The Rock returns to the U

On what condition did Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson threaten to revoke part of his family’s two-million dollar gift to the University of Miami?

“If they lose one more game, I’m gonna take a million dollars back,” The Rock said to much laughter and a smattering of applause at the premiere of his new film Gridiron Gang at Sunset Place on Friday night. The event was held as a precursor to a presentation of a check to the University for the donation from The Rock and his wife, fellow UM alum Dany Johnson.

On an otherwise standard evening, Sunset Place was abuzz as towering news trucks pulled between stores and photographers fidgeted for position along a thin red carpet, as an excited crowd gathered to watch the unexpected event. The Rock played defensive tackle for the Hurricanes, graduating in 1996, and celebrating both the movie’s release and their donation toward the UM Alumni Center, the power couple was in good spirits as they answered press questions and introduced the film with another UM alum, renowned entertainment reporter Jeanne Wolf.

“It [the University of Miami] made a huge impact, looking back, not only did we meet there but it did shape two young teenagers into the people we are today,” Dany said.

According to Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations Donna Arbide, Dany is now on the Board of Trustees and very involved with the school.

“Dwayne, for every one of his movies, he reaches back out to the South Florida community,” Arbide said.

Gridiron Gang explores the true story of a teen correctional facility officer (Sean Porter, played by The Rock) who starts a football program in order to better rehabilitate prisoners.

On Saturday, Cosford Cinema held a Q&A session and screening of the movie for students. The film was more serious than past fare for The Rock, as Gridiron Gang is less a football film than it is a drama, and The Rock commented on his personal connection to the grim subject of the movie.

“With multiple arrests by the time I was 17, I understood what it was like to be one of those kids who failed, who expected to fail week in and week out,” The Rock said. “Fortunately, like those kids in the movie, I had my own Sean Porter; I had a guy who cared about me, my arresting officer. I also had a great high school football coach as well.”

The Rock discussed the difficulty of portraying a real person and ensuring the film would do him – and more importantly, the kids represented – justice. While The Rock had the most experience of the lead actors in the cast, he said working with young actors wasn’t too much of a challenge.

“When you work with younger actors, there’s a hunger factor there; they’re on the grind, they’re trying to make it,” The Rock said.

The event Saturday was a departure from Friday’s premiere – at the AMC the couple was in full formal mode, compared to the jeans and a white t-shirt The Rock wore on Saturday. Dany pointed out to a companion where she and The Rock attended most of their classes, and instead of Telemundo and Deco Drive stopping the Johnsons for interviews, Saturday’s showing was attended by students whose questions were slightly unconventional.

One student requested an “If you smell what The Rock is cooking,” another asked for a raising of The People’s Eyebrow and a third asked for a job. The Rock avoided all three as he and Dany emphasized the positive message of the film and joked about Doom.

“Thank you forgiving me for that movie, by the way,” The Rock said. “I was bored.”

The Rock’s next movie is a family comedy from Disney in which The Rock plays a professional quarterback who unexpectedly adds a daughter to his entourage. During rehearsals, The Rock tore his Achilles’ tendon and despite four knee surgeries and a complete reconstruction of his shoulder while playing football at Miami, The Rock said there’s “no pain like snapping your Achilles’ tendon.”

“I bleed orange and green,” The Rock said. “The University of Miami shaped me. It made me into the person I am today. When you get out into the real world, continue to bust your ass. There’s no substitute for hard work.”

Nate Harris may be contacted at