Actor Joseph Lee Anderson is no stranger to the small screen, having starred in shows as far back as 2013. However, with his latest role in ‘Young Rock’, the 28-year-old Kansas-born actor has hit the big leagues.
In the show, Anderson plays late wrestler Rocky Johnson, the father of famed Hollywood actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
‘Young Rock’ gives viewers a peek into Dwayne’s journey at different points in his life — when he’s a young boy in Hawaii; a teen high school student in Pennsylvania; and when he’s a college student and football player at the University of Miami.
It also gives insight into Dwayne’s father Rocky, who was as well-known for his wrestling prowess as he was for his indiscretions. While this part of his life isn't addressed in the family show, Rocky had in the past been charged with raping a woman in 1987, was known to have affairs and struggled with addiction.
Dwayne — known for blockbusters such as ‘Jungle Cruise’ and ‘Jumanji’ — hasn’t shied away from talking about their fraught relationship, telling People magazine: “The relationship that I had with my dad was incredibly complicated — that was fuelled by tough love.”
In a phone interview with Anderson, the actor told Gulf News about being honoured to play Rocky, who died on January 15, 2020, aged 75, and what it took to bulk up for the role.
Could you tell me a bit about your role on Young Rock and about your character’s progression?
On the show I play Dwayne’s father, ‘Soul Man’ Rocky Johnson. He was a big entrepreneur in the early WWE, as far as Black wrestlers go. He was the Black tag team champion with Tony Atlas. During the show we jump around the different time zones. As far as progression goes… we see him in his prime in the WWE with all the money and the fame. Then we see him in the lows… we get to see all the glitz and glamour and the downfall.
Dwayne Johnson has talked about his rough relationship with his father. What was it like playing such a complex character?
In a sense it wasn’t difficult, because no one is perfect. I enjoyed playing Rocky a lot.
You talked about him being a Black pioneer in his field. How did it feel stepping into his shoes and showcasing someone who’s an important part of wrestling history?
It was a huge honour. People grew up watching Rocky and they take this show very seriously, it means a great deal to them. It’s a huge honour playing him.
Did you get a chance to get to know Dwayne as part of the preparation for the role?
I did! We’ve had many conversations. Dwayne makes himself very available to us when we have questions, so that’s great.
Were there any interesting anecdotes that he shared about his dad?
The big one — and the one that I really focused on — was him saying that Rocky could make anyone feel like a million bucks. He could make everyone feel amazing.
Is there a physicality you have to achieve to play this role? What did it take to get to that point?
Yeah, I had to gain about 30 pounds to play Rocky. A lot of food… I was eating around 5,000 calories a day… it was a big transformation.
What were you eating to get all those calories in?
A lot of chicken, a lot of rice [laughs].
Were you ever scared performing the stunts on the show?
I wasn’t scared at all. Our wrestling coordinator Chavo Guerrero took very good care of us and made sure we knew all the moves. It was a very safe environment.
What has been your favourite experience while being part of the show?
Just being able to work, being able to go to a job where I love all my co-workers. We always have a good time on set. It’s a real family vibe at work. So that’s the best part – working with great people.
How would you sell the show to someone who hasn’t watched it before?
I would say, if you’re a fan of old-school wrestling and if you’re a fan of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, you’re going to love this show. You’re going to get to see how he grew up and you’re going to see the people who shaped his life into what it is now.
“I’d love to [play] some kind of superhero or super villain – Marvel [or] DC, I wanna be in that kind of film.” — Anderson on what kind of project he’d love to work on.
Don’t miss it!
‘Young Rock’ is available to stream on OSN.