Bucks Productions found financing through WWE Studios and Britain's Film4 to make the scrappy, relatively low-budget comedy inspired by WWE wrestler Paige's life story. Johnson makes a cameo appearance, as he did in Paige's real-life rise from a small English town to the top of pro wrestling.

"Every studio passed on this, regardless of if I was attached," Johnson said in an interview. "They were like, 'No, no. The subject matter.' And, and also to, you know, generally the tapestry of pro wrestling as it's been shown in film hasn't always been done in the greatest of ways certainly that would make us proud, coming from that world. (Darren) Aronofsky did it beautifully in The Wrestler, but before that and since then, it hasn't really been shown. So, there was a lot of challenges with this."

Johnson, 46, says that while he knew Paige through WWE, he didn't know her back-story — including a brother and parents who shared her passion for pro wrestling — until a serendipitous night filming Fast & Furious 6 in London. Unable to sleep, he was flipping channels and came across a documentary about the performer (real name: Saraya-Jade Bevis).

"I immediately identified with this crazy wrestling family who was very loving, loved the world of pro wrestling," he said. "And I come from a crazy, at-times-dysfunctional wrestling family — my dad, my grandmother and grandfather, uncles, cousins, you name it."

Johnson's Tooth Fairy co-star Stephen Merchant was hired to write and direct. Florence Pugh signed on to play Paige, with Nick Frost and Lena Headey as her parents. The underdog story opens in theatres on Friday.

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