‘Young Rock’ Stars on Playing Fictionalized Versions of Real People

Young Rock Joseph Lee Anderson Stacey Leilua Ana Tuisila
Mark Taylor/NBC

NBC’s sitcom Young Rock, in telling the different chapters of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s life, also showcases fictionalized versions of the people around him.

For Joseph Lee Anderson, who plays Dwayne’s father, Rocky, it’s a departure from who he is (and not just because he had to put on 30 pounds in two months as part of his prep for the part).

“He was a very charismatic person. He was able to make anyone he came in contact with feel like a million bucks. He was just the guy that was bigger than the world,” Anderson said during a press junket. “That is not me. I’m a very shy, introverted person, so it was nice to be able to play that, to have that confidence that I’ve always wanted for myself.”

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Anderson’s goal was to “be as funny as possible,” he continued, and to do so, he drew not only on the person he was playing but from people in his own life, including his uncle and father, “who are just naturally funny.”

Stacey Leilua (who plays Dwayne’s mother, Ata) knew there was a “responsibility to really honor [playing a real person] and come into the role with integrity in a different way than you would if it was just a fictional character,” she said. “I wanted to focus more on what was driving her as a woman, as a mother, as a wife and honor that sentiment and that drive as opposed to being an exact replica of who she is.”

Ana Tuisila (who plays Dwayne’s grandmother Lia) agreed, crediting the writers’ work with the character and noting, “the only challenge and difficulty was ensuring that you pay homage and make sure that it’s an honest portrayal of their memory of Lia.”

For Matthew Willig (who plays wrestler André the Giant), who, like Anderson, had to gain weight, his prep work also included listening to old interviews, working with a French dialect coach, and “bumbling down his speech where there is a sense of not being able to totally understand him.”

Adrian Groulx Matthew Willig Young Rock Dwayne Andre

Mark Taylor/NBC

“There’s a responsibility to do your best to first imitate then have your own spin on the real-life character,” Willig added. “You use your own experiences for some of the things like having conversations with little Dewey [played by Adrian Groulx] and figuring out your own place in the world. I use my own experiences of being a big giant guy and walking around and having those experiences.”

Young Rock, Tuesdays, 8/7c, NBC