I first met Dwayne Johnson when I profiled him for a Details magazine cover story about 13 years ago. I didn’t know what to expect from a wrestler who had become a movie star, but he blew any assumptions I had had out of the water. He was hilarious, self-aware, and drank me under the table (not hard: he’s 6 foot 5 and 260 pounds).
We kept in touch a bit over the years, but as an observer, I’ve marveled at both Johnson’s endless public cheer (look at his Instagram—something of an optimism manifesto) and his freakish drive and constancy. I’m not the only one who’s invested: Johnson’s appeal and bankability have him at the top of most Hollywood power lists, and his latest film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, will only cement his status. So how does this avatar of positivity do it? This is how The Rock rolls:
Laura Brown: This story is called “Dwayne Johnson Makes Beautiful Music.” When was the last time you made beautiful music?
Dwayne Johnson: The last time I made beautiful music was with [my girlfriend] Lauren [Hashian] when we were practicing making babies. But in the literal sense, I love music and lean on it—all kinds—from the time I wake up. That’s why I like to drive myself everywhere; I can listen to all my music [in the car]. But then the other beautiful music, and I’ve got to be unapologetic about this cheese, is making people happy. If they come home from one of my movies happy, that’s sort of a big deal. That’s why I’m in this business.
LB: Speaking of which, how’s your empire?
DJ: I’m doing good. And the empire is coming along nicely. Much like when you and I sat down over a decade ago, I’m surrounded by women—and now there are even more!
LB: What’s your optimal number of women to be surrounded by?
DJ: I’ve got two daughters, one girlfriend, my mom’s here [in Vancouver, where he’s shooting the action-thriller Skyscraper] with us right now. We have two rotating nannies, housekeepers, you name it, all women. It’s always all women.
LB: I want to know, quite honestly, how the eff you do everything you do with such rigor and positivity.
DJ: Thank you for that. I start with gratitude. I’m in my 40s now, my fourth level, you know, and for me, in my 20s, I thought I knew everything—didn’t know shit. In my 30s, things started to cave in a little bit, and I began questioning myself and the decisions I was making. Divorce happened. Fatherhood was taking a challenging left turn. I was trying to figure out what kind of dad I wanted to be, so there was a lot of shit happening. Now, in my fourth level, I can honestly wake up every day, be present, and be grateful for everything. And I keep the tougher times I’ve had in the forefront of my mind—like when I was 14 and we were evicted from our house, or when I had 7 bucks in my pocket. The gratitude motivates me. I like to get up before sunrise, before the baby [Jasmine, 2] wakes up, so I can get my work done and get going.
LB: What time is that?
DJ: Somewhere between 4:30 and 5 every day. You can do it!
LB: You are hilarious. But what happens on the days when you can’t “Rock” it up and be your best self?
DJ: When those days happen, and they do, I try to take a 30-minute break and just be by myself to figure my shit out: what’s letting me down, why I’m feeling a little sludgy today. Sometimes if you just take the time to really pay attention and break it down, you can figure out what caused it. And from there, generally, I can pull myself up out of it. And if I can’t, that’s where the support group comes in. I’ll take Lauren aside and say, “I’m feeling a little funky here. Do you remember anything?” And then we’ll retrace our steps.
LB: Being able to step outside yourself and be analytical about it is a real skill.
DJ: But it’s a two-parter with me. This is why I can be so f—king complicated—I’m sorry to cuss. I go through a wide range of emotions. There’s this Polynesian word we use called mana, and that’s our spirit and our power. And it can be very strong when it’s one way, but when the pendulum comes back, it can be just as strong. So when it swings the wrong way and I don’t catch it, I’ll get emotional and say things that, the moment they come out of my mouth, I regret. Thirty minutes later I’m apologizing. I wish I was rational every time. But when I’m not, I have that support group around me of loved ones, starting with Lauren and my 16-year-old daughter [Simone]. They always help me through it.
LB: You’re so “on” all the time. When you were younger, would you have described yourself as a pleaser?
DJ: No, as a matter of fact, it was quite the opposite. I was an only child, and we lived a very gypsy lifestyle. We’d be in a little apartment for a year, and then my dad’s run as a local professional wrestler would be up, and the circus would pack up, and we’d move to another city. So I was by myself a lot. I wasn’t sad, though; I was just a loner. I was always drawn to the arts in terms of music and movies. When I was a kid, I was a combination of Elvis, Richard Pryor, and Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones. I didn’t know the value of being able to make someone happy. What kid really understands that? It wasn’t until I got into professional wrestling that I felt like, “Oh, it’s not only incredibly gratifying to achieve something but also to make people happy.”
LB: How much does that boost your physical and emotional energies?
DJ: Once I quietly retired from pro wrestling and made the transition to movies, I realized it’s one of the most valuable things. I love and embrace making people happy. I’ll meet a Make-A-Wish child or a fan waiting in line, and they’re puking or crying and can’t even talk because they’re just so excited. And I spend a little bit of time with them, and I drive away, and it’s just the best f—king feeling. I’m so sorry for cussing again.
