For the last decade, the Rock has obsessed over Black Adam, the super-powered DC antihero who boasts the strength of Superman — and a decidedly murkier moral code. The actor has spent the last 10 years trying to bring the cape-clad Adam to the screen, so when EW met with Johnson and the cast in early October, just a few weeks before the film’s Oct. 21 release date, a congratulatory toast was definitely in order.
EW sat down with Johnson and the members of the Justice Society of America — Aldis Hodge (Hawkman), Pierce Brosnan (Dr. Fate), Noah Centineo (Atom Smasher), and Quintessa Swindell (Cyclone) — to break down DC’s latest blockbuster, which introduces a new pantheon of heroes. Johnson’s Jungle Cruise director Jaume Collet-Serra helms the new film, which follows the 5,000-year-old Adam as he returns to his fictional homeland of Kahndaq, facing off against the JSA and dealing out his particular brand of brutal justice.
Black Adam may be a grim figure, but the cast was all smiles when they gathered at the Wasp in a Wig speakeasy at the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, teasing each other about their costumes and stunt skills as only a close-knit superhero team can. Together, they shared three rounds of drinks (made with Johnson’s Teremana tequila) and opened up about the pros and cons of superheroism.
“What a cast, huh?” Johnson marveled as he clinked glasses with his costars. “Look at this. I’m so lucky.”
ROUND 1: TEQUILA HIGHBALL
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dwayne, this is a character you have wanted to play for the last decade. What was going through your head when you finally stepped on the Black Adam set, wearing the costume?
NOAH CENTINEO: [Slurps loudly]
DWAYNE JOHNSON: Really? Already done?
CENTINEO: That’s really good. It’s 5 o’clock, right?
JOHNSON: It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. I’ll drink to that. [Laughs] But you know, when I first stepped on set, it was like a real holy s— factor. [Aldis] says it best when he says, “We didn’t put on costumes. We put on dreams.” And it was truly a dream come true.
When I stepped on set, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was thinking, Wow, there’s no reference to Black Adam before this. I’m the first one to bring life to this character. There are no other actors before me. So, I step on set, and within two minutes, I look up, and I see the entire JSA in full costume. Again, it hit me, like, Wow, this is the first time that all of these guys have been on screen. It was a real moment of gratitude for me, and to be with these guys.
For the members of the JSA, what was that moment like for you? What was it like putting on those costumes?
ALDIS HODGE: It is a surreal moment. You think about what you’re about to take on and the opportunity laid down in front of you: what you’re going to represent, who you’re going to represent. The fact that we get to don these superhero costumes is rare air. As an entertainer and as an actor, that alone is awesome. But it’s also about what it means to other kids who look like you. This is why I say, you’re putting on dreams.
I spent many years trying to join this kind of world. I spent many years getting told, “No, you can’t do this because of who you are, what you look like.” You’re not accepted, and you’re not valued. And you finally get to a place where you realize all those nos were actually yeses. It takes time to mature and graduate. Your opportunity takes time to align with the right people, with the right mind. And [Dwayne] was the right brother to do it. There are no mistakes. For him, there were 10 years of trying to push this thing out. That was 10 years of constant, consistent work. Had I got any yes prior to this, this wouldn’t have been for me. So, I think that it was all relevant because we have a grander goal with the story that we’re bringing out. There’s a bigger purpose here, and I can’t wait ’til we realize that Oct. 21.
JOHNSON: I’ll drink to that.
Pierce, I have to ask about the helmet. Did you spend a lot of time in the Dr. Fate helmet, or was that mostly CGI?
BROSNAN: It was mostly CGI, yeah. There were two helmets. There was this exquisite helmet, which he carries all the time and that’s by his side. The aesthetics of that were so beautiful. Jaume asked for my input into what the helmet should look like. I said it should look sleek and elegant. He showed me photographs of the [original design], and it looked like some kind of golden bag or something. It just didn’t make sense. It was just totally inarticulate.
So there was that helmet, and then there was one that I actually physically put on my head. But as soon as you put it on your head, you can’t see a darn thing. It’s just darkness. [Laughs] And then there was my mo-cap suit.
QUINTESSA SWINDELL: Skintight!
BROSNAN: I’ll drink to that one. I have skinny ankles. Aristocratic Irish ankles. [Laughs] But the first day of working was really powerful. I was so honored to get this job. I couldn’t believe it when it came down the pike. It was the last thing I expected at this time in my life. [Turns to Johnson] Thank you so much for putting your trust and faith in me.
JOHNSON: There’s no one better to play Dr. Fate, truly on this planet or in our industry.
BROSNAN: Cheers, mate. I appreciate it. That first day of seeing you on the set was just epic. Monolithic. You came on, you held the space, and you led us all with such charm and dignity and humor and grace. We became a family. We became a good unit because of you and your dreams.
Quintessa, this is the big-screen debut of Cyclone. I love the way this character moves and uses her powers. Tell us a little bit about figuring out the physicality of playing Cyclone.
SWINDELL: For me, for any character, the physicality is the most important thing. It’s figuring out all the elements that contribute to how this person walks into a space, how they interact with the space, how they embody it. For me, that’s always been a little bit shaky personally — deciding to actively take up space, rather than standing in the background and letting people do their thing. But I wanted to feel like I’m here, and I have something to contribute. And that’s exactly what Cyclone is about.
Noah, this is also the debut of Atom Smasher, who is new to the hero game. What excited you most about playing this character?
CENTINEO: The way in is super cool, right? You have a young metahuman who has never seen the field before, but he comes from a family of superheroes. His Uncle Al is the original Atom, and his grandfather, under a precarious situation, was a villain. There’s a bit of shame in that. So, there’s a lot going on when you’re building the psychological profile of this young metahuman. He really learns what it means to be a superhero over the course of this film.
HODGE: I’m going to drink to him working the word “precarious” into his answer.
CENTINEO: I learned to read the other day, bro.
HODGE: I’m so proud of you.
CENTINEO: I read! Sometimes.
BROSNAN: It’s so funny. My son, Paris, when he found out that I was working with you, he was over the moon. He’s 21. He was like, “You’re working with Noah!”
JOHNSON: The screams in Mexico for Noah! It was deafening.
HODGE: “Noah, I love you! Noah!”
JOHNSON: I started screaming, too. We all started screaming.
ROUND 2: ADAM’S MARGARITA
There are some pretty delightful action set pieces in this film. For all of you, what was the new skill that you learned, or the stunt that you’re really proud of?
SWINDELL: C’mon, Al. You loved being up in the air.
HODGE: I was most proud that I didn’t scream every time they dropped me from 50 feet in the air. The first time up, I’m 50 feet off the ground. I’m hanging up there. I’m rethinking every choice in my life. I’m having some real conversations with God at this point. But I see the entire stunt team on the ground, and they live this life. So you can’t say, “Hey guys, slow down, wait a minute.” You’ve got to man up because your boys are down there, and you know they’re going to make fun of you if you do not come through. But I was able to challenge every single fear that I had. I was like, of all the superheroes, I’ve got to be the one that flies? Lord knows, me and heights, we’re not friends like that. [Laughs]
I keep saying this word, but it was an evolutionary process for me, as a man and as a performer. There are lessons I take from this that I will keep for the rest of my life. Even for the preparation, I hit [Dwayne] up. I was like, “Hey bro, I’m not getting the results I need to get in the gym.”
JOHNSON: I texted him back: “Stop f—ing texting me.”
HODGE: That’s what he said. He said, “Get off my line.” [Laughs]
CENTINEO: Al, you were there [training] a long time.
JOHNSON: He got there in ’96.
CENTINEO: The year I was born!
HODGE: You were not about to catch me slipping! I had finished my last job, so I got there two months early. But working with a stunt team of that level, it pushes you to learn and develop a bit more about your character. To Q’s point, movement is so indicative of who that person is, so we were all down there. I remember when Noah got there, we were in the gym. We were fighting, and we’d see Q over there twirling. Everybody was going to work.
JOHNSON: I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some movies where there’s a lot of action, and a lot of guys and girls who are coming in and really putting it down. But this whole team, they really took it to another level. The first person I met before we started shooting was Aldis. He came in to say hello when I was meeting with our director, Jaume Collet-Serra. He walked through the door, and you saw Hawkman walk through that door. He was a superhero! He had a skinny tank top. He was pumped up. I was like, “Wow, man! Look at you!”
HODGE: I had the extra “smedium” tank top on. I did 15 pushups that day. You were gonna see that work!
Did anyone else get to do any crazy harness work?
JOHNSON: Black Adam flies as well. There was one thing I really appreciated about Jaume, and I feel like this was really a reflection of how we all felt and how we wanted to disrupt this superhero genre — with all due respect to all the amazing superhero movies before us. One of the issues that we all had, specifically Jaume, was that with flying, they’re all on cables and wires. So, there’s this unique tilt that sometimes happens that really bugged him. He said, “If I can create a way to make you fly where you’re literally [horizontal] the whole time, and I put you in front of really highly-advanced technological LED lights where you could fly through the city.. would you be open to that?” I said, of course I would. So, I never got on any wires. I was on this really cool advanced machine that allowed me to lay flat. I think fans will really appreciate the detail and nuance of how Black Adam is able to fly with real rage and power and force.
BROSNAN: What was that machine you were on? With the hydraulics?
JOHNSON: We were on this machine that was created for our movie. One of the cool things about Black Adam is that he plays psychological chess with people, so he likes to levitate and float and make people look up at him. Which is a cool G move. He looks down at people. So, I was on this mechanical arm, and everyone here had the unfortunate experience of looking up at me.
CENTINEO: We had this LED screen that wrapped around, so when we got on the Hawk Cruiser, you’re inside of the cruiser. When you look out all the windows, you cannot see the stage. You cannot see anything except for sky and Kahndaq in the distance. It’s not like they CGI’d it. They built it. With Black Adam, our set pieces were huge. They were bigger than the Rock.
HODGE: Q, you were in that machine that allowed you to spin and turn, right?
SWINDELL: Yeah, mine was like a lollipop rig. There was someone turning a wheel on one side, and the rig just floated. You were already off the ground a little bit, but you could move in any possible direction you wanted. So when I was jumping out of the Hawk Cruiser, we really were going in every direction possible. It felt kind of like a simulator, in a way.
HODGE: Not me. I was just living in the air, living in the sky.
CENTINEO: They gave you a [back-scratcher] thing so you could itch.
HODGE: Let’s talk about that. So, first of all, the costumes are brilliant. They’re wonderfully designed. But…
HODGE: You couldn’t go to the bathroom without going to your whole costume team of three, four, or five people. “Excuse me, I need to handle some personal business.” But you need to ask about five minutes early because you need that much time to get [the costume] off.
CENTINEO: If you were about to pop, and then you say something… it’s too late.
HODGE: Shoutout to my costumer. She’s awesome. But there’s a bit of an ego check when you, as a grown man, have to go, “Excuse me, miss? Help a brother out.”
ROUND 3: TEREMANA PALOMA
CENTINEO: [Downs his drink]
JOHNSON: That’s what I’m talking about. The Atom Smasher smashes everything, including drinks.
CENTINEO: You name it, I’ll smash it.
Dwayne, you’ve built your career on this kind of big blockbuster movie. What felt different about making Black Adam?
JOHNSON: Well, when I made Baywatch… [Laughs]
BROSNAN: You and the Hoff!
JOHNSON: Devan set me up so nicely, asking about big blockbusters. No, but it was the opportunity that we had [with Black Adam]. The opportunity that we had to deliver something that had never been delivered to the big screen before and open up and expand the DC universe with five superhero characters that have never been seen before. They’ve never been played before, except now. So it was the opportunity that made this feel different, but it’s also in a beloved genre. It’s also part of the DC pantheon, which has been beloved through the decades. So around every corner, everything was different. Everything was unique and had, honestly, a different vibe and a mana to it that was really intoxicating and motivating and inspiring.
What about you, Pierce? You’re no stranger to big roles and big franchises. What felt different about Black Adam?
BROSNAN: It was the intoxication, I think. [Laughs] No, but what was different, having done the four Bond movies, was that this was really head and shoulders [above]. This was so epic, so big, but it was so beautiful. It just felt so comfortable making the movie. There was no real anxiety. With Jaume and Dwayne and everyone sitting at this table, it was such a delight to go to work every day and watch this movie unfold before you.
The first day of work was Aldis coming in as Hawkman with two guys under his arm. Dwayne was there looking monolithic. Jaume was just taking care of us all. You felt you were in safe hands. I remember Jaume said to me, “Where are you going to be in this scene?” It’s the scene where Hawkman comes in with the two guys. I said, “I’m just going to sit in this chair over here.” So I sat in the chair, and I watched everyone work.
HODGE: Meanwhile, they’re sling-shotting me back and forth 25 times.
JOHNSON: May I say something, Pierce?
BROSNAN: You may say anything you wish at this point in the proceedings. It’s okay, brother. Go ahead! I’m bulletproof!
JOHNSON: [Laughs] I want to acknowledge something he said that I think is very important about Jaume. He comes from a cadre of Spanish filmmakers who are so talented and have led a generation of filmmakers in our industry. But it truly starts with him. I’m so happy and quite proud to hear that everyone had such a great experience because it’s not always like that — especially when you get an ensemble together, and a lot of people come together for the first time. It’s tough. But this was so serene and so peaceful and so easy, and that’s such a convergence of what’s on the page. So, I really want to give it up for Jaume. He really created that environment.
What was day on set or the scene you all shot together that sticks in your mind the most?
CENTINEO: I personally loved when it was everyone together in the Hawk Cruiser for the first time. We had about a week of that. We were seeing everybody show up, and the ensemble, this orchestra, started to play. Jaume was empowering every single one of us to take control of our character. He also somehow managed to put us all together so we could harmonize properly. That was, for me, my favorite moment that sticks with me and will forever stick with me.
HODGE: I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there’s a day in the town square, where we’re all sitting there on the ground, and we’re in our suits. Everybody was together, and that’s when you know. The magic is already there, but that’s when it became real for me. You’re taken out of the moment of performance and focusing on the job, and you’re able to sit back and just marvel at what’s around you. Our stages were like 20,000 square feet or something. They built an entire city, and you’re really immersed in it. But then you see everybody else, and you’re like, “This is awesome! This is real!” Sometimes you have to see it to believe it. We already had grand belief, but when you see it, it just reinforces it. You know that regardless of what happens beyond this point, you are making magic.
This interview has been edied for length and clarity.