In terms of simple biographical information, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Wayne have quite a few similarities. Both men took on personas distinct from their true selves, with Johnson taking on The Rock as his wrestling identity (which bled over to his acting career) and Wayne replacing his less star-like name Marion Morrison with his John Wayne identity. They share a past as college football players whose injuries halted their future athletic careers, but which instigated their future screen careers, particularly by providing them with unparalleled physical presence.
Willis explores in detail the role Wayne’s body played in his star persona. Wayne was well coordinated and surprisingly graceful for a large man (Willis 16), just as Johnson’s massive frame is similarly juxtaposed with his elegant manner of movement. Johnson’s body is the subject of much celebrity gossip simply because he is so toned and massive and yet able to look polished and poised in suits as he glides around Miami in his HBO show Ballers, for example. Wayne’s “slumberous power” came from “the easy control of his large body” (18). At 6’ 5” and 260 pounds, Johnson is a more modern definition of “large”, yet the effect of his command of it is the same due to its projection of manliness and authority. This makes it let surprising that he has an extensive background (and continued presence) in the wrestling world, as Willis even references Cicero asserting “orators should learn grace of movement from wrestlers” and “should consider the whole body more important even than the words of a speech” (18).
In a manner very similar to John Wayne’s, Dwayne Johnson’s career immediately capitalized on his physical capabilities and the effects this had on his persona. Below is an outline I’ve created of most of Johnson’s notable films and the role he plays in each. There is a distinct pattern of him playing the military man, government agent, or simply the big guy on a mission which requires a great deal of violence and intimidation. Wayne’s career trajectory similarly took on a niche and he was repeatedly found in roles as the Western star with an “air of invincibility” (17) and a tendency for violence.
Dwayne Johnson has become a massive commercial success and his body is so central to his celebrity that we all seem to know what he consumes for breakfast, lunch and dinner thanks to several news stories about his calorie consumption and meal plan. Johnson does not have to stray far from his on-screen jurisdiction to be successful and he has become an extremely recognizable actor, although not on the level of John Wayne fame. However, as Willis characterizes John Wayne as the embodiment of what it meant to be “American”, with his body playing a significant factor in this classification, I wonder what it says about American identity that Johnson has seen such success. He is a person of mixed-race with a Black father and a Samoan mother, which does not exactly fit with many images of the typical “American”, yet he his box office success is undeniable. Sure, he has the body, but his presence on the big screen is quite telling in terms of race and the direction of stardom in general.
§ The Rundown (2003): bounty hunter
§ Walking Tall (2003): former U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, Sheriff
§ Doom (2005): Gunnery Sergeant
§ Get Smart (2008) and The Other Guys (2010): ideal special or secret agent
§ Fast Five (2011) and Fast & Furious 6 (2013) and Furious 7 (2015): Diplomatic Security Service Agent
§ G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013): Heavy Machine Gunner
§ Hercules (2014): Hercules
§ San Andreas (2015): Fire Department Air Rescue pilot