With the premiere of on NBC, a very different era of the professional wrestling industry is about to take center stage. Young Rock, as the title might hint, explores the life of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as an adolescent, long before he became the world’s biggest movie star and WWE’s People’s Champion. It’s set at three different times in Johnson’s life–ages 10, 15, and 18–and shows the highs and lows of pro wrestling in the ’70s and ’80s.
And who better person to show that industry to Johnson than his own father, “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson. In the series, actor Joseph Lee Anderson portrays the elder Johnson in a role that called on him to not only embody Rocky’s personality but also his in-ring skills. It wasn’t each for Anderson, but something he ultimately embraced–especially where Johnson’s over-the-top charisma is concerned.
“In real life, I’m very like a shy, introverted, dude,” the actor explained. “[Rocky] is not that at all.” Instead, Rocky projected the aura that he was the biggest star in the room, regardless of that room’s size.
“It didn’t matter if it was, you know, Madison Square Garden or at a flea market, Rocky was gonna give you a show that you were going to remember for the rest of your life,” Anderson said. “And he gave his all in everything he did. That was even when he was driving his truck. You know what I mean? That was just his mentality.”
For Anderson that meant “being as big as possible throughout the whole day.” It also meant making sure he could hold up his end of the bargain when it came to Rocky’s in-ring work. Throughout the series, he is seen wrestling a number of legends, from Andre the Giant and the Wild Samoans to “Macho Man” Randy Savage and the Iron Sheik.
In reality, the show was made up of a group of actors with little wrestling skill. They had a secret weapon, though. “Hats off to Chavo Guerrero. He was our wrestling coach, and he’s awesome. He definitely spent a lot of time working with me and all the guys actually to make sure we look like we know we were doing.”
This, of course, isn’t Guerrero’s first stint teaching actors to play wrestlers. He previously served as a fight coordinator on , so he has plenty of experience with teaching classic eras of pro wrestling. For Young Rock, though, it was a seemingly much shorter class.
“I think we got like three or four days to learn the basic moves with him,” Anderson said. “And then as the matches came, we got like two days to really get the match and learn the choreography and all that.”
That said, the actor admitted some of it came fairly easily. “I played basketball, so I already had that athletic base. Once he really taught it to me, I got it going [and] it was fun,” he explained.
Young Rock airs Tuesdays on NBC.