Only in Hollywood

[Only IN Hollywood] When Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt tease each other on set, who wins?

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] When Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt tease each other on set, who wins?

CHEMISTRY. "Ultimately, it’s a love story," Emily Blunt said of 'Jungle Cruise' where she is paired with Dwayne Johnson. On set, they swapped humorous jabs at each other.


Dwayne and Emily say Jungle Cruise was done in the spirit of 'Indiana Jones,' 'Romancing the Stone,' and 'The African Queen'

The playful banter between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt on the Jungle Cruise set in “exotic” Atlanta hopefully translates into the big screen.

Interviewed together in 2018 at Blackhall Studios, the two charismatic leads of the movie inspired by the theme ride at Disneyland were fun, wisecracking, and often teased each other.

After filming outdoors on the island of Kauai (subbing for the Amazon) in Hawaii, Dwayne and Emily, the rest of the cast and crew moved to Atlanta to finish shooting the action-adventure directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

The actor, also known as The Rock, and the actress behind the two A Quiet Place megahits play a skipper and a doctor-researcher, respectively, who travel down the Amazon in his rickety boat to search for an ancient tree with supposedly healing abilities.

Disney promises a “rollicking thrill-ride down the Amazon” in the movie that also stars Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.

Dwayne and Emily like to tout that Jungle Cruise was done in the spirit of Indiana JonesRomancing the Stone and the John Huston classic with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen.

To capture the lively banter between Dwayne and Emily, I kept the Q and A format in the following excerpts (edited for brevity). Who wins in the repartee game?

“It was important for us to find the right woman for this role and in my mind, it truly was always Emily,” Dwayne Johnson says about his co-star.
Q: What are you shooting today?

Emily (E): We’re having a bit of a squabble today.

Dwayne (D): Yeah, we’re having a squabble. This is it…first fight.

Q: In the treehouse? That’s an impressive set.

E: It is. It’s an ankle twister but it’s very beautiful. It’s a very uneven turf.

D: So yeah, we have a big fight today and for the record, I win.

E: No, I win.

D: She wins.

Q: Emily, it’s nice that you can actually talk out loud, unlike your last role.

E: That was A Quiet Place reference. (To Dwayne) I don’t know if you saw the movie…

D: Didn’t see it.

E: It kind of did well.

D: (Laughs) Didn’t see it.

Q: Can you talk about the trajectory of the story and how your characters intertwine?

E: Yeah, so Doctor Lily Houghton is sort of a tenacious, heedless, exciting character, an adventurous spirit. She meets her antithesis in Frank (Dwayne’s character).

Frank is the skipper of this boat that she needs to get her down the Amazon. It’s a miracle the boat even gets them down there from what it looks like. But it’s very charming, very sweet.

Frank is cynical and not hopeful, not like Lily at all. So they do have this fairly contentious relationship at first but it’s quite delightful to watch and certainly for us to play. Both of them have become quite addicted to that sense of going head to head against each other.

They have met their match in each other. It’s the most unlikely pairing so we’ve really enjoyed playing all the different levels of this. Ultimately, it’s a love story.

D: Emily has really enjoyed it, for sure.

E: Dwayne…

D: Somewhat enjoyed it.

E: I’ve really enjoyed working with Dwayne. He’s just the best.

D: That’s what I was getting at, actually.

Jack Whitehall and Emily Blunt play siblings who go on an adventure in the Amazon in ‘Jungle Cruise.’
Q: And your attraction to the story?

D: It just came down to the timing and the opportunity. Jungle Cruise (the ride) was Walt Disney’s baby. In 1955, when he first opened the park, it was his way of bringing the safari to the people here in the States who couldn’t necessarily go overseas and travel.

This [movie] has been on their radar for some time. They were just waiting for the right opportunity in terms of cracking the proper story. Sometimes it happens right away and sometimes it happens decades later. But the story and everything came together creatively. Then we got together and we had a pretty good meeting.

E: It was fine.

D: I thought it went wonderful.

E: (Laughs) I took a while to sign on but…

D: Yes, she took eight months. No, no, no.

E: (Laughs) No.

D: It was very quick.

Q: Can you talk about the choice of Jaume Collet-Serra as the director? He normally doesn’t do comedy.

