How does an actor play the dad of one of the greatest entertainers of our era? That’s the question that Joseph Lee Anderson answers every week. On NBC‘s sitcom Young Rock, he portrays Rocky Johnson—champion wrestler and father of Dwayne Johnson, who’d go on to become “The Rock.” Rocky was a legend in his own right (he was the first African-American to be Georgia Heavyweight Champion), and Young Rock does a wonderful job when it depicts the complex relationship between father and son.
In this week’s episode (entitled “What Business?”) Rocky agrees to help train his son to follow him into the wrestling world. Dwayne’s dreams of playing professional football have been dashed, and he thinks he could have a career in the family business. However, just because the two have the same goal doesn’t mean they have the same approach. Joseph joined me to talk about filming the episode and his overall experience portraying Rocky as the show continues its second season.
Brittany Frederick: The central relationship in Young Rock is between Dwayne and his father, who’s an important athlete in his own right. What does it mean to you to portray Rocky Johnson?
Joseph Lee Anderson: This has been one of the funnest characters and shows I’ve ever gotten to be a part of. Bonding so closely with all the Rocks—Uli [Latukefu], Adrian [Groulx] and Bradley [Constant]—and Stacey [Leilua, who plays Dwayne’s mother Ata] and Ana [Tuisila, who portrays Ata’s mom Lia]…We just all love each other as a cast. It has been really, really awesome.
BF: Does your approach to the character change because you’re portraying a real person, as opposed to someone who’s made up for television?
JLA: That’s what I usually do because I’ve played real people before. If it’s a drama, I basically try to be a clone to that person. But for this, it’s a comedy, so I was always told that funny wins and I just try to be as funny as I can. I take little mannerisms that Dwayne told me about; we try to incorporate that in the show. And obviously I had to work out a lot and try to get as big as I can. I’m not walking around trying to be a clone of Rocky Johnson. When I portray Rocky, there’s a bit of Rocky, then there’s a bit of my dad and a bit of my uncle. I try to take a lot of things from a lot of people.
BF: Since Young Rock is your first comedy as a series regular, has it been more challenging or more of an adjustment than doing a drama?
JLA: I’m naturally a pretty goofy guy, silly guy, so I feel like it comes natural to me. But there are times when you get a line and it’s like, “I don’t think I’m being funny.” And then you freak out on set. You talk to directors and you’re like, “What’s going on? Something’s not right. I’m messing up.” (laughs) But in the end, we have such amazing writers, amazing directors and it just works so well that the actors don’t even really have to try that hard, because everything else is just set up so beautifully.
I’ve always done drama. I’ve never gotten to really flex the comedy muscle, and this has given me the opportunity to do that, so that’s been amazing. I’ve also never been the lead of a show, so learn what comes with that has also been fun and challenging.
BF: This upcoming episode particularly focuses on the relationship between Rocky and Dwayne as they try to train together. How would you describe the episode overall?
JLA: This is a really good episode. It’s funny because Uli and I, that’s like my big brother. We’re never like what you saw in the episode in real life, so that was different. I feel like Rocky was almost challenging Dwayne when that was happening. So in a sense I was challenging Uli like, “Oh you think you’re so big? Well, let’s see how big and tough you really are.”
We were very concerned about getting it right for Dwayne and the family. Wanted to make sure that this is zeroed in, this is right, how was the wrestling, everything. We wanted to make sure that was moreso correct. But we never really got super-emotional, because it is a comedy at the end of the day. Even though we touch on some pretty deep topics, we’ll do a take and then the director’s like, “Guys, let’s pull it back, pep it up a little bit.”
BF: What makes Young Rock successful is that chemistry between the cast. It does feel like a family. How would you describe working with this group of people?
JLA: Stacey and Uli, they’re so, so good. We’ll be doing scenes and they break out in tears and I’m like, “Dang, I wish I could cry like that.” (laughs) Everyone makes everybody step up and bring their ‘A’ game. We’re always feeding off each other. We’re always pushing each other, and it’s really beautiful to work with.
BF: How would you say Rocky has evolved in Season 2 as you’ve gotten to spend more time playing the character?
JLA: I think we show a lot more of his vulnerability. We show more of Rocky in his lows and his highs. But at the same time, Rocky’s still going to be Rocky. It’s been fun filming this and mapping out this character. I’m excited to see where we go, hopefully, if we get a third season.
BF: Have you thought about anything specific you’d like to see in a potential Season 3? Aspects of Rocky you’d like to explore more or things that you’d be excited to try?
JLA: I try not to because when I start trying to think like that I really get in my head, so I just let it go. Once we wrap, I’m just, “All right. There it is.” But yeah, it’s such a cool show, with the wrestling. I hope we can continue to do that. I hope we can bring in even more wrestlers, because the fans really love all the new wrestlers when they pop up. That’d be nice.
There is a wrestling scene that has not aired yet, that is going to be very, very fun. I can say it’s a Rocky and Tony Atlas match. It is going to be pretty dope.
Young Rock airs Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. Fans can catch up on past episodes via NBC’s streaming service Peacock.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.