Novelist David Whitehouse imagines a friendship with Dwayne Johnson
The question people always ask me is: what do you call him? What do you call your best friend, the American actor, producer, singer, musician and semi-retired professional wrestler Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson? Do you call him ‘The Rock’? And the answer is always the same. No. Of course I don’t call him ‘The Rock’. That would be like you calling your best friend Kevin, ‘The Kevin’.
I call him simply, Rock. And he calls me Dave.
People are interested in our friendship. And I totally get it. I’m not crazy. He’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, the highest paid and most bankable movie star on the planet. I’m just a struggling writer with big dreams. He’s 6ft 5in, matinee-idol handsome, with a chest like the proverbial oak. I’m 5ft 8in and nothing special. Together, we’re a mismatch. Like when you see a YouTube video of a horse who is friends with a duck.
I can see why that’s funny. Nobody laughs more about it than Rock and I.
In fact, nobody laughs more than Rock and I, full stop. When I think back, my favourite times we’ve spent together have been rolling around on the floor, our eyes wet, our faces aching, him slapping my back, me reminding him to maybe only use about 15 per cent of his power in case he breaks my ribs.
It’s hard for me to correlate the ‘The Rock’ I know with the ‘The Rock’ whose superhuman athletic prowess struck fear into the heart of his enemies in so many wrestling rings on his way to becoming eight-time WWF/WWE champion. I only know the softer him, the kind, friendly, sometimes clumsy giant who picked me up and spun me around when he heard Jumanji 2 grossed over $956million worldwide.
I know what you’re thinking. Our friendship sounds so… normal. And it is. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t unusual sometimes. I mean, this is the guy Muscle & Fitness magazine named ‘Man Of The Century’ back in 2015. There were 85 years left! Often, when I’m out, I’ll overhear people at the bar whispering, “That guy is best friends with The Rock.” I pretend I haven’t heard, even when their friend responds, “That guy?! You sure?” I always allow myself a little chuckle. Yes. That guy. The Rock’s best friend. Me.
And I get people I went to school with messaging me on Facebook. They tend to start with a few pleasantries, normally six or seven messages before they finally get to asking whether I could get The Rock to come to their birthday party… and I’m invited too, of course!
I always say I’ll ask, but in reality it probably isn’t going to happen. Rock is a busy guy. In the past few years alone he has either been making or promoting Moana, Fast & Furious 8, Baywatch, Rampage, Skyscraper or Jumanji 2 – a whirlwind world tour of filming and press commitments that has involved visiting nearly every continent. And I have two children now, so it’s hard to get out as much as I used to.
When we do get together, we just like to hang out and catch up. We very rarely talk about work. It’d be weird for him to tell me about whether or not it’s true he’s attached to star in the remake of Big Trouble In Little China, and I’d never think to ask. But he’s a great listener and fantastic at giving advice when I’m in a tight spot of my own. We never like to let it get too serious, though. A raise of his eyebrow and we’re soon laughing again.
People ask why I don’t take advantage of our friendship a little more. They say that if Rock would endorse any of the three novels I’ve written, maybe they’d sell a few more copies. As I’m sure you can imagine, my agent is especially keen – celebrity endorsement is one of the few ways of making a book stand out in the modern publishing marketplace. In fact, she thinks I’m insane for not asking him, because he’d totally do it. For me? For sure. And he knows a thing or two about selling books. His autobiography The Rock Says… debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list in 2000. But, I don’t know. That kind of thing isn’t really for me.
Of course, it’s not so easy for us to go for a quiet drink in a pub, or to a café. Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world back in 2016, and he can reboot an ailing movie franchise like Fast & Furious to the tune of a billion or more dollars just by having his name on the poster. So it’s hardly surprising we can’t always do the things we like to do.
Last time we went for a coffee he’d signed three autographs by the time I’d even ordered. Now, when I go back to that same place on my own, the guy behind the counter still asks me, “Hey man, where is The Rock?” I feel like saying, “It’s just Rock, actually” under my breath, but I resist. Actually, I don’t go to that place so much any more.
There are challenges like that. I guess that’s the part you don’t hear about celebrity so much. How difficult it can be for family and best friends to fulfil the roles of the men and women they love, and be fulfilled in return.
I mentioned this to Dwayne once on the red carpet for the premiere of his hit earthquake flick San Andreas. It’d been a hard, hot day. My train was delayed, and eventually I took a rail-replacement bus service with no working air conditioning, knowing he’d be in town for a night at most, not wanting to miss him. “Dwayne!” I shouted, from the middle of the scrum of photographers. “It’s hard to be your best friend sometimes!” I knew we’d laugh about it later.
And he always will be. My best friend, I mean. Winner of the 2000 Royal Rumble. Founder of the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, a charity working with at-risk and terminally-ill children. One of the most popular, successful and affable actors in Hollywood.
My best friend, Rock.
Best friends don’t do the ‘the’.