Directed by Brad Peyton, the action-adventure smash ‘em up flick Rampage follows what happens when the gorilla best friend of primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), who has been in his care since he rescued the young orphan from poachers, suddenly finds himself an enormous raging creature due to an experiment gone wrong. And to make matters even worse, there are other similarly altered animals who are destroying everything in their path, leaving Davis to team up with geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to secure an antidote and save the world.
At a conference at the film’s Los Angeles press junket, co-stars Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who plays Agent Russell) and Joe Manganiello (who plays Burke, the leader of a team of mercenaries sent to stop one of the animals) talked about breaking the video game to movie curse, the ambition of filmmaker Brad Peyton, the relationship between Davis and George, the gorilla, being big animal lovers themselves, and the influence of Jurassic Park. Manganiello also talked about how he, Peyton and Johnson were all originally in talks to make a Dungeons and Dragons film that didn’t go into production.
Dwayne, how did you set out to break the video game to movie curse, with Rampage?
DWAYNE JOHNSON: We were all very aware, going in, of the video game curse that has been rampant throughout Hollywood, over the years. I made Doom, so I’ve lived the curse.
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: I love Doom!
JOHNSON: Thank you so much. You’re one of the few. Thank you! It was probably just being aware of the movie we were making, and not trying to be anything else, other than what we are. What we are is a big, fun ride. It’s a crazy, absurd idea, and it’s a fine needle to thread. In making the movie, the goal was to lean into the absurdity of it and bring in the best filmmakers we could. We got WETA Digital at a great time, where they’re so incredibly ambitious, to raise the bar with these monsters. They were beholden to a mythology, but they knew they had room to expand, with the flying wolf and the very sharp pins, and the alligator that was just monstrous and the size of a football field. On a side note, what was very cool was that WETA was so ambitious and excited that these monsters, throughout the movie, don’t stay one size. They actually continue to grow. By the end of the movie, the alligator is the size of a football field and a half. So, it was a matter of leaning in to the ridiculousness of it, and I mean that in the most positive way, but then also trying to find a rooted anchor in it and making sure that that relationship was fun. For the sign language with the gorilla, I had sign language consultations that were helping me. There was a time when we were creating the script and chopping it up where we felt, “What if my best friend also had the personality of a 12-year-old?,” which is not too far from my own personality. And then, we sent the rest of the cast the script and said, “Everybody here has got a lot going on and you all come from different genres and areas in the business, so what do you think?” And they all loved it.
Dwayne, now that you’ve done three films together – Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, San Andreas and Rampage – what makes you want to keep working with Brad Peyton?
JOHNSON: I enjoy working with Brad. This is my third movie with him. There is ambition there. He’s a very ambitious director. I enjoy working with him, creatively. I come from the world of sports, and I enjoy being coached and pushed. Not a lot of directors feel comfortable in that space, and that’s okay. I’ll find my inspiration and motivation in other ways and make the project work. They don’t all have to have a coach’s mentality, but Brad does have that, despite him always underplaying it and saying, “I’m from Canada and I like to apologize.” He’s a very ambitious guy. If this is the line, he’s okay to go right up to the line, or to step over the line. We don’t get a lot of shots at this, in any business, so if you’re gonna take a swing, why not take a swing for the fences and go for it. We have the ability, the resources and the talent to come to the table for us, so we’ll take a swing and see what happens. Also, I love the fact that he loves movies. He loves movies that make people feel good, and I like that, too. We’re very similar. Our DNA is like that. We invest so much time in these movies and, as you know, movie-making is hard and it takes many, many months, and then there are months of post and you promote it, like we’re doing now. It takes a long time, especially for directors. I have the ability to make a movie and, even if I’m producing the movie, I can still go on and make other movies and have other movies in development because I’m not directing. Brad is on a movie for two or three years, and the passion shows. He’s influenced by [Steven] Spielberg and James Cameron, and movies like that, and I like that. You have a responsibility to not only make a good movie, but I also like the DNA that we share to make the movie fun for the audience and make sure that they’re going home, floating in some way and feeling great about what they just saw because they had a great experience. That’s what movies should be, and are, to us.
Jeffrey, in what ways did being a part of a film the size of Rampage surprise you?
MORGAN: It’s a dream come true, doing a movie like this, with Brad and DJ (Dwayne Johnson). When someone calls and says, “Hey, would you be interested in doing a movie with Dwayne, and it’s got monsters in it?,” that’s what you dream about, as a little kid, even though I’m way older than he is. And Brad is so on top of it. There’s a lot of green screen and looking at a tennis ball, but he was so meticulous in his prep that he had scenes done on an iPad, that we could see. When you’re talking about monsters and buildings falling, that really helped a lot. But then, to see the final product is like, “Yeah, go Dwayne!”
Joe, how did you get this job?
JOE MANGANIELLO: I wrote a version of a Dungeons and Dragons film when it was at Warner Bros. I found out that Brad was also a big fan of the property and was looking to direct a Dungeons and Dragons film, and they were talking to [Dwayne] about it, as well. So, I got my agents to connect me to Brad. I said, “I wanna talk to Brad. I wanna see what his idea is. I have this script and I wanna talk to him.” So, we got on a Skype call and, after a couple of minutes, Brad was like, “Hey, man, listen, I’m down in Atlanta. I’m getting ready to shoot this movie Rampage. I’ve got this great role, if you wanna play it. Why don’t you come down and shoot this movie, we’ll talk about Dungeons and Dragons, and we’ll go from there?” That’s how I ended up in Rampage.