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'San Andreas': Canadian director Brad Peyton leaves The Rock for The Rock

By Bruce Kirkland, Special to Postmedia Network

LOS ANGELES — Brad Peyton is a b’y from The Rock, a.k.a. Newfoundland and Labrador. Now that he has 'made it' in Hollywood, it seems only natural that he would end up directing The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson.

Repeatedly, in fact. The two worked together on the 2012 adventure thriller Journey 2: Mysterious Island; their new mega-disaster movie San Andreas just opened wide; and there are plans for a third instalment in the rebooted Journey to the Center of the Earth franchise.

The two have become close friends, and not just because they share a Canadian heritage (Peyton is from Gander, N.L., and Johnson’s father was born in Nova Scotia). Beyond that, Johnson believes Peyton can make him better as a Hollywood action hero by “drilling down” into what works in genre filmmaking; Peyton is convinced he can do just that by enhancing what is already there in the charismatic actor-wrestler.

Sitting with Postmedia Network, Peyton colourfully recounts how he counselled Johnson: “I told him: ‘You can do anything! You can punch the lizard in the face. You can crack the jokes. You have the billion-dollar smile. You have the trillion-dollar muscles. But I also know that you have a lot of humanity in you and I really want to reveal that part.’ ”

Peyton believes he has done just that in San Andreas, despite critical reviews that praise the special effects and overall look, but dismiss the overwrought dialogue and the farfetched plot. At the same time, Johnson is seen as a winning personality, even in the midst of an earthquake that destroys much of California.

“This is a character,” Peyton’s says of Johnson’s blue-collar rescue pilot, “who is really going to resonate with everybody as a real guy. I think he achieved that. This is the best I’ve ever seen Dwayne and I’m really proud of that because I always knew he could do it.”

Making $100 million Hollywood blockbusters is not exactly what I or anyone else who attended the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival thought would happen with Brad Peyton. That year, as a 22-year-old graduate of the Canadian Film Centre, the wide-eyed youth astonished us with a sensational short called Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl. Loosely inspired by Tim Burton’s Vincent but utterly original in its own right, Evelyn was a macabre Gothic horror story. “With a short, you can kind of indulge yourself,” Peyton told me then. “As long as it’s fun and enjoyable, it will pay off for the audience. There’s a huge freedom there.”

That freedom is missing in the business of making Hollywood blockbusters such as San Andreas. But Peyton still remembers the exhilaration of 2002. “That whole ride of being recognized as a filmmaker when you’re 22 was mind-blowing,” he recalls. “I totally didn’t see it coming.” Nor did he predict his newfound career as a Hollywood genre director. “So it’s still shocking sometimes to be in this position.”

At the age of 35 (he just celebrated a birthday this week) Peyton is struggling, at least one level. He has convinced himself that Hollywood genre movies are a good thing — but remains self-critical.

“I’ll tell you very honestly, I’m incredibly proud of this movie,” he says in his ‘up’ mood. “I’m bragging about it to anyone who will listen, in that very Canadian, slightly humble sort of way.”

In his ‘down’ mood, Peyton admits he is not entirely happy. “I saw the movie again two days ago and judged myself the whole way through. I hated myself the whole way through: ‘You can do better than this! This is not good enough!’ Even at this level, I constantly feel that. I wish I didn’t.”

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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