E: We could talk about Jaume all day till the sky goes dark. We are both madly in love with him. He’s an extraordinary and quite a rare combination of someone whose ideas visually are so elevated and yet he gives us the most thoughtful, beautiful notes.

He understands the emotionality of every scene. You may not think of Jaume to do a comedy. He actually is so funny, really understands comedy and the spontaneity of it. So it allows us to stretch the scenes around and improvise.

He is so giving and generous. Truly, if I could do every movie with Jaume, I would be so happy.

D: One of the deciding factors with Jaume – and there were a lot of directors who had their hands up for this opportunity – as he was pitching us the story, ultimately when I asked, “Well, what’s our story about? What’s our anchoring asset to deal with the story?”

He said, “Well, the story is about love.” That informed the kind of movie we were going to make and how everything was driven out of love. And here we are.

Q: What did you like about the script when you first read it?

E: When I got sent this script, they said in the pitch, “It really is a two-hander and Dwayne Johnson is in the movie.” I said, “Who is that guy (laughs)? He sounds new – is he new to the scene?”

I’ve been told that many movies are a two-hander. Then it turns out you’re the girl in Dwayne Johnson’s movie. So I was a little cynical when I started reading the script. (To Dwayne) Actually, I think you’re the girl in this movie.

D: I am the girl.

E: What I realized in the opening of the film is that she is this Indiana Jones-esque character. She’s completely reckless, funny and imperfect.

I really did fall for her as a person. There was something about her reckless and heedless qualities. And how positive she is and how rare for her in the time she was in. It’s set in 1916. She’s not conforming to anything that women had to do in those times. So it was an instant yes for me, wanting to play somebody like that.

D: It was important to all us, certainly important to Emily, to take on this role. (To Emily) I should say and she knows this (laughs), you probably know what’s coming, it was always…

E: Don’t say anything nice (laughs).

D: I won’t. It was important for us to find the right woman for this role and in my mind, it truly was always Emily.

Q: Wikipedia says it’s Dwayne’s character who plays the Indiana Jones-like character.

E: Dwayne wishes. You know what I mean.

D: Badly.

E: I mean, does his hat look like Indiana Jones’?

Q: If you are dropped off in the Amazon, how well would you do?

E: Oh, I would die for sure. I don’t know how well I would do in that.

D: I wouldn’t let you die, though.

E: I’m saying if I were alone.

D: I know but I’m saying you wouldn’t be alone because we’re making this whole thing up now.

E: If Dwayne were with me, I would probably stand quite a good chance of surviving. I don’t know how well I’d do, to be honest with you.

Jack Whitehall, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson promise ‘a rollicking thrill-ride down the Amazon’ in ‘Jungle Cruise.’
Q: But are you adventurous?

E: Yeah, quite, yeah.

D: Yeah, like how?

E: Well…(laughs). No, I am quite adventurous.

D: She’s very adventurous to take on this role. When we created our set in Hawaii, it was truly one of the most spectacular sets ever built, honestly in the history of Hollywood. We were just so blown away.

The set was so massive, epic and beautiful that you just can’t help but really get into your own sense of adventure. Emily was game from day one and hasn’t stopped since.

Her character is a doctor, inspired in the Indiana Jones spirit of discovery, adventure, wisdom and badassery.

E: That’s a word, by the way.

D: What?

E: Badassery.

D: I know.

E: Officially, it’s now a word.

D: I just made it up.

E: It was great.

D: You’re welcome. I’m fortunate enough to get hired by her because she’s my boss.

E: You mean in real life?

D: In real…can we keep that between us? She’s my boss in real life.

Q: Dwayne, I heard you’re afraid of spiders.

D: No, I’m not.

E: Yeah, I think you are.

D: I’m not afraid of spiders. (To Emily) Don’t say that because I’m not. I’m gonna get spiders in my trailer.

E: For sure, by the way.

Q: You both mentioned this movie is essentially a love story. What is the essence of love?

E: Oh, this question. What a big question. Oh, gosh. That’s so big and I’m from England. I don’t do very well with this kind of talk (laughs). Dwayne, what’s the essence of love?

D: The essence of love…let’s see. Gosh.

E: I don’t know. It’s too overwhelming, ethereal and hard to sum up, isn’t it?

