Why Dwayne Johnson would fight aliens in Race to Witch Mountain

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Dwayne Johnson re-teams with his The Game Plan director Andy Fickman for Disney's upcoming family sci-fi thriller Race to Witch Mountain, and he couldn't be happier about it.

"Andy is kind of like a round, porcelain doll," Johnson said in an exclusive interview with SCI FI Wire over the weekend in Las Vegas. "Andy's great, he is. Andy loves pop culture, and he loves movies. For example, I was a believer in UFOs before the movie, and in making the movie I learned so much from Andy. Andy is so passionate about that world, that culture, everything. And passionate about the possibility of alien life. ... And invasion, by the way! I love that about him, and so I thought he was the perfect director for this movie."

In the movie, Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a hard-luck taxi driver in Las Vegas. His life is thrown into chaos when two teens—Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig)—jump into his cab, on the run from something. It's not long before Bruno realizes that the children possess extraordinary powers and that they are being pursued by something extremely dangerous: an alien bounty hunter called a Siphon. (Race to Witch Mountain—a reboot of Disney's 1970s movie Escape to Witch Mountain and its sequel, Return to Witch Mountain—opens March 13.)

Following is an edited version of our interview with Johnson. (Possible spoilers ahead!)

From The Mummy Returns to Southland Tales, you do a lot of genre movies. What keeps making you want to explore those worlds?

Johnson: Well, I love magic. Magic is wonderful. Movies, just from a fantastical standpoint, it just reminds you of how cool movies are. Especially when you can make one that hits on all cylinders. Just in terms of hitting on the magic. Like, "What kind of magic do we have?" I love that. And as an actor, for me personally, I want to stretch myself, and I want to work in different genres. I love that opportunity. But there is nothing like the fantastical and the magical place that you can go to. Even when there's a darker place that you can go to, like in Doom or like in Race to Witch Mountain. It's pretty cool.

You do have Siphon as your adversary, and he's a pretty dark character. He's a new character like you, right?

Johnson: He is a new character, and he is an alien monster that Andy created. He wanted to create something that was tangible. As an actor, I love that. When you finally have this big fight and action sequence with an alien monster, it's real. You're going to hit him, and he's going to hit you. He's going to throw you, and you're going to throw him. Compared to a green-screen. And then the challenge is, well, where do you inject humor in that? You want to try and find some humor to him to make people laugh, and so Andy goes, "What if he had halitosis?" And I said, "No, Andy. That wouldn't be funny at all."

In the original, the kids weren't aliens right off the bat, so what's the new setup?

Johnson: Well, the core still remains the same, which I thought was important. I mean, it's a little tricky when you re-imagine or remake. ... However, you want to define that ... when it's a classic. Whether it's Disney or any other studio, it's a little tricky. So we wanted to make sure its core still stayed the same. And we wanted to make sure to still pay homage and respect to the original movie that a lot of people loved and to bring those original actors back into our movie. And then we also wanted to make it cool and entertaining for this modern age.

What was it like working with Kim Richard and Ike Eisenmann, the child stars of the original movie, who have roles in this one?

Johnson: She was great, Ike was great. To all of us, it was important that they liked the script, and it was important that they loved their roles, and in homage, because without them, honestly, the movie wouldn't have been made, and you and me wouldn't be sitting here [talking about this] today. So it was a great opportunity for us to bring them on and show them this world that we created. We were like, "What do you think?" And Kim was like, "It's great, it's awesome." And we were like, "Whew! She likes it."