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How Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Brought ‘Fighting With My Family’ to the Big Screen

Here's how the inspirational true story of Paige's WWE rise came to Hollywood.

Actors Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Lena Headey, Florence Pugh, Dwayne Johnson, Paige, executive producer Stephen Merchant, and actor Nick Frost pose for a photo at the special Sundance screening of 'Fighting with My Family' on January 28, 2019 in Park City
Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson knows what it’s like to grow up in a family of wrestlers. Johnson’s father and grandfather were both wrestlers, so when he first found out about the life story of Saraya Bevis, a.k.a. Paige, Johnson was immediately hooked in. That was the first step in bringing the new filmFighting With My Family to the big screen.

After a seeing documentary about Paige’s life story—The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family—while he was filming theFast & Furiousseries in London, Johnson felt like it was a story that should be told in feature form. Johnson, who is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, brought the idea to the leaders of his production company, Seven Bucks Productions, and put the wheels in motion.

“It had something special that resonated with me, and I thought it could be turned into a reallycompelling movie,” Johnson said, according to the press notes for the film. Instead of the big budget action productions that Johnson is used to, like theFast & Furious series,Jumanji, and the upcoming Jungle Cruise, this time around it would be more of an independent production. The film even screened at the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most well-known independent film festivals in the world.

Johnson brought in Stephen Merchant (The OfficeHello Ladies) to write and direct the film after previously working together as actors on the 2010 film Tooth Fairy. Actress Florence Pugh took on the task of playing Paige, while the rest of the cast was filled out by Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, and Johnson, who played himself in the film.

Since its release, the film has earned numerous positive reviews and has a 91 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad for an underdog story.

Here, the cast, Florence Pugh as well as Merchant and Paige herself discuss the making of the film.

Florence Pugh - Paige

Taking on the role of Paige was something actress Florence Pugh was very excited about, but she also knew she had to prepare well, because, as she puts it, she “didn't know anything about wrestling basically.” By the end of the project, Pugh gained a newfound admiration and respect for everyone in the profession.

“I didn’t know much at all about wrestling when I started,” Pugh said. “I didn't quite realize how hard the lifestyle is and how much preparation and work goes into it. It’s easy to watch and see how they move and they make it look easy, but then you get into the ring yourself and you realize how tough it is. They work all day everyday on their craft, they take hits and just keep going. I take my hat off to all the wrestlers out there.”

Pugh trained for weeks to get in shape for the film and learned all types of wrestling moves while preparing for the role. Some of Pugh’s favorite moments of the film were getting to shoot the family scenes.

“My favorites were all those family fighting scenes,” Pugh said. “When you talk to the real family, when they reminisce, you see their faces light up and you can see how happy it makes them to fight together. When we did those, it had that same feel, it was so great to film those scenes together. The film was fun to shoot, and it was important in how it shows the highs and lows of success and rejection. I hope people enjoy it and find their own lessons from it.”

Stephen Merchant - Director

Even for people not interested in wrestling, Merchant found that the story was one that many people could relate to. Merchant also was excited to tell Zak’s story alongside Paige, because his journey is also a big part of the overall story of Paige’s rise.

“There’s many strands to take away from Paige’s own story,” Merchant said. “Pursuing a dream and being true to who you are. Keeping her voice and embracing your inner self and who you are. Overall it’s a very heartening and motivating and inspiring story. Also with Zak’s story, it was interesting to look at what happens when your dream doesn't work out like you hoped it would, and how you can continue on that and still reach success in a different way.”

Merchant was also excited to work alongside Johnson again after appearing in Tooth Fairy with the actor in 2010. The director-writer said that Johnson was instrumental in helping him get a feel for the story and helped give some of his experiences with the wrestling world to keep things realistic.

“He got the project off the ground, was invested creative and emotionally,” Merchant said. “It was a big benefit and great resource to have. He took me to Wrestlemania, introduced me to Vince McMahon and the world of WWE. He would sit and explain the complications of the levels of reality and crafting a persona; it was great research. It was hard to write some of the scenes when Dwayne was playing Dwayne. He came back and wrote some of what you see in the movie off the cuff. In my eyes, when you have ‘The Rock’, you let ‘The Rock’ be 'The Rock.'”

Saraya-Jade Bevis - Paige - WWE Divas Champion

WWE superstar Paige already lived through the story told in Fighting With My Family, but seeing her life played out on the big screen for a movie was still an odd experience—but also a thrilling one.

“I’ve always been in front of the camera, but for it to become a movie is crazy and I never thought it would play out quite like this,” Paige said. “The whole experience has been crazy and it’s exciting to see the movie get good reviews and for everyone being able to relate to the story. It totally blows my mind how it happened. I was such a fan of Stephen’s and with Dwayne coming in, it’s surreal and I can’t even really wrap my head around it [laughs].”

When translating real-life stories to the big screen, oftentimes things can get changed around for dramatic effect and to help with the story. There wasn’t much of that for this film, and Paige said the filmmakers tried their best to make things as true as possible.

“I got to speak with Stephen constantly,” Paige said. “They wanted it to be as true story as possible, we got to sit down and know exactly how things happened, and he did an incredible job and so did the actors. It was wonderful sitting next to Florence and watching it—so bizarre, but awesome. The first time I watched it I was such a blubbering mess.”

“I just want people to be inspired and never give up on your dreams,” Paige said. “If you work hard enough, be completely yourself, never change, you can do a lot. Also, when it comes to my brother, anyone’s level of success shouldn't be measured by fame or cameras, it’s more about the success in whatever you do, be successful and my brother wanted to be and he is. The movie is for everyone even if you're not a wrestling fan, it’s a warm, beautiful movie.”

Jack Lowden - Zak "Zodiac" Bevis
 
To prepare for his role as Zak, Paige’s brother and fellow wrestling hopeful, actor Jack Lowden trained hard alongside his co-star Florence Pugh. The two did a wide range of different kinds of workouts, including CrossFit training, and beefed up from around 175 pounds to about 200 pounds over the course of his prep.
 
“We were working out twice a day, early and in the afternoon, for about seven weeks,” Lowden said. “We did some CrossFit training in North London, and I had never done that type of work before, so it kicked the crap out of me pretty hard. We were doing 5 meals a day, but it was all fantastic and really helped us get into the roles.”
 
Lowden was excited to have “The Rock” in the film and he also found exploring the world of wrestling interesting and how much preparation goes into the work by the wrestlers.
 
“I only shot for one day with him, and it was early in the shoot for me, so I was still trying to figure out how to play the role, and he was totally invaluable in helping out and giving advice. It was amazing working with him,” Lowden said. “It was also interesting to see all the prep that goes into the wrestling work, and not just the physical stuff, but things like the monologues and everything else, it really is the ultimate crossover of athlete and actor. I’m excited for people to see the film.” 

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