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Michael Bay stopped Dwayne Johnson from quitting Pain and Gain

Michael Bay had to persuade Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson not to quit his role in Pain & Gain, which is darker and more adult than most of his characters

Dwayne Johnson has made a career of being in wholesome family-friendly fare in the last five years, with the likes of Moana, Jumanji, Rampage, Skyscraper and Jungle Cruise. His roles in R-rated movies are few-and-far between, with a notable one being the Baywatch movie in 2017. His only other R-rated movie from the last decade is Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. But according to Bay, The Rock got cold feet just before shooting began.

The Rock’s transition from wrestling giant to Hollywood star wasn’t completely smooth to begin with. One of his first major roles was as The Scorpion King in the early 2000s, then there was the misguided videogame adaptation Doom in 2005 and weirdest of all (but some would argue best of all) was Richard Kelly’s follow up to Donnie Darko – Southland Tales.

It’s clear that from around 2010 onwards, Johnson got more serious about movie stardom and made a choice to appear in certain kinds of roles and films. But many action movie aficionados argue that Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain is not only Bay’s best movie, but that it also contains Johnson’s best performance.

But Johnson lost confidence in playing a role that involves drug-taking and violence shortly before filming, according to a Michael Bay interview with CinemaBlend; “He literally quit the week before. And he goes, ‘I can’t do this.’ And I’m like, ‘Dwayne, you are my secret weapon on this movie.’ And I wrote him this long letter of all the actors I worked with who said they were scared to do something and how it turned out. And he goes, ‘OK. OK. Alright.’ He was brilliant in that movie, and it really is an amazing performance.” So it was always meant to be Pain & Gain & Dwayne.

Pain & Gain was a relatively small, low-budget film on the Bay scale of carnage. It was made for $22 million, using locations very close to Bay’s home in Miami, and made use of his good relationship with local law enforcement and “guerilla filmmaking” – according to Bay. Bay’s latest feature AmbuLAnce is a return to the “smaller” movie, with a budget of $40 million and setting almost the whole film around one long car chase involving the titular ambulance.

If you’re a lover of Bayhem, and aren’t we all, check out our guide to the best action movies.