Michael V. Nicolo interview: ‘Young Rock’ casting director

“Young Rock” stars Dwayne Johnson as himself as he runs for president in 2032 with weekly flashbacks to one of three periods of his life: when he was 10, 15 and a college student at the University of Miami. To say that casting three young versions of the man who would grow up to be The Rock was a huge endeavor would be an understatement.

“It was a big, big search because you’re matching the real person. So what we did is we were given some reference photos just to see what he looked like at age 10, age 15 and then his college years,” casting director Michael V. Nicolo tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: TV Casting Directors panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “And then we started the search everywhere, all over the world.”

They eventually cast three actors who did, in fact, come from around the globe. Adrian Groulx, a Canadian actor, plays 10-year-old Dwayne; Bradley Constant, of Los Angeles, is 15-year-old Dwayne; and Aussie Uli Latukefu is college Dwayne. Latukefu was the last one to be cast to complete the Dwayne trifecta. “We did keep that in mind, like how closely they all could be the same person. It was very ‘hands down,’ especially with Uli,” Nicolo says. “Dwayne has that million-dollar smile and Uli was probably literally one of the first tapes we saw and it was like nobody really even kind of came close to him.”

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And though it wasn’t a requirement, yes, actors did come in trying to show off their patented Rock eyebrow raise. “They all seem to kind of master it. I don’t know about Adrian because I don’t know if he was doing it at that age, but he probably was,” Nicolo shares. “They didn’t actually have to do that in the audition, but they all found a way to work it in there. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

Johnson himself was “very involved” in the casting process, not just for the young versions of him but for his family, which includes his wrestler father Rocky Johnson (Joseph Lee Anderson), and the many, many famous faces in his orbit growing up thanks to his father’s career and the future NFL stars he crossed paths with in college. “It’s based on real people that made such a huge impact in his real life so of course, naturally, it was really important to him to be as authentic and also important to us,” Nicolo says. “The challenge is to be authentic to him but also to these larger-than-life people that everybody knows, like Andre the Giant and Macho Man and Junkyard Dog and all these people.

Filling the role of Andre the Giant appears daunting on paper — “Going into it was like, ‘Oh my God!'” — but it was actually one of the easier ones as Nicolo, an Emmy nominee for “New Girl,” looked to Matthew Willig. “He was always on that list of like, ‘Here’s these big guys that can really act.’ Nahnatchka [Khan, the co-creator] had just watched ‘Birds of Prey’ and she was like, ‘Hey, there was this guy in ‘Birds of Prey,’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, Matthew, of course!’ We always thought it was going to be like really challenging with somebody that iconic and huge, but he was one of the very first people if not the first person to read for that role.”

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UPLOADED May 28, 2021 12:38 pm