In his latest movie, “The Tooth Fairy,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a hockey player on a fictional minor league team called the Lansing Ice Wolves.
One of the Wolves’ regular opponents is the Fort Wayne Roughnecks.
The film opens Friday.
Yet again, Fort Wayne has been referenced in a Hollywood script.
In the 2008 film “The Rocker,” a rock band scheduled a concert at Fort Wayne’s Tiger Room (a venue that did not exist then but does now).
And who can forget such wildly divergent characters as Maj. Frank Burns of “M*A*S*H” and Col. George Taylor of “Planet of the Apes,” both of whom hailed (for indistinct narrative purposes) from Fort Wayne?
The latest reference is likely not based on firsthand knowledge of the city, although the screenwriters certainly seem at least passingly familiar with minor league hockey in the Midwest.
The entire film was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia.
In a phone interview last week, Johnson revealed that he got to know Fort Wayne pretty well back in his days as a professional wrestler.
“I know Fort Wayne from way back,” Johnson said. “Fort Wayne is a town where we would frequently go. I’d always have a great time.”
Johnson said wrestling fans in smaller cities like Fort Wayne tend to show their enthusiasm in more uninhibited ways.
“They’d generally have a bit more passion,” he says. “When I came there to perform, it was always something very special.”
Johnson said one of the “cool slash absurd” catch phrases of his alter-ego “The Rock” worked particularly well in Fort Wayne.
“I’d say, ‘Finally The Rock has come back to … ’ and then I’d say the name of the city,” he said. “It was great that Fort Wayne had two words. I could break it up and build the anticipation. I’d say ‘Fort’ and then pause for a long time, sort of milking the cow. Then I’d finally let fly with ‘Wayne!’ ”
Johnson may know Fort Wayne, but he admits he didn’t know much about hockey when he started to prepare for “The Tooth Fairy,” in which he plays a mean-spirited hockey star sentenced to time as a tooth fairy.
The former collegiate football star and Canadian Football League player had seen only one live hockey game and had never strapped on ice skates.
“I grew up in Hawaii and the South,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of snow for me to be around. It was pretty foreign to me.”
Within a second of stepping out on the ice for the first time, Johnson took a bad spill.
“I thought I’d separated my head from my spine,” he said. “It was a sobering moment. I quickly realized that was going to be next to impossible in a two-week period to take someone who had never skated and make it look like he’d been skating since he was 5.”
Professional movie sports coordinator Mark Robert Ellis (“We Are Marshall,” “Miracle” and “The Rookie”) helped Johnson get to the point where he could skate smoothly.
Two award-winning figure skaters and one hockey player, all unidentified by Johnson, provided additional aid.
Johnson said the movie gave him a new respect for hockey players.
“It really opened my eyes to the speed of the game and the intensity of the game and the incredible collisions of the game,” he said. “It’s astonishing how little padding hockey players wear.”
The actor said he has spent time in the company of athletes all his life – football players, wrestlers, mixed martial artists and stuntmen – and hockey players are unique.
“Hockey players are the craziest,” he said.
Johnson’s character in the movie is a bit of a hockey goon, and Johnson spent some time in the company of actual players who might be so described.
“They’re some pretty tough guys,” he said.
“The Tooth Fairy,” which Johnson says was initially developed for actor Jack Black, is another in an ever-lengthening line of family films that feature Johnson.
Johnson said this doesn’t mean he has turned his back on the action genre.
Next up for him is “Faster,” in which Johnson plays an ex-con bent on avenging the death of his brother.
The film also stars Billy Bob Thornton and Salma Hayek, Johnson said, and is a throwback to gritty action movies of the ’60s and ’70s like “Bullitt.”
Johnson said he loves making movies that are appropriate for all ages but “there’s nothing like kicking ass.”