Dwayne Johnson on a high playing wounded warrior in Skyscraper
Dwayne Johnson describes how meeting amputees and wounded warriors to prepare for new movie was 'unforgettable'
From fast cars to genetically-engineered monsters, Hollywood superstar Dwayne Johnson has faced them all on the big screen.
The 46-year-old US actor's latest cinematic adventure takes him to Hong Kong, where he plays Will Sawyer, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation hostage rescue team leader who has to take on about 100 levels of burning building in order to rescue his trapped wife (Neve Campbell) and children.
Opening here tomorrow, Skyscraper sees Johnson make leaps that defy the laws of physics, almost single-handedly take on a team of terrorists responsible for the blaze and do a whole lot of MacGyver-ing.
It is a larger-than-life role for the 1.93m-tall former wrestler. There is also a key difference.
Johnson said at a press conference at The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Hong Kong last week: "When I was pitched the story of Skyscraper, (writer-director-producer) Rawson (Marshall Thurber) took me through the entire pitch and I was really captivated.
"He said, 'There is one more thing I want you to know.' I said, 'What's that?' and he said the character has one leg and is a wounded warrior. He is an amputee, but that can't stop him, and I just immediately (knew) what movie this was and what kind of character it was.
"I was blown away, and I knew I wanted to make the movie."
To prepare for the role, Johnson spent time with amputees and people who were injured in battle.
"I was really excited to play the role, I was up for the challenge, and I did as much research as I could possibly do," he said.
"It was one of the most unforgettable experiences I have ever had, and I was really fortunate that the role came my way and there were men and women all around the world who gave me inspiration for the character."
Johnson, who is also one of Skyscraper's producers, said it was not just the character that was different from his previous work, but the film itself.
He said: "I have been lucky to have a nice career over the years and have some nice successes in movies, whether it is Jumanji or Rampage or Fast And Furious.
"(But this) was original material, it wasn't based off a book or a ride or a sequel of a big franchise, those are all movies that I certainly love... But this was special and different."
For Thurber (Central Intelligence, We're The Millers, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), Skyscraper was a bit of a passion project.
The initial idea came after he was floored by Hong Kong two years ago on his first trip there.
The 43-year-old US film-maker said: "I came to Hong Kong for the first time and spent the better part of a week scouting.
"I fell in love with the city then and ran back home and wrote the best script I could, to pay tribute to this city, which is one of most beautiful cities on the planet."
Thurber had just wrapped up the 2016 action-comedy Central Intelligence, his first collaboration with Johnson, for whom he had also developed a fondness.
And with his boyhood dream of making an action movie, Skyscraper was born.
"I made a lot of comedies, and I had wanted to make an action movie since I was eight. So Skyscraper represents a lot of my sort of eight-year-old boy action fantasies all put into one movie," said Thurber.
"They don't make (action movies) like this anymore. I grew up on them and wanted to make one really badly.
"It is a big action movie with a lot of fun stunts but it has, in my opinion, a great heart. It is about a family, it is about the love of a family and what one person will do to keep their family safe."
Skyscraper was created and designed in homage to action classics that both Thurber and Johnson loved - Die Hard, The Towering Inferno and The Fugitive.
Set in Hong Kong, the movie was also written with a respect for Chinese culture, Johnson said.
Throughout the press conference, there was a palpable rapport between the press and Johnson, who flashed his mega-watt smile, made wisecracks and drew uproarious laughter.
When asked about his success in the Chinese market, Johnson said he had recognised the importance of making a connection with audiences in the region years ago.
He said: "Ten years ago when I think Iron Man came out, I recognised that I wasn't getting superhero scripts.
"I thought maybe the best and most important thing I could do is to establish a relationship with Chinese audiences, audiences around the world and certainly in the Asian market. Establish a relationship with just me, not a superhero or movies where (you) wear capes.
"Not only am I grateful, but I am also incredibly appreciative of the relationship that I have with the Chinese audience."
He joked: "Maybe it is my hair."