LB: Cuss it up! You’re so gracious and proactive on social media. How much time do you spend on it?
DJ: Well, social media, to me, is like a marriage. You have to foster it and take care of it and commit to it. And you have to understand your partner.
LB: Her needs and desires.
DJ: That’s right. Once I looked at social media that way, the growth really started happening exponentially.
LB: What makes you feel strong?
DJ: Accomplishment makes me feel strong. I’ve been with Lauren for 10-plus years. We’ve had incredible challenges and ups and downs. And in business, you take a swing and you hope that you hit a home run, but sometimes you strike out. Strikeouts and failures are important. Being down, getting punched in the gut every once in a while by life and coming back up, that’s accomplishment.
LB: And what makes you feel weak?
DJ: When I’m unable to see a mistake I made right away. Maybe this is my Taurus mentality, but sometimes I don’t see it and I don’t see it and then, before you know it, I finally see it, and I’m like, “How the hell did I not see that? It was right in front of me all this time.” And I have to look at the wake I left behind, the disappointment. That makes me feel weak.
LB: What role do you see yourself playing in the culture now and going forward into your fifth level?
DJ: I think the most important thing is authenticity, just being as real as I can be. But also flexible and open to change and other ideas and thought processes. Back when you and I last talked, I was at a turning point in my life, and I was having a tough time. I was hiding it, but I had a really hard time just being me. So now it’s important that I’m just me.
LB: When did you feel like that transition happened?
DJ: Around 2010—I took a long look at everybody I had around me because I wanted to make sure they were aligned with how I felt. I’m not ashamed of who I am or where I came from or the size God gave me. There was a large percentage of people who weren’t [on the same page]. So I really shook up [my team].
LB: What I appreciated about those changes as a spectator was that you didn’t pretend your evolution was effortless.
DJ: I didn’t know any other way. I had no coaching. I came out of the world of pro wrestling. In that job there are no agents, no publicists, no media training. It’s just you and the crowd, and you have to be real to win them over. And if you don’t, you’re not gonna eat. And that’s it.
LB: And eating is good. Another thing: You’ve floated these presidential notions recently. Where do we stand on this at the moment, sir?
DJ: This whole thing started with a piece in The Washington Post about a year and a half, two years ago. And then, when it started to pick up and got to the point where it was just impossible to ignore, I said, “Of course I would consider a run.” So where we’re at right now is just quietly observing everything happening on the political landscape, and when the next election comes along …
LB: It’s so far away.
DJ: I will be watching very intently.
LB: In this incredibly divided time, how would you buck people up?
DJ: When there are so many polarizing perspectives and anger, what gnaws at my gut is the lack of leadership that wants to bring everybody together and listen. I believe in dialogue. Sometimes you’ve got to get down and dirty and have these tough conversations. And not just within your political parties. So, for example, you know the latest issue is our national anthem and individual NFL players who want to kneel—and also the pro basketball players and [Golden State Warrior] Steph Curry refusing his invitation to the White House. Steph is a very good buddy of mine—I know him and his family. And at the time when he declined the offer, I felt like it was our president’s perfect opportunity to say, “Now you must come to the White House and sit down with me, and I must hear you and understand you.”
LB: Does it all make you angry?
DJ: At first, I was getting angry, of course. Because these scenarios are right in front of us—when the players are kneeling as a last resort, as a desire to be heard, clearly they’re not being heard. It’s an opportunity for our leaders, our president and his staff, to hear them, truly hear them, and not be angry. I used to get pissed every day. I would wake up and pick up my phone and look at the alerts, and it’s like, “What am I gonna read today?” But then I realized I needed to try and be as grateful as I could possibly be. What we’re in need of is a greater leadership that’s inclusive and truly hears the people and doesn’t have a knee-jerk reaction out of anger. Scenarios like this, while divisive, also clarify what we really want in the future. And we’ll have a chance in a few years to cast another vote, and we’ll see where the American people are when that time comes.
LB: Yeah, we’ve got to find the goodness and the awareness—we can’t just skate on presumption anymore.
DJ: That’s right.
LB: But anyway … Jumanji.
DJ: A good transition, yes [laughs].
LB: Your Jumanji character is a dorky teenager trapped in a hunk’s body. You’ve kind of always had a dork rising, though, haven’t you?
DJ: I have a lot of dork in me. Yes, I do. I oftentimes have to rein it in. I’ll get comfortable and start making dumb jokes or get really silly. Or god forbid I start having some drinks—then things go off the rails [laughs]. I’m just living the dream, baby.
For more stories like this, pick up the January issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Dec. 8.
Photographer: Carter Smith. Fashion editor: Ilaria Urbinati. Barber: Rachel Solow. Makeup: Merc Arceneaux. Production: Avenue B Inc.