I said a couple of weeks ago that this weekly Rock column is not about me. I didn’t mean it then, and I certainly don’t mean it now. Would you like to know why?
Because this week…I, Ralph Jones, met The Rock.
That’s right. Let that sink in. Let that news wash over you like a hot shower. I met…The Rock. Not just any rock – THE Rock.
Now…many would say that meeting The Rock once was enough for them. “I’ve had my fill,” they’d say. “For me, this amount of The Rock suffices.”
Not I. Oh no, not I, mama. So rampant is my Rock mania that I demanded to meet him TWICE. “Give me more The Rock, please! More The Rock for hungry Ralphy! This amount of The Rock does not suffice!” That’s right, ladies and gentlemen – in the space of 24 hours I met Mr The Rock Dwayne Johnson in the flesh not once, but twice.
How did it happen? Let me tell you.
He’s kept this close to his chest, but The Rock is currently being ferried around the world on the press tour for his latest film Rampage – or RAMPAGE, as he thinks it’s called. (To be fair, all of The Rock’s films are written in capital letters unless explicitly otherwise stated.) We at ShortList secured a coveted slot at the red-carpet Leicester Square premiere in order to interview him for approximately 18 seconds. A tiny one-question interview soon escalated into the kind of sprawling chat that occurs between friends – the sort of back-and-forth that is so seamless it takes a disbelieving look at the clock to realise that the conversation has been flowing like an untended tap for almost four hours.
I was overjoyed to find that – as soon as I told him that I have been writing about him for 14 weeks, of course – he knew who I was. This is vindication of the highest order. He called The Rock Report “awesome” and was considerate enough to ask if I am enjoying it. In that moment I forgot all of the self-doubt, the difficult weeks, and the inevitable exhaustion that sets in at week 8 of such a project; I looked him in the eye and reassured him: yes, sweet Rock. Yes, of course I am enjoying it. And you know what? I bloody am.
Less than 24 hours later and a second encounter with my dear friend loomed large on the horizon. This time it was to be a filmed interview as part of a hotel junket, lasting five minutes at most. I have waded into this world several times and the interviews can be fraught affairs, especially if you are asking the interviewee to do something like pretend to be a mushroom. A concept that, alone at your desk, seemed Einsteinian in its genius soon becomes the most pathetic and regrettable project ever attempted by a human being.
As you stare terrified at a celebrity’s puzzled face – I’ll name no names – you ask yourself, “Why…why did I think it was a good idea to ask an A-list actor whether he would rather be covered entirely in marmalade or never be able to poo ever again?”
I was prepared for my time to be truncated, which it duly was, and I decided that a quiz about how well The Rock knows the world of The Rock would be a damn fine format for a tiny slot. My name was called and I walked into the room.
No sooner had I begun to shake his big hand for a second time than Mr The Rock Johnson was off, telling his assistant about The Rock Report and how insane an endeavour it is. If anything, he was a bit too keen for my liking. But what an insanely nice compliment to be on the receiving end of.
Pleasantries over, we settled down to the business of the quiz. I swiftly discovered how addictive a feeling it is to make The Rock laugh. When The Rock finds something funny, he throws his head back and bares all his teeth in a joyous, care-free laugh. He said before the quiz began that, as press days begin to wind down, his sense of humour becomes increasingly dirty. This was welcome news as I was soon to ask him which of his films contained the line “I can shrink down to six inches.”
After he performed valiantly in the quiz, our brief time together was at an end all too soon. At the end of the interview, as I was getting up to leave my dear friend, he said my name as he thanked me. What a day. What a moment. What an honour.
The world is full of people anxious to know what it would be like to speak to The Rock Dwayne Johnson in the flesh. From the front line I can report that, even with expectations set as high as mine, I was bowled over by the way in which he is able to make you feel, to use internet parlance employed by those cooler than me, seen. In remembering your name and personalising his conversation to the extent that he is able, he rises above the countless celebrities who often give the impression that you are wasting their time. This is a remarkable gift.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. This is exactly why he’s one of the very best at what he does. This is why he is worthy of a 52-week chronicle. This is why he has 103 million Instagram followers and is the highest-paid movie star on the face of the Earth. But, in truth, even if you have all of this information, you can still walk into a room and be bowled over by the sheer likeability of the man.
Now, of course, I embark on the remainder of this 52-week project saddled with the knowledge that The Rock could pick me out of a police lineup. This is a curse that I will have to learn to live with. With luck it will sharpen my sensibility; keep me on my toes; and ensure that I do justice to my sickeningly nice subject. I’d certainly rather have it this way around than never to have met him at all. Now, at the very least, as I croak my last breath, I can pull one of my grasping offspring over to my deathbed and whisper into their ear, “When I was a young man I met The Rock. I didn’t meet him once…I met him twice. Goodbye, sweet world.”
Stay hungry, stay humble.
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