If we’re honest, it’s rare to see Pacific Islanders at the forefront of AAPI representation but NBC’s “Young Rock” is changing that.
Based on the early life of wrestler and movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Young Rock” is a series that centers around Johnson’s childhood, his family and the events that made him who he is today. Executive produced by “Fresh Off the Boat” creator Nahnatchka Khan, the series was just renewed for a second season and features many actors of Pacific Islander descent.
Uli Latukefu had tremendous weight on his shoulders playing Johnson himself. Latukefu plays one of the three younger versions of the worldwide superstar, namely when Johnson was in his early 20s playing football for the University of Miami. “These stories are very important to him,” he acknowledged. “It’s not just about Dwayne, it’s about his family [and] his family legacy. So for me, the weight of that was pretty incredible.”
Since the sitcom is based on his life, Johnson was a major resource for the actors to rely on when they first got the role. Fasitua Amosa, who plays Sika Anoa’i, one half of the wrestling duo, The Wild Samoans, had trouble finding a base for the character until he spoke to the action star. “Because those guys didn’t really speak English—they only spoke Samoan—all you ever heard of them in interviews … was in Samoan,” Amosa began. “[I asked Dwayne] ‘Did your uncles ever speak Samoan to you?’ and [he] got back to me and said ‘Yeah, they did speak Samoan all the time and often told me to hurry up or to get something’ and I was like ‘Yup, I know exactly what their relationship is.’”
But just because the characters they play are based on real people doesn’t mean they have to be exactly that person. Stacey Leilua plays Johnson’s mother, Ata, and thought more about the character’s motivations. “I didn’t want to go into it thinking I needed to be an exact replica of who she is,” Leilua explained, “It was more about focusing on what was driving her and … her decision making around raising Dwayne.”
Ana Tuisila, who plays Johnson’s grandmother, Lia Maivia, had the challenge of playing someone who wasn’t as in the limelight as the wrestlers she managed. “There wasn’t much written about her so it was pretty difficult,” Tuisila said before revealing how she met Johnson and his mother over Zoom. “Just by them describing his grandmother, … I thought, ‘I can do this’ because she sounded like my mother who was tough and didn’t take much from anybody.”
As Johnson is half Samoan, it was all the more important to the cast that they were given the opportunity to be a part of this series. “Seeing all these people, all these Samoans, it was just a big moment because so often we have to play other people,” Amosa stated. Latukefu, while Tongan, understands the need for representation: “I’m proud to be a part of [this show] and proud to be Pacific Islander myself because it means we’re moving in the right direction.”
Watch the full interview above to see more of what the cast had to say and be sure to catch “Young Rock” Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.