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The Disney Flick 'Jungle Cruise' Is Based On Disneyland Ride

NOEL KING, HOST:

When Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson started planning his latest adventure movie, which is set on the Amazon River 100 years ago, he already knew who he wanted to co-star. He'd never met Emily Blunt, but he loved her in "The Devil Wears Prada." To get her on board, he recorded a video with the aim of convincing her that making a movie based on a Disneyland ride was a solid idea.

DWAYNE JOHNSON: That was a real shot in the dark. And that was like a real gut check and an instinct call when I sent her this video. And I was very direct and upfront and I said, I would love for you to do this movie. There's no one else on this Earth that I feel could play this role, this female Indiana Jones, like you can.

KING: And she never responded.

JOHNSON: To get zero response...

(LAUGHTER)

EMILY BLUNT: Was hurtful.

JOHNSON: Was - yeah, it was so cruel.

BLUNT: That was a little bit cruel.

JOHNSON: (Laughter).

KING: But then she read the script, and she actually really liked it. The two of them are now good friends. And "Jungle Cruise," the movie, is out in theaters on Friday. Dwayne plays Frank, a skipper on a rundown river boat, and Emily plays Lily, the scientist who hires him to take her down the Amazon. This being an adventure movie, things go terribly wrong. There are crashes and falls. At one point, they swing through the jungle on a vine.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUNGLE CRUISE")

JOHNSON: (As Frank Wolff) Come on, I got you, pants (ph). Trust me. Hold on.

BLUNT: (As Lily Houghton) Frank. Frank, get it.

JOHNSON: (As Frank Wolff) I got it.

BLUNT: (As Lily Houghton) Frank.

JOHNSON: (As Frank Wolff) I don't got it.

BLUNT: It was very much made in the free-spirited tone of those films where you don't have slick action stars. They fall on their faces, and they're scared of stuff, and they're human, and he's untrustworthy and unreliable. They're sort of imperfectly perfect characters. And here they are, jammed together on a boat. And it's just a recipe for such hilarity and disaster. And it's just - it was heaven, heaven to do it.

KING: There is something a little crazy about an entire movie based on a Disneyland ride. You're shaking your head. You're saying it's not crazy.

JOHNSON: No.

KING: What is the appeal? What was the appeal?

JOHNSON: I agree with you.

KING: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: I'm saying you're absolutely right. It is. The conceit of it is wild when you think about it, especially a Disneyland attraction that has been beloved and iconic over the years. 1955, when the gates of Disneyland opened, Jungle Cruise was Walt Disney's baby. So, you know, the responsibility and the magnitude of this opportunity was not lost on Emily and I and Jaume, our director, and everybody involved.

KING: Dwayne, I wanted to ask about a ritual that I've read you do before you release a new movie.

JOHNSON: Uh-oh.

KING: You've said that you take time to reflect on your life, even the painful parts of your life...

JOHNSON: I do.

KING: ...of growing up.

BLUNT: Really?

JOHNSON: Yeah.

KING: What has been on your mind this week? You seem like you're having a good time.

BLUNT: Oh, I didn't know that. This is news to me.

JOHNSON: I do. I get reflective.

BLUNT: Yeah?

JOHNSON: Contemplative.

BLUNT: Contemplative. He is very contemplative. These things people don't realize about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

JOHNSON: (Laughter).

KING: What have you been contemplating this week?

JOHNSON: Just where I've come from and the journey and, you know, the kid who - when I was 8 years old, to use a movie analogy, I saw "Indiana Jones" for the first time, sold-out theater. I sat right in the front row. I was like, wow. I want to be that. But then I also wanted to be (laughter) Richard Pryor. And I also want to be...

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: So that journey from that kid then to, you know, the kid who was a teenager who was evicted out of Hawaii - we were booted off the island because we couldn't afford the rent. And the rent was $180 a week. I'll never forget it. And then to this and I'm, you know, in this movie with Emily. And so I start thinking in those terms because it just helps keep things grounded...

BLUNT: Grateful.

JOHNSON: ...And grateful and no pressure and just...

BLUNT: And weirdly not bogged down in Hollywood, you know?

JOHNSON: Yes.

BLUNT: Like, if you can...

JOHNSON: Yes.

BLUNT: ...Release yourself from that...

JOHNSON: Yes.

BLUNT: ...Then it's all about gratitude. And then you can really look at your movie and go, look what we did.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

BLUNT: Like, look what we made.

JOHNSON: The stuff that really matters, I think, is the dream and the journey that it took to get here. And then here we are.

KING: I have always assumed that actors really like going to the movies, that in addition to doing the thing, you probably like going to the theater and hanging out and, like, so...

BLUNT: I love it. I love it.

KING: Yeah. I had read that you're kind of - you just kind of go in stealth with a hat on and (laughter)...

BLUNT: Yeah.

KING: ...Sit with the people.

BLUNT: I can blend in. I'm small. I can blend in, and it's great.

(LAUGHTER)

BLUNT: This one...

KING: So...

BLUNT: ...Is not blendable. We've found this out.

JOHNSON: I'm unblendable.

KING: This one is not blendable.

BLUNT: He is unbendable. He doesn't know the - he's never known the word inconspicuous.

JOHNSON: They're like, who's the human...

BLUNT: Who is...

JOHNSON: ...With the horse neck...

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: ...And the bald head and...

KING: Who is that...

BLUNT: And also...

JOHNSON: That's The Rock.

KING: ...Giant?

BLUNT: ...People would be so pissed if they were sitting behind you. They'd be so pissed.

JOHNSON: (Laughter).

BLUNT: Like, you'd anger people, and you'd cause a riot. But you love it. You just can't do it. You'd have to go with, like, a bag over your head or something, or over your whole body.

KING: So we just did a year. Like, we did 16 months with no theaters, basically. And for people who love the movies, it was really, really grim. When you guys think about the future of the movies - we hear people say things like, everything's going to be streamed at home on your laptop - what do you think the future of the movies is? Not Hollywood. Forget Hollywood. The movies, the movies, movies, that we love.

JOHNSON: You want to take it?

BLUNT: I think...

JOHNSON: Go.

BLUNT: I think we're figuring out the roadmap now. I really do. I don't think any of us have the answers. And this year, certainly my two biggest movies maybe in my career have both come out during a sort of post-pandemic feeling. But yet people are still sort of - there's a - yes, there's a bit of caution. There's a bit of unsurety ahead. But I think these films are coming out with a surge of hope. And I think what has been made apparent is people's passion for film.

JOHNSON: And that's really well said.

BLUNT: Thanks, toots.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

BLUNT: You know what's funny? I've been talking about this a lot, that I think that there was a feeling, like, oh, cinema's dead if we just go to streaming and - but actually, the box office and the opening weekend can be so gladiatorial if it's just theatrical only. And so films that I built my whole career on, like "The Devil Wears Prada," "Sicario," these sort of mid-range budgets, these smaller movies, that without the gladiatorial box office, if we can celebrate streamers as being a valuable part of seeing, like, really beautiful films, then maybe we can get back to this sort of '70s era of having really artistic films that are not sort of curated and contorted to kind of be like, how do we get these bums on seats, you know?

JOHNSON: Yes.

BLUNT: So I think there's also a celebration of the fact that we don't have to contort every film towards the box office now. And that's no bad thing.

JOHNSON: No, not at all. I love that.

KING: Love the optimism. I do.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson. The movie is "Jungle Cruise." Thank you both so much for taking the time. This was really fun.

BLUNT: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Guys, thank you very much.

BLUNT: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF AL BOWLLY'S "CLOSE YOUR EYES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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