EXCLUSIVE: In the last sizzling film package of the summer, Warner Bros and New Line have won an auction for The King, an epic-sized film that will star Dwayne Johnson as Hawaiian king Kamehameha. Robert Zemeckis is set to direct a film that could be compared to Braveheart, and only partly because King is based on a spec written by that film’s screenwriter, Randall Wallace. Seven Bucks Productions’ Johnson, Dany Garcia and Hiram Garcia are producing with FlynnPictureCo’s Beau Flynn, Zemeckis and Wallace.
Kamehameha is the legendary king who was the first to unite the warring Hawaiian islands, which fulfilled the prophecy that surrounded his fabled life since birth. He took control of Hawaii’s destiny, and gave the islanders leverage in advancing the culture in trading with the foreign ships from Europe that began showing up on the shores of islands that must have seemed like paradise, albeit a sometimes dangerous one as explorers like Simon Metcalfe and Captain James Cook discovered before Kamehameha forcibly unified the islands.
Several studios bid on the package, but a big reason for the outcome was the comfort level built with New Line and Warner Bros execs Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener and Carolyn Blackwood and Blair Rich on San Andreas. The plan is to shoot the film in 2020, and the auction was conducted while Johnson and his team are in Atlanta where they are shooting Jungle Cruise for Disney.
To say this is important to Johnson is an understatement. I can recall it coming up in our very first meeting, late in the evening as he was being made up to play the Scorpion King, in a small role in The Mummy Returns, which became a spinoff and one of his first action starring turns. Johnson was just making the transition from his The Rock wrestling ring persona to acting, and he was very ambitious as he tried to become the first ring star to make that move and be taken seriously. Even then, I recall him saying that his dream was to one day play Kamehameha. Years later, when we did the Playboy Interview in Prague, Kamehameha was still on his mind. This was right after Johnson got that intricate tribal tattoo on his shoulder and chest that told a story about his roots. I recall him saying that he considered going all the way to honor his family by replicating the way his grandfather, Peter Maivia — a pioneer of pro wrestling in Hawaii — received the tattoos that honored his Polynesian heritage, but Johnson he stopped short of doing it like his grandfather, who once got extensive tattooing done in the old traditional manner, which involved a small hammer, a needle and ink. Maivia had to rush back to work immediately after a marathon session, and nearly died from blood poisoning. Johnson got his tattoo in the modern way, but it tells a story of his own Polynesian roots that involve Samoa, New Zealand and Hawaii, the latter two places where Johnson spent many of his formative years before heading off to play football for the University of Miami Hurricanes, before following his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather into the wrestling ring. Long before he became one Hollywood’s most bankable stars.
Johnson’s decision to finally step up to his dream role was made during the filming of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle that took place in Hawaii. Johnson was at the peak of his star power, and has matured as a man and actor, and the feeling among Johnson and Seven Bucks’ Garcia was that the time was right. Johnson and his cohorts have been able to sell their packaged projects and get green lights in the dealmaking stage — as evidenced by the deal with Universal for the Rawson Marshall Thurber action film Red Notice, and they took their chance in the global market and scored this deal. They wanted a visceral historical epic like Braveheart, and so sought out Wallace who sparked to doing it on spec. They then sent the script to Zemeckis, who jumped aboard quickly.
Last year, the road to The King really took shape in Hawaii, when a Hawaiian Kahu (priest) held a ceremony and blessed the project, Johnson, Wallace and Garcia.
Johnson’s films with New Line — San Andreas, Rampage and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island — have grossed north of $1.2 billion worldwide.
Johnson, Zemeckis and Wallace are repped by WME. FPC’s Wendy Jacobson will be exec producer.