The Rock is one of the biggest stars working in film today. His roles in the Fast and the Furious movies, along with his role on the HBO series Ballers, are just two of his massive successes. His path to acting success, however, was a pretty unorthodox one.
The Rock, born Dwayne Johnson, first achieved some notoriety as a college football player at the University of Miami. He was a key player on the team that won the national championship in 1991. He assumed he would take the next step and play in the NFL.
After graduating with a degree in psychology and criminology, he expected to get some offers from NFL teams, but none came. He made his way to Canada and began playing for the Calgary Stampeders. Unfortunately, he was cut after two months on the practice squad. Just like that, his football career was over.
In searching for a new job, he turned to his family’s work: wrestling. His father and grandfather were professional wrestlers, giving him some connections into that world. His father, Rocky Johnson, originally was hesitant to allow his son to wrestle, but eventually got him into a training program in 1995, led by wrestling legend Pat Patterson.
He made his debut in 1996 wrestling as Rocky Maivia, a combination of his father and grandfather’s ring names. His nickname was “The Blue Chipper” and this family lineage was played into his ring character. While he had technical skills, he wasn’t getting over with the fans.
Fans at the time actually became hostile towards Rocky Maivia. His ring character seemed incredibly cheesy and fans would often taunt extremely rude things at him. In the wrestling world, no matter how talented you may be, if you can’t connect with the fans, you don’t have a future.
In 1997, Rocky Maivia turned heel (bad guy). He joined the wrestling stable The Nation of Domination and started referring to himself as The Rock. He cut promos where he insulted the fans and the WWF, all while talking himself up. Around this time, he created his catchphrase, “If you smell what The Rock is cookin’.” Suddenly, he was generating some major heat with the fans.
He was a natural in front of the camera and fans loved to hate The Rock. Before long, he was a headliner wrestling for the WWF Championship. In 1998, he won his first Championship belt. He was now officially the number one wrestler in the WWF.
His explosive popularity caught the attention of Hollywood, which cast him in The Mummy Returns in 2001 and then The Scorpion King in 2002. The latter was a moderate success, grossing more than $160 million worldwide.
While he continued wrestling, it was clear that he had his sights set on becoming a movie star. That was actually worked into his ring gimmick in 2002, and by 2004, he was only making sporadic wrestling appearances.
His transition to Hollywood full-time wasn’t necessarily a success. After The Scorpion King, he was in The Rundown and Walking Tall, two films that did poorly at the box office. He would appear in a variety of movies, some successful, some not, but would break through in a big way in 2011.
That’s the year he starred in Fast Five. That movie was a massive success, due in large part to The Rock’s charisma. Since then, he’s been one of the most consistent draws at the box office.
It’s hard to believe a failed football career could lead to such success in Hollywood, but that was The Rock’s path. When you have so much charm, charisma, and talent, it’s clear that movie and wrestling fans will come to love you.