Go big with Dwayne Johnson and the “Rampage” cast
Hollywood may not have the best track record when it comes to video game adaptations, but “Rampage” is looking to buck the trend when it hits the big screen this Friday.
“I think we were all aware of the video game curse that has been rampant throughout Hollywood over the years,” laughs the film’s star Dwayne Johnson. “I made ‘Doom,’ so I’m well aware of the curse.”
Three decades after the 8-bit video game unleashed destruction in arcades across the world, the monsters of “Rampage” come to life thanks to Peter Jackson’s New Zealand–based VFX company Weta Digital. As big as he is, Johnson, who plays primatologist Davis Okoye, is dwarfed by the Kaiju trifecta of Ralph (a ginormous flying wolf), Lizzie (an alligator bigger than a football field) and, of course, an 800-ton albino gorilla named George.
“The conceit of this idea is an absurd one,” Johnson says. “It’s ridiculous. We have these three monsters completely destroying the city of Chicago … we needed to find the heart and the soul. That’s the relationship between me and my best friend [George].”
Despite the fun ridiculousness of the narrative, every effort was made to keep the giant primate as realistic as possible.
“We consulted with the Dian Fossey Foundation many times,” Johnson continues. “We were filming in Atlanta and I had the opportunity to go down to the zoo to talk with the primatologists about the gorillas. I got to study their behavior, their emotions, their nuances … that was an amazing process for me.”
What ultimately made George click was the decision to develop the gorilla as someone with a strong sense of humor, maximizing the fun of his interaction with Okoye.
“I think there was a time when we were looking at the script and kind of chopping it up when we said, ‘What if my best friend also had the personality of a 12-year-old?’” Johnson smiles. “Which is not that different from my own personality, as you know.”
“Rampage” marks Johnson’s third collaboration with director Brad Peyton, following “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” in 2012 and “San Andreas” in 2015. “Rampage” fuses the former’s gigantic animals and the latter’s unrelenting destruction.
“What draws me to [Johnson] is the creative partnership,” Peyton explains. “He takes big swings. What I learned from him is that, when you get up to the plate, you need to try to hit a grand slam. Why else would you go up to the plate?”
“I come from a world of sports,” Johnson says. “I enjoy being coached and I enjoy being pushed. Not a lot of directors feel comfortable in that space, which is fine; I can find my direction or motivation some other way. We can make the project work. They don’t all need to have a coach’s mentality, but Brad does.”
Peyton’s extensive experience with large-scale visual effects allowed for “Rampage” to be shot on an even tighter schedule than “San Andreas,” which helped put co-star and recent Academy Award nominee Naomie Harris at ease.
“I was terrified because this was something completely new to me,” says the “Moonlight” star. “I had to really lean on Brad because he’s really amazing. He’s the master of this. This is his world; it’s not mine at all. So the way to get through it is to just pretend you’re a kid and play.”
“It really is impressive to see what we were doing on green screen come to life,” Akerman adds. “It was so much fun. We get to be the audience as well as the actors in this.”
For Manganiello, the path to “Rampage” began with a different game altogether. The “Magic Mike” and “True Blood” star is a fan of “Dungeons and Dragons” and had written his own screenplay for a feature film version when he got in touch with Peyton.
“We got on a Skype call,” Manganiello recalls. “After a couple of minutes, he said, ‘Look, I’m down in Atlanta. I’m getting ready to shoot this movie, ‘Rampage.’ I have this great role and it’s yours if you want to play it. Why don’t you come down? We’ll shoot this movie and we’ll go from there.”
Although the movie version promises a few winks to longtime fans of the video game, “Rampage” is aimed at audiences of all ages, regardless of whether or not they’re even aware it’s an adaptation.
“What we are is a big, fun ride,” Johnson says. “We felt that if we could nail [the relationship with George], then we had a shot at making a movie that people would really want to go on the ride with. More importantly, though, we would have a shot at making a movie that could withstand the test of time in the monster genre.”
“Rampage” opens April 13