NBC’s “Young Rock” returns to TV tonight and we’ve got an exclusive with one of the show’s stars Uli Latufeku ahead of the premiere.
Uli Latukefu Talks “Young Rock” Production Move From Australia To Memphis
If you’ve never seen the show before, it is based on the life of one of Hollywood’s BIGGEST stars, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and features Johnson as himself as he recalls some of the most important moments in his life.
Adrian Groulx plays, “Dewey” the child version of Dwayne, while Bradley Constant portrays a teenage Dwayne and Uli Latukefu stars as young adult Dwayne, first navigating a college football career and then eventually joining the family business — WRESTLING. Joseph Lee Anderson plays The Rock’s famous father Rocky Johnson, while Stacey Leilua plays his mother Ata Johnson, and Ana Tuisila takes on the role of his grandmother, Lia Maivia.
“Young Rock” is funny and heartwarming, perfect for families to watch together. The storyline also explores some of the more difficult moments Johnson and his family experienced as he made his way to becoming the star we know him as today.
BOSSIP’s Sr. Content Director Janeé Bolden recently spoke with Uli Latukefu about the NBC production’s recent move to Memphis after filming the first two seasons in Australia, where he previously lived.
“I think being here in America, put an entirely different feeling in the show,” Latukefu told BOSSIP. “Especially me being from Australia, it puts a different energy in the show, so I love it. Memphis is a great city. Dewayne spent a lot of time here. It’s kind of neat retracing his steps in places he’s actually been. Downtown Bruno, who was someone Dewayne spent a lot of time with when he was in Memphis is here. He comes on set. Even meeting him and hearing his stories is kind of fun.”
While the other young actors who play Johnson on “Young Rock,” Bradley Constant and Adrian Groulx are not Polynesian (Constant is biracial, with an African-American father and white mother, and Groulx is Canadian, with a Caribbean background), Latukefu has a similar background to Johnson, whose maternal ancestry is Polynesian and the show does an excellent job incorporating elements from their culture.
“That’s something I’m not familiar with, in terms of how underrepresented we are here in the United States,” Latukefu told BOSSIP. “In Australia and New Zealand it’s obviously more common but I am so proud of this show.”
“First of all it’s a great story,” Latukefu continued. “It’s a proper rags to riches story and there is that layer of Polynesian culture. It’s beautiful. A lot of people know us from being navigators of the ocean. Our ancestors sailed the biggest ocean in the world by stars. No joke. That’s us. They’re known for being warriors but there are so many layers to our people, I’m so glad we get to explore. It’s super common in wrestling, coming from Australia I used to watch Jimmy Superfly Snuka and King Haku – and King Haku is from Tonga, where I’m from. It used to be like ‘What?! We’re on TV?” and now it’s I’m on TV, Stacey is on TV, Ana is on TV…”
While Uli was already familiar with wrestling from watching it on TV, he told BOSSIP he actually never played the sport prior to winning his role in “Young Rock.” Fortunately, his experience as a rugby player made it a little easier for him to pick up. Latufeku also had lots of guidance from Chavo Guerrero Jr. who works with the cast to make the wrestling scenes true to life.
“For me it was daunting because Dwayne has a very specific style that people recognize from him,” Latufeku told BOSSIP. “I started from scratch. We have Chavo Guerrero who is on board with that. I grew up playing rugby. I thrive on it, I love it and people from my end of the world, from Dwayne’s end of the world, the South Pacific we love that stuff. We eat that stuff. So for me coming in doing wrestling, it feels second nature.”
What didn’t necessarily come second nature are the true-to-life costumes that Latufeku and the other actors wear — very skimpy compression shorts, which most folks might casually refer to as “booty shorts.”
“Man listen, it’s not just wearing almost nothing,” Latufeku told BOSSIP. “You’ve got to run around, have your legs flipped over in nothing. If you had any insecurities about your body they have to go. It’s a little daunting because you know it’s not just the people in the room watching, it’s millions of people. But yeah, you’ve just got to get on with the job.”
Speaking of keeping things professional, the athlete-turned-actor credited Dwayne Johnson as the “consummate professional” who has given him lots of on-the-job advice. Latufeku and Johnson also recently worked together on the ‘Black Adam’ film which is currently in theatres.
“I don’t want to sound biased but he is a consummate professional,” Latufeku said of Johnson. “Comes in does his work, and treats everyone with respect. Treats everyone with the acknowledgment that their job matters and he’s super funny. He has a great sense of humor. Working with him, this is the first time that I lot of us have seen him so it was like a full circle moment. This is the dude but this is the spirit that he carries into everything he does and I love him, he’s like a big brother and he’s done a lot for me. We. Just did ‘Black Adam’ together. Professionally speaking, I would say he’s definitely a mentor.”
Uli also had plenty of praise for his co-stars, who he says are all in alignment about their purpose on set.
“They’re like little brothers to me,” Latufeku said of Bradley Constant and Adrian Groulx. “It’s so funny to me because I watched Season One the other day as a recap for myself and Adrian was like a baby and this season he’s like [mimics deep voice] ‘Hey what’s up guys?’ But I love those boys, they’re like my brothers and I’ve seen them grow so much over the course of these three years.”
“Bradley, he’s such a sweetheart, he’s very much like Dwayne, real close to his mother,” Latufeku continued. “It’s unfortunate the way we’ve been shooting we don’t get to spend a lot of time together. So they’re cool and Stacey (Leilua) and Joe (Joseph Lee Anderson) — it’s a little funny because he’s younger than me; he does such a great job in that role, and Stacey who plays my mum is only two years older than me, so it’s almost like we’re more friends than mother/father, but it’s all family. We all felt a similar way about this story that yes it’s about Dwayne but it’s also very much about everybody in his life so that’s the way we’ve approached it.”
The familial bond that’s grown on set is clear to see when you watch the show!
Make sure to tune in to “Young Rock” on NBC tonight at 8:30PM EST!