By Jeffrey Epstein
If Dwayne Johnson seems surprisingly comfortable around all things gay, there's a very simple reason: A gay man is responsible for making him into the Rock. Well, obviously Johnson himself is responsible for the ingenuity and dedicated training it took to create the WWF alter ego, which is better known than his real name. But it was a gay man who set Johnson, who plays a gay bodyguard and wannabe actor in this month's Be Cool, on his path to stardom.
'Pat Patterson was a father figure to me,' says Johnson of the gay former senior vice president of the World Wrestling Federation, who was a figure in the wrestling world for decades, first as a wrestler himself and then working on the business side of the sport. Johnson and I are sitting at Gigino, an Italian restaurant at the southern tip of Manhattan. He had flown in from a movie location in Prague for the weekend to celebrate his wife's birthday in Miami and was now in New York for one day before heading back to Europe. 'I've known Pat since I was born,' says Johnson, looking out at the Statue of Liberty as he dines on a plate of chicken breasts. 'He was my grandfather's best friend, so I was exposed to [diversity] at a very young age and how it isn't black or white, gay or straight. A good person is just a good person.'
Years later, Patterson definitely earned the title of 'good person' when Johnson asked his old friend to come see him wrestle. The Rock-to-be had already tried his luck at professional football in Canada, and when that didn't work out, he returned to Tampa, Fla., where his family was living, and started working the ring. Johnson recalls, 'I gave him a call, and I'll never forget it. 'Hey, Pat, I'm looking to break in to the business.''' Long pause. '''You have to be fucking kidding me.''' Johnson assured him he was not: 'I told him, 'I would love if you had any free time, five minutes, if you could come down to the gym, to the ring, and watch me work and tell me if I have any potential.''' So Patterson came down and watched Johnson go to the mat. 'I said, 'Do I have what it takes?' He asked if I was looking for him to call anybody, and I told him, 'No. I just want to know if I fucking suck.' He smiled and said, 'I think you're gonna be OK.''' Unbeknownst to Johnson, Patterson called Vince McMahon of the WWF that night, and within a week the Rock was having his first match in Corpus Christi, Texas. 'I kicked ass,' he says with a smile. 'So I'm very thankful to Pat.' (Patterson, whose sexual orientation has been discussed in the media, did not return calls seeking comment about himself or his long friendship with the Rock.)
So it's easy to understand why Johnson had absolutely no hesitation about playing Elliot in Be Cool, which stars John Travolta and Uma Thurman and is the sequel to 1995's Get Shorty. 'I was excited about the role,' he says with a big, warm smile that's about as far from his rambunctious Rock persona as Elliot is from him. 'The gay people in my life have all been such a positive influence in my life, and I'm a liberal guy. Well, I'm a conservative, but I'm a liberal guy when it comes to that.' In the film Elliot is the bodyguard for Vince Vaughn's Raji, a smarmy music manager who refuses to let go of a singer he's representing named Linda Moon (Christina Milian). Former mob enforcer Chili Palmer (Travolta), now a successful film producer and eager to move into the music industry, uses his brain'and his brawn'to get Linda out of her contract. Needless to say, Raji and his boss (played by Harvey Keitel) are not happy and try to make Elliot use his muscle to fix the situation. The only trouble is, Elliot wants to be an actor, and movie producer Palmer holds the key.
To read more about the Rock, pick up the March issue of Out.