Dwayne Johnson spent one decade building a name for himself in pro wrestling, and another making it disappear in movies. He wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and serious acting chances don't come easily if you're known only as "The Rock." "You can just make a certain type of movie if you want to, like the action genre, and be happy with it," Johnson told me in 2004 when Walking Tall first suggested an actor's heart beating beneath those pulsing pectorals. "But there's another level of things that you can continue to grow into." Actually, three other levels. Johnson, 40, has occasionally displayed a nice comedic touch (Get Smart, The Other Guys), and dabbled in emotional drama (Gridiron Gang). Yet his most frequent — and successful — detours from action flicks turn Johnson into a rough-and-tumble PG-rated playmate for children, recently earning a Kids Choice Award nomination as "favorite male buttkicker" in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. These days, billing as "The Rock" is reserved for World Wrestling Entertainment appearances, and these turning points in Johnson's multifaceted Hollywood career:
ROCK OF RAGES
After a laughable turn in the Mummy spin-off The Scorpion King, Johnson earned his action hero stripes in The Rundown (2003), playing a bounty hunter squaring off with Christopher Walken in South America. None other than Arnold Schwarzenegger passed the torch to Johnson with a cantina cameo and the send-off line: "Have fun."
After The Rundown and Walking Tall proved Johnson could draw blood with the best of them, Gridiron Gang (2006) gambled that he could draw tears. Based on a true story, Johnson played a juvenile detention center counselor coaching a football team of delinquents. It's one of Johnson's rare box office failures but one of his best movies.
Showing more confidence than facing Steve Austin at WrestleMania 19, Johnson made his comedic breakthrough in Be Cool (2005), an otherwise forgettable sequel to Get Shorty. The role was anything but typecast: a gay bodyguard dreaming of becoming a country music singer. The Rock? No, more like Rock Hudson.
Schwarzenegger could have reprised his Rundown cameo in The Game Plan (2007), turning over his Kindergarten Cop image to Johnson. Playing a cocky pro quarterback discovering he's a father, Johnson melted into a growling teddy bear and created a new persona. The uniform also fits him better than that Tooth Fairy tutu.