D: In a way…we’ll talk about the first time you met me.

E: No.

Q: Talk about your chemistry.

E: We have talked about chemistry and I do feel that I really hit the jackpot with you (to Dwayne). Because it is one of those things that you don’t know if you’re gonna have chemistry with someone.

D: Yeah.

E: And it’s not just necessarily between a guy and a girl. It’s like you have chemistry with someone playing your mom, dad or sister. But especially in a love story, you need to have that chemistry because what’s interesting to watch actually is the space between people.

It’s not necessarily his line or my line. It’s what happens, the sparkle, what happens between them.

D: Essence of love.

E: That’s the essence of love, right?

D: That’s pretty good. In a roundabout way.

E: It’s the space between, right? It’s not something you can bottle up and sell. Chemistry is not something you have with everybody. You can fake it – it’s not as fun but you can do that and I have done that.

But there’s been certain films where I haven’t had to do that. It’s just been way more exciting to do the scene because you can play off each other in such an intrinsic way. You start to have a secret language as the characters and it’s just really exciting.

D: Like Emily was saying, you never know how things are gonna work out. I’ve been a fan of her work for many years.

Fortunately, it really worked out the way it did in terms of the chemistry because we knew early on that there was a lot of inspiration pulled from The African QueenRomancing the Stone to Indiana Jones. When it comes to movies like this, Disney does it very well.

So there was that awareness and a little bit of that pressure. We lucked out. I hit the jackpot too, as well. She’s great.

Emily: She’s alright.

Jaume Collet-Serra directs Dwayne Johnson on ‘Jungle Cruise’ set. Photo courtesy of Disney.
Q: As a young man or woman, did you dream about going to the Amazon River? And now, you’re in a movie set on that river.

E: I’ve never been to the Amazon. (To Dwayne) You’ve never been, right?

D: No.

E: When we were growing up, my parents were so wonderful in the sense of taking us on really extraordinary trips. My dad would save all the money and take us to Egypt, South Africa, Australia, Morocco, and Israel.

So I grew up going to these really incredible countries and immersing in different kinds of cultures and being interested. Even if on some days, when I was a bratty 13-year-old, my mom would be dragging us to some ancient ruins in Crete or wherever it was.

That’s really been instilled in me from a young age – that need to travel, see other worlds and the possibility of what’s out there. I have yet to go to the Amazon but it’s on the bucket list.

D: By the way, it’s a special time in our movie because it’s 1916. In the Amazon, that was a very unique time before some commercialism had gone into it. We’ve talked about this on the first or second week on set when we were in Hawaii since it was doubling for the Amazon.

It’s really the kind of movie that dreams are made out of…We’re in Hollywood and we make these movies. This kind of movie is one of those big adventure, fun movies. We get an opportunity to get transported to the Amazon and have this relationship. And I have this amazing, terrible looking boat that barely runs.

Q: Can you talk about shooting on the boat? I heard there’s a wave effect that gives you motion sickness.

E: Dwayne does.

D: Uh, well.

E: Dwayne needs a little Dramamine now and then.

D: Dwayne doesn’t need Dramamine.

E: Dwayne…

D: Dwayne’s fine.

E: Dwayne had to take a couple of pee breaks.

D: Long pee breaks.

E: Very long pee breaks.

D: Wow, everybody take a thirty (laughs).

Q: What was it like to be on the gimbal that makes the water splash?

D: Oh man, they’re spectacular.

E: It’s fun, actually.

D: We built this very big tank.

E: I really like those scenes.

D: There are big waves in the tank and we get on the boat.

E: And they shoot like water cannons at us so we’re just getting attacked from all sides as they’re tipping the boat. There’s not much acting that goes into it. I was genuinely screaming when I shot by the water cannon.

D: And Jaume oftentimes won’t tell us, which is nice.

E: He’ll just surprise us. It’s awful, yeah.

D: But in terms of the cache of La Quila and having this iconic boat that means so much to a lot of generations, it’s special to us. It’s very cool. The set designer [Jean-Vincent Puzos] really builds spectacular sets. The boat is fantastic.

E: It’s so charming and nostalgic. It’s so sweet, this boat. It’s like Frank’s heart and soul have gone into this boat. It’s held together with duct tape and spit but it’s so charming. It really is. –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.