Young Rock: How Joseph Anderson transformed into wrestling icon Rocky Johnson

The latest episode of NBC’s Young Rock made wrestling headlines this week for its tease of titular character Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vs. current World Wrestling Entertainment champion Roman Reigns at a future WrestleMania event.

The rest of the episode, titled “What Business?”, was equally newsworthy as it features the true beginning of Rock’s journey to the wrestling ring once his football career comes to an end. Rock’s father Rocky Johnson, portrayed by up-and-coming actor Joseph Lee Anderson, plays a pivotal role in his son’s squared circle training.

Much like Stacey Leilua as Ata Johnson, Anderson has perfectly portrayed the wrestling legend throughout the two seconds of the show. Despite the WWE Hall of Famer abruptly passing away at the age of 75 in January 2020, Anderson has felt no pressure from playing the role of Rock’s father on the show.

How Joseph Anderson transformed into wrestling icon Rocky Johnson for Young Rock

In fact, Rock and the rest of the Johnson family has been a huge help in helping him relieve some of the stress that comes with such a prominent part.

“This is my first time being a series regular, so I was very nervous and I wanted to make sure everything was right,” Anderson said. “Not wanting to mess up was my biggest thing, and I think about halfway through Season 1 I was able to lock into Rocky and was able give the performance I did. It’s been a fun process playing him and working with Stacey [Ata] and the rest of the cast who are all so amazing. It’s a dope show, it’s been dope.”

Although Rock hasn’t been on set with a majority of the cast during the filming process, the Zoom calls he’s had with them all been extremely productive, especially the one he had with Anderson.

Their chat motivated him even more to do his research for the role to ensure he could emulate Rocky Johnson as well as possible.

“At the beginning of Season 1, we got to talk to Dwayne for about an hour, telling me how his dad was,” he said. “I went back and watched different clips, but at the end of the day, I was always told that funny wins and that you have to be funny. I try my best to be as funny as possible when the situation calls for it. I pull different things from what Rock told me about Rocky to different things my dad would do that I’ll have Rocky do. I pull from everywhere to get the Rocky that I got.”

Along with capturing Rocky’s larger-than-life persona both on screen and off, Anderson had to nail the in-ring aspect of the role as well. WWE alum Chavo Guerrero, who also assisted with the production of Netflix’s G.L.O.W. years ago, was brought in to teach Anderson the ropes so the wrestling on the show came off as realistic.

Viewers start to see some of this action on Season 2, Episode 5 of Young Rock when Rock’s training to become a WWE Superstar gets underway. Thankfully, Anderson took to it fairly quickly, even though he wasn’t as much of a natural as he originally thought he was.

That caused him to gain a newfound respect for the art of wrestling.

“Watching all the clips that I watch, back in the day, it was a lot of basics,” Anderson said. “Especially Rocky, he’s not doing a lot of off-the-rope stuff. Very athletic, doing dropkicks and things like that, but for the most part, it’s very basic.”

Anderson was also adamant about looking the part as much as he could. Although his physique wasn’t where he wanted it to be for the first season, he adjusted his eating habits and workout regiment accordingly for Season 2 and now resembles Rocky more than ever.

“It’s tough,” he said. “For the first season, I had two months of prep and Rock said, ‘Just get big.’ I went from about 225, 230 to 250. I gained about 20 pounds of muscle. It’s weird because we don’t film in order.

“When he was at his most ripped,” he continued, “it was when Rock was at his youngest, and when Rock got older, he was still big but not as shredded, and when he was an adult, he was done wrestling. It’s hard to find that middle ground to where I can keep it center, but it’s a lot of eating and a lot of weights. When we start filming, I lean out as much as I can two weeks ahead of time.”

In taking tips from Dwayne and extensively studying the legend’s work, Anderson feels he’s gotten a great idea of who Rocky was all about despite never having the chance to meet him. That’s what makes him such a standout on the show, and wrestling fans will concur that the similarities between the two are simply uncanny.

“One thing Rock told me that really stood out was that Rocky could make anyone feel like a million bucks,” he said. “He could make them feel like they could do anything and that’s a big thing I put over. That helps me make Rocky so big, a huge person with big personality.”