Dwayne Johnson Calls “Young Rock” a “Love Letter to Professional Wrestling”; Kenan Thompson, “SNL” vet in “Kenan”: Virtual TV Press Tour


During the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour 2020, Dwayne The Rock Johnson appeared in a recorded greeting to television reporters to announce “Young Rock”, an upcoming NBC comedy inspired by Johnson’s coming of age. Johnson vowed the show would build on his “incredible” youth, including early days in Hawaii, Nashville, “40 dollars a game” wrestling and football at the University of Miami.

On this January 2020 day in Pasadena, no one knew what was to come, or could have predicted that once the show aired, Johnson and others would speak to TV critics via Zoom calls. With coronavirus safety measures in mind, the 2021 TV press tour continued in virtual form, so Johnson and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan (“Fresh Off the Boat”) answered questions about “Young Rock” via Zoom, along with members distribution and others from Australia.

Johnson, who first rose to prominence as a professional wrestler and found success as a movie star as well as a businessman (he owns a stake in the Portland-based company Salt & Straw ice cream company), said that “Young Rock” is “truly a love letter to pro wrestling, which is a business I grew up in and a business that I have loved my whole life.”

Johnson’s father, Rocky “Soulman” Johnson, died last January at the age of 75, was a professional wrestler, whose career ends including living in Vancouver in the 1980s, while he appeared in Pacific Northwest Wrestling matches in Portland.

“Young Rock” will feature actors portraying some of the famous professional wrestlers Johnson has known growing up. Executive producer Kahn praised the show’s casting directors for finding people to play “iconic and legendary wrestlers” including André the Giant, Junkyard Dog, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Iron Sheik, the Wild Samoans , and more.

In the series, Johnson appears as a version of himself, who we see running for President in the year 2032. Adrian Groulx plays Johnson at 10, Bradley Constant is at 15, and Uli Latukefu is at 18. old Johnson. Joseph Lee Anderson plays Rocky Johnson and Stacey Leilua plays Johnson’s mother, Ata.

Although “Young Rock” is a comedy, Johnson said she will explore some of the mistakes of her youth and her complicated relationship with her father. Johnson also stressed that the show will present a more upbeat image of professional wrestling that viewers saw on prime-time TV, something that was important to him.

Johnson said professional wrestling had taught him some of the most valuable, if “unorthodox” lessons of his life. He appreciated being able to “highlight and highlight these men who were, in essence, my superheroes. They didn’t wear a cape when I was little. They were those men in the professional wrestling world.

From left to right, John Tui as Afa, Fasi Amosa as Sika, Adrian Groulx as Dwayne, Stacey Leilua as Ata Johnson and Joseph Lee Anderson as Rocky Johnson in “Young Rock”. (Photo: Mark Taylor / NBC)Mark Taylor / NBC

“Wild and crazy,” Johnson said, are “great words we use to promote this thing, but it was incredibly complicated and it was incredibly difficult to grow up.” Her relationship with her father was “fueled by a hard love,” Johnson said. “My father was kicked out of his home when he was 13 and he was homeless, which then shaped the man who then raised me. And in this complication, then came an extraordinary life full of journeys. I lived in 13 different states when I was 13. I have also lived in New Zealand.

The series gave him the opportunity to appreciate the difficult times he and his family went through, Johnson said. Approaching the show, Johnson and the creative team decided to “reveal things” and also “talk about the good things. Because there were so many good things now when I look back on it, and the good things of. growing up in this wild world with these larger than life characters, all these men and women. My grandmother, to whom Ana Tuisila did a wonderful job, she was one of the first pioneering women in the world of professional wrestling.


Speaking about his father, Johnson continued, “My father passed away a year ago this month last year. He died suddenly. And he’s obviously present throughout the series, and Joseph Lee did a terrific job playing my dad. He would have loved that. He would have loved it, and he would have been so proud. Because for the first time, certainly in prime time, we’re presenting this world to which he and all his brothers in the ring, so to speak, of those men from the ’70s and’ 80s that they gave their lives to and, you know. , to present it like that and to present it through the prism of something positive, I know, would have meant a lot to my father. Because a lot of times the world of pro wrestling isn’t always looked at through this lens in a positive light, and there’s a lot of positive we can take from it. “

“Young Rock” will premiere at 8 p.m. on February 16 on NBC.

Kenan - Season 1

From left to right, Dani Lane as Aubrey, Kenan Thompson as Kenan, Chris Redd as Gary and Dannah Lane as Birdie in “Kenan”. (Photo: Casey Durkin / NBC)Casey Durkin / NBC

“Kenan”: NBC’s virtual press tour sessions also included a panel for “Kenan,” the comedy starring Kenan Thompson, who made his debut as a young performer in shows such as “All That” and “Kenan & Kel ”, and went on to become the longest-serving actor in“ Saturday Night Live ”history, having joined the series in 2003.

Starring in his own sitcom has also taken some time, and the version of “Kenan” that airs on NBC on February 16 will be the show’s third iteration, as two earlier concepts and actors have undergone changes.

Thompson stars as Kenan Williams, a widowed parent of two daughters, who hosts a morning TV show in Atlanta. The cast also includes Chris Redd, another cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” as Kenan’s brother, Don Johnson as stepfather, Dani Lane and Dannah Lane as his daughters, and Kimrie Lewis as his daughters. as the producer of her show.


Thompson and Redd both plan to stay as cast members on “Saturday Night Live,” at least for now. “There was a time when people left the show and started their careers,” Thompson said during the Zoom session. But he thinks it is possible to do both “as long as you can and then the start is natural.”

As with other shows, the filming of “Kenan” was impacted by security measures against coronaviruses. “Our team has been super-fooled in their work, and everyone has to do it on top of a pandemic and all these weird protocols where we can’t love each other the way we really want to, or be. in a whole room, instead of those weird squares, ”Thompson said. “But everyone is doing their best, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

While Thompson and Redd are comedy veterans, it’s a bit surprising to see Johnson, who has long been associated with drama, including his recent role on HBO’s “Watchmen,” appear on a sitcom. When a reporter asked Johnson how he came to do ‘Kenan’ he replied, ‘You know, that was at the start of the pandemic. I was making a movie. They unplugged the film. I still have to go back and finish five days on it. And I get a call from (executive producer of “Saturday Night Live”) Lorne Michaels, who I’ve known for a long time and we’re friends apart – you know, I admire him. And he said, ‘Let me send you something.’ And I watched it. And then Kenan and I had a phone call, and I felt instant chemistry with Kenan.

Coming up, Johnson said, is “incredibly happy, hard work,” and added, “I work with these guys who are so good and such professionals, and they come and get me and they support me.” Basically Johnson said, “I’m just looking at them and I’m like, ‘OK, I have to try to follow this. “

“Kenan” will premiere at 8:30 p.m. on February 16 on NBC.

More from our coverage:

Drama Inspired by “Silence of the Lambs” Queen Latifah as “The Equalizer”: Virtual TV Press Tour News

– Kristi Turnquist

[email protected] 503-221-8227 @Kristitturnquist


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