Brett Azar - Young Rock

In part two of FilmHounds exclusive interview with Young Rock star Brett Azar, the actor dives deeper into the creative process of the Dwayne Johnson-inspired sitcom. He discusses filming the incredible battle royal scene in episode 6, his monologue that was cut, why he was “pissed” that Johnson chose Sylvester Stallone over Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he also looks ahead to season 2 of Young Rock. All of this and more is discussed in our “number one” interview with Young Rock’s Iron Sheik. 

Listening to an interview of Brian Gewirtz, who’s a writer for Dwayne Johnson’s Seven Bucks Production and a former WWE writer, he said Young Rock has the wrestling equivalent of the Avengers on screen. Perhaps, with the exception of Hulk Hogan, you’ve got the stars of that era.

I couldn’t agree more. He says Avengers, I would say it’s The Expendables. It’s all the bad asses grouped together from all different walks of life.

Joseph Lee Anderson, who plays Rocky Johnson in Young Rock, said the first time you guys were on set together, playing poker, that was the moment he realised this was something special. Did you have a moment like that?

It was actually before we even did our first filming day. It was the day I got out of quarantine. I got out, and I walked out of the hotel onto the street, just to look around where I was in Brisbane, and I walked down one street block, and all of a sudden, I hear, “Sheik!” I’m looking around, and I look up, and The Wild Samoans [John Tui and Fasitua Amosa] are hanging off the roof, yelling for me. I was like, “I’ll be right up. I don’t know you guys, but I’ll come right up.” I got to the roof, and everybody was up there barbequing, and it was already, we just had this family bond on day one. Like, this is going to be amazing, because not only are we going to be filming together, but we’re family on screen and we’re family off-screen, and I’ve never had that in an acting gig before.

Brett Azar, Matt Willig, Kevin Makely - Young Rock

You go to New York City, you’re in your trailers. They say cut, and you go home. There was never the outside of the filming bonding. Every time we had days off, we were doing stuff as a group. If you weren’t filming, you were trying to make plans with each other. I’ve never had that experience with an acting role. So I knew from day one, this is going to be way more special than anything. Regardless of what we’re filming because the bond that we shared, we totally brought that to the screen too. It just made the filming days that much more meaningful because we were joking, in between takes what we did earlier that day together. You don’t have that with a full cast. The whole cast did it together. No one was off doing their own thing really. We were always doing something together, and that meant more to me than anything.”

That’s essential, though, because I love how this show portrays wrestling, and one thing it shows that non-wrestling fans aren’t always aware of, is the brotherhood that these wrestlers have. They were often with their fellow wrestlers more than they were with their families.

Chavo was telling us that he was on the road for like 300 days out of the year, or more. It’s ridiculous, and he said that he would never have to pay for another airplane ticket because of the mileage that he’s accrued. He did a trip in Europe, and he did like 14 events in 12 days or something, and every day was in a new country. That’s the life of the WWE. You finish an event, you fly out, and you hit another event the next night. You fly out, and you hit another event the next night. He said one of the greatest things that The Rock did was The Rock, once he became a big star, he had his own plane and stuff. He had a private jet. He would always be like, “Hey, don’t worry about booking a flight. Come with me, we’ll hit it together. Let’s go out tonight, enjoy ourselves, and then go on when we can.” Chavo was saying how charitable and how appreciative The Rock was to his fellow co-workers, and that was cool to hear.

Past portrayals of professional wrestling on the big screen have not always shown the art form in a positive light, but since Fighting With My Family and other documentaries, that has changed a little. What did you think of those past portrayals of wrestling and how Young Rock was presenting wrestling?

I never want to see something I love portrayed in a negative light. So I kind of just ignored it. You had like the tragic tales of Chris Benoit and stuff that the media wanted to publicize, and you don’t need that. I mean, I hate how media will feed on negativity. So I ignored it. But with The Rock specifically, with Young Rock, in the time of COVID, it’s the perfect show. You’ve got families that are all together right now. More bonding is going on now than ever because they were trapped in the same household (laughs), but you have a show that can bring generations together because you have storylines from the seventies, eighties, nineties, and two-thousands. You have kids who are fans of being a kid. You have adults who are fans of wrestling. You have people that are straight-up fans of The Rock, who want to know everything about him.

Dwayne Johnson - Election - Young Rock
NBC

It’s ultimately an autobiography, so you’re getting a free read, and you can sit-down, and a grandfather and a grandchild can laugh at the same scenes together, and that is a special, special thing. That’s just what, I feel, America needed to get us over the hump of all the negativity of the last year. And to do that with a wrestling programme is icing on the cake, being a fan of wrestling myself, being the meathead actor. You know anything that’s muscle-bound and still popular is, you know, my heart sings. That’s the ultimate goal is to be the muscle-bound guy and still be accepted by everyone. Breaking the stereotype of like, “Oh, you’re too big for television.” It’s like, no, all these dudes, the Marvel, DC superheroes – there are some muscular dudes now.

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That’s my dude.

Speaking of Arnold, episode 7 of Young Rock, “Johnson and Hopkins,” even dabbles in the classic ‘90s debate of Arnold or [Sylvester] Stallone.

That was incredible. As an Arnold fan, to watch that, where they’re doing the “Get to the chopper. Get to the chopper. Get to the chopper,” I was screaming in my chair. I loved that scene so much, and I was pissed at DJ [Dwayne Johnson] for going with Stallone over Schwarzenegger. That’s not right. That is so wrong to me.

I don’t want to upset you, Brett, and I don’t want you to stop this interview, but I’m on the Stallone train a little bit more.

In the words of the Sheik, jabroni move!

But that debate, that encapsulates the whole ‘90s era.

One-hundred-percent. You don’t get realer moments. That’s why this show is so great because you can relate to that, that’s a conversation that you have. Those are moments – the high school moments, the college moments, those are moments that you had, and you can relate to that. You go, “Wow, Dwayne Johnson went through the same thing I did.” In episode 8, he’s standing there eating out of a jar of jam because there was nothing else left in the kitchen. I grew up that way. My mum would come in the kitchen, I’m sitting there with a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam, and I’m just spooning it, and she goes, “What are you doing?” and I’m like, “We’re out of bread.” She would tell me to put it on the fridge, so I lived those moments. I was like, this is so real to me, and I not only love the show because I’m a part of it, but I love the show.

Young Rock - Johnson & