Loosely based on the video game of the same name, the feature film Rampage pits man against monsters. Dwayne Johnson stars as Davis, a primatologist who enjoys a very special friendship with an albino gorilla, George... until an experimental genetic serum increases George's size, strength and rage.
The hazardous elixir, upon its disastrous entry into the earth's atmosphere, also infects a crocodile and a wolf, and the three creatures go on to wreak havoc and cause mass destruction. Davis teams up with Dr. Kate Caldwell — played by Oscar nominee Naomie Harris — to find a cure to George's transformation.
On the Atlanta set of Rampage, Harris sat down with press to speak about not being typecast, playing strong female characters, embracing the intense action sequences and working opposite Johnson.
What is the relationship between Kate and Davis?
Well, he's very reluctant to partner with anybody because he's not a people person at all. He does not want her on the journey. He thinks she's more of a hindrance, to be honest. His sole motivation is really because of his friend George, who has obviously been infected by this virus that he doesn't know what it is. So, he doesn't really want her on board, and she has to really earn his trust and find a way to get him to want her to go on the journey. She initially lies to him and says that she can cure George. And, actually, that's not true which we discover later on in the movie. She's not capable of doing that. She doesn't have the vaccine that can save George at all.
What's the dynamic between Kate and George, considering Davis has this special bond with him?
There's a complete fascination because seeing George is like seeing the worst side of my work come to life. Kate takes a huge responsibility for the state George is in and really cares about him. She worked in the Arctic saving very rare species. That's kind of Kate's backstory. She really does care about animals generally. Then, she also feels very specifically responsible for George because of what's happened to him and because it's a result of the work she did.
You are coming off a heavy awards season. Why did you want to do an action movie?
There are several reasons. First of all, because I read the script and I didn't expect it to be my kind of movie at all, but it moved me, and I was excited by the character. I loved the idea of playing Kate. She was intelligent and capable and fun and all the kind of things I look for in a character. That was the first thing. Then, I still wasn't sure. I spoke to Brad [Peyton] and I was having a really bad day. It was a really hectic time in my schedule and I was really tired, but he's the most enthusiastic person in the entire world. Just speaking to him, I felt better and I felt positive. He just made me feel really fired up about the project and I was like, "I wanna work with this guy."
The other reason was because Moonlight is such a specific character that I suddenly found myself in a position where I was being sent every "haggard mother" role. I was kind of like, "I never started my career doing those kinds of roles. This is the one role I've done." It's so easy when it's something that people attach you to, for you to get typecast, and I was like, "I have to do something completely different to ensure that doesn't happen," because my career has always been based on playing completely different roles. That's what keeps me excited and I want to make sure that I have the opportunity to continue to do that.
Did you have any idea Rampage was based on a video game? Or, did someone say, "Hey, here's what it looks like."
What happened was I was debating with my friend because it's always like a committee. It's different friends, my family, going "Should I take this role? I'm not sure. Can you read the script for me? What do you think?" And I sent it to one of my friends and he was like, "Oh my god. Rampage. That's based on the video game. I used to play that. You have to play this part." It was the coolest thing ever, so, that's how I knew.
With all the action and massive destruction, what's the craziest scene you've had to shoot?
Oh my god, they've all been crazy, to be honest. They actually created a helicopter on a rig so that when we were crashing, it actually feels like you're crashing – to creating this huge government plane inside, where we're on harnesses and pretending that the back of the plane is blown out and we're being strung up from the ceiling. I've done action movies before, obviously, with Bond and other movies like that, but never anything like this. It's all been literally insane. Even shooting here, where this building is supposed to have come down and you see the debris and the destruction… it's a mad movie.
What would surprise people the most about working with the Rock? His presence is so big on Instagram and he's very open about everything.
What would surprise people is that he is that 24/7. You think, "No, no, no, that's a performance," and it's not. That is precisely who he is, and that's really extraordinary. And he has such a level of passion and an understanding of what his fans love and what they need, and he's really careful about that. So many stages in the movie, he'll say, "OK, I don't think the audience is going to really like this, or they're not going to be moved by this, or they're going to love this particular moment." He's really in tune with what his audience wants. I've never seen anybody as in tune as that.
How involved were you with the stunt work?
More involved than I'd want to be, to be honest. I imagined that I would have a wonderful stunt double, and I'd very happily hand everything over to her. But, our director, Brad Peyton, has other ideas and he wants us to do as much as possible. So, a lot. I'm doing a lot.
How big is the learning curve on a movie like this, where you are looking at a digital creature and there's a lot of green screen?
Massive, massive. The first time I was in the helicopter, it was absolutely terrifying, because what you have is you're in this helicopter, it's on a rig so it's moving up and down. Then, you have a green screen in front of you and you have five numbers. They'll say, "Look over there to number four. The gorilla's coming. Look over there. That's the crocodile. Look over there." So, they'll tell you, first of all, what these numbers mean, and then when the scene starts, they'll say, "Number three. Number five." I was just looking all over! I didn't know what the hell was happening over here. And, of course, Dwayne is the master of all that, so he was brilliant. He knew exactly what was happening. But, it took me a long time to get to grips with that. That was the hardest part.