Joseph Lee Anderson was a WWE fan growing up watching the likes of the Hardy Boyz and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The star was a fan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, which makes playing his Hall of Fame father Rocky Johnson on Young Rock all the more surreal.
“I never went to a show and always wanted to but could never afford it. I got caught up in the show. Everything about it looked so cool on TV. Me and my brother would always watch,” he said recalling the early fandom.
Anderson went through five auditions before getting the call he got the part. A Zoom call with Dwayne, who also appears on the NBC series, helped get him in the right headspace. Since “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson passed away last January, this type of firsthand insight was even more important.
“He just told me to be as charismatic as you can and as loving as you can. Just be true,” Anderson said of the conversation.
“Him and his father had a very complicated relationship, but Dwayne for the show, wanted to focus on the good. The good in their relationship. Rocky was a guy who could make everyone feel amazing and like a million bucks no matter who you are. That’s the type of Rocky you’re going to see on the show. Very charismatic. Very likable dude.”
The actor also watched a lot of Rocky’s matches on YouTube. He looked to pick up moves and signature style in the ring.
“Personally, I am a very shy and introverted person,” Anderson said. “That’s not Rocky at all. I couldn’t see myself in him in that aspect. But I loved working out, and Rocky was a jacked dude.”
Anderson worked with trainer Tim Hamilton in Los Angeles to get in top shape. He put on 30 pounds with more than 16 of it added muscle.
“I got up to 250 pounds,” he said. “It was rough because quarantine was happening and all the gyms were shut down in L.A., but we got it done. We always get tested and make sure it is safe keeping distance.”
When it came to the in-ring action, he met with the show’s wrestling coordinator Chavo Guerrero. The physicality gave him a new respect for the guys and girls who perform on a regular basis.
“He taught me a lot of moves. It was great. With the acting, you’re doing a lot of takes over and over again. We’re doing a five or seven minute match 10 times,” Anderson said. “You have to get the angles right, so you have to keep doing those bumps. It was a lot of work.”
The first season of Young Rock recently wrapped in Australia. Anderson is no stranger to sets, having a healthy resume with stints on shows like S.W.A.T. and American Soul. he even played Muhammad Ali in I’m Dying Up Here. However, this current project was a new experience for a multitude of reasons.
“It’s a big difference over in [Australia] is they have the virus under control,” he said. “When we were on set, there was always masks. We would get tested three times a week. We were treating it like there was COVID everywhere. When we could leave, everything was open and nobody was really wearing masks there. It was living a normal life again. It’s different being on set now. The protocols are good. We got to take care of everybody and get the work done.”
Anderson promises fans will be able to see a lot of familiar faces portrayed. Among them is Andre the Giant, who was reported to recur on the show by Matthew Willig.
“You’re going to be able to meet a lot of the wrestlers who were important to Dwayne,” he said. “You’re going to see some dope matches. In the pilot you got me versus the Wild Samoans, which was pretty cool. There is also going to be a battle royal on that as well.”
With representation in entertainment a constant concern, having Young Rock is another step in the right direction. For Anderson, Dwayne’s family story can truly inspire others.
“I think showing a Polynesian family as well. Showing a Samoan family on TV. It’s big. It’s great for everybody,” he said.
“[I hope audiences] get good laughs, but I think with Rock’s life it shows you can start at the bottom. You can go through a rough patch and the wrong path, but you can still grow and change. And if you keep pushing, you can reach the top.”
Young Rock premieres February 16 at 8/7c on NBC
Scott’s full interview with Anderson is now available on the Wrestling Inc. YouTube channel and the audio was released as part of today’s episode of our The Wrestling Inc. Daily podcast. Subscribe to The Wrestling Inc. Daily on your preferred podcast platform to get the latest episodes as they are released. You can find the full audio and video from the interview below.