At the beginning of “Young Rock,” NBC’s new autobiographical sitcom about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it is the year 2032 and the former professional athlete-turned-actor is planning a presidential run.
Through an interview with Randall Park, that is a jumping off point for his character to open up his past to the public, to showcase why he is not as out of touch with common citizens’ concerns as his wealth and fame may imply.
“We’re going to be following candidate Johnson on his 2032 presidential campaign for the course of Season 1, so we’re going to be at different press events from him and Randall is going to ry to get some insight into who Dwayne the man is,” showrunner Nahnatchka Khan said during a virtual panel for the show on Tuesday. “Following him on the campaign tour is what is going to carry us through that 2032 timeline.”
But politics won’t be front and center in the show, nor will Johnson’s fan Sen. Elizabeth Warren, guest star.
“Elizabeth does not make a cameo in this [season], but if we’re lucky enough to come back for a second round, maybe she will there,” Johnson said.
“Young Rock” tells Johnson’s story in four time periods: the aforementioned near future, in with the multi-hyphenate talent plays himself; his elementary school years, with Adrian Groulx playing him at 10 years old; his high school years, with Bradley Constant playing him at 15 years old, and his college football days, with Uli Latukefu playing him.
“Let’s not take the easy route,” Johnson recalled remembering saying about developing this show. “We use these terms ‘wild’ and ‘crazy’ and those are great sizzle words that we use as we promote this thing, but it was incredibly complicated and it was incredibly tough growing up. We specifically went with these timelines in my life that were very defining times.”
Part of what was so character-defining for Johnson was his relationship with his father, who passed away unexpectedly in January 2020 and to whom the series premiere is dedicated. Joseph Lee Anderson portrays the larger-than-life figure and former wrestler in all time periods of the show.
“My dad was kicked out of his house at 13 and he was homeless, so that then shaped the man who then raised me,” Johnson said. “And in that complication then came an extraordinary life that was full of travel. I lived in 13 different states by the time I was 13 years old.”
Johnson shared that working on this series has allowed him to “appreciate those hard times that much more.”
The show is also an opportunity to appreciate some very special people from the world of professional wrestling around whom Johnson grew up. “We have the Iron Sheik from Iran, we have Andre the Giant from France, we have the junkyard dog, we have my dad, we have the wild Samoans from someone, and these are the ones that we just showcased in the pilot,” Johnson said. “I think the responsibility that we have, as well as the inspiration of the show, is just to be authentic and making sure that everything felt real. We reached out to all of our wrestlers and [for] the ones who are no longer here with us [we] reached out to their families and made sure that they they knew that they were going to be portrayed in a positive way.”
By selecting these three specific time periods, though, there is a lot about Johnson’s life that fans of his won’t get to see dramatized in the first season, including his WWE career and his blockbuster films from “The Mummy Returns” to the “Fast and Furious” franchise to the “Jumanji” reboot.
“If we are, universe willing, lucky enough to come back for another round of this thing, there’s a lot [more] in between those years that took place” to explore, he said.
“Young Rock” premieres Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. on NBC.