Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Kiwi upbringing: ‘New Zealand will always be a special place’

American-born actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is known for his proud Samoan heritage – but it turns out New Zealand also has a special place in his heart.

The Hollywood actor revealed his nostalgia for Aotearoa in a surprise chat with The Hits radio hosts Ben Boyce and Jono Pryor.

The Rock is currently promoting his new Disney film Jungle Cruise alongside co-star actress Emily Blunt.

And Boyce’s co-host Pryor organised a huge surprise for him, setting up a Zoom call with the Hollywood stars at Wellington’s Roxy Theatre.

During the hilarious chat, the stars were asked what would be the first thing they’d do if they travelled to New Zealand on a jungle cruise of their own.

And Johnson revealed that he would take Blunt to his “favourite spot to have some drinks”.

The star then opened up about the time he spent in New Zealand when he was young, recalling, “I used to live in New Zealand, I did a lot of growing up in New Zealand.”

“Our economy has been trading off the fact that Dwayne Johnson spent a couple of years in New Zealand, for about 20 years,” Pryor joked.

“It’s the coolest thing to happen to us since we found sheep in the country,” Boyce added.

But Johnson’s connection to Aotearoa turned out to be a deeply personal one which he shared gave him an experience like nothing before.

“I have a lot of family in New Zealand. I went to school in New Zealand, I went to Richmond Road and I lived in Grey Lynn and New Zealand will always be a special place to me.

“I’m an only child but in New Zealand was when we lived together with my grandparents, my Samoan side of the family … brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles and everybody. It was the first time I experienced multi-generational living, in that family,” he shared.

The Samoan star doesn’t hesitate to use his social media following to reach out to fans.

In November 2020, he responded to an open letter from 5-year-old Angelou from Christchurch, who reached out to ask him to support She is Not Your Rehab, the movement against domestic violence.

In an emotional response, the actor said the Samoan-Kiwi boy reminded him of himself “when I was your age”, calling Angelou and his father’s charity an “inspiration … to myself and our Aiga [family].”

In 2019 Dwayne Johnson called Samoa “a proud culture”, when publicising the film Hobbs & Shaw, set in Samoa. “The pressure was on not to screw it up,” he told Newshub.

“The pride I can feel from Polynesians around the world – certainly in Auckland, where I used to live – is so strong.”

During the rest of Boyce and Pryor’s interview with Blunt and Johnson, Boyce also revealed his tattoo tribute to the Hollywood actor.

“Dwayne, this is either going to make you very impressed or it’s going to creep you out to the point where you’re going to end this Zoom call,” Pryor joked.

“Ben Boyce is a mega-fan, so much so that I made him get this on his left bottom cheek … can you see that?”

“We saw that!” Blunt exclaimed before The Rock brought up the video clip of the tattoo on his phone and showed the radio hosts.

“I’ve been holding on to this video for I think a month and a half, two months, and I haven’t posted it,” Johnson revealed.

“And now I’m glad I didn’t post it, now we’ve had the chance to meet. Now when I do post it I can give proper context, I’ve actually met the man who did it. Thank you for doing that brother, I really appreciate it.”

Disney’s Jungle Cruise is in cinemas from July 29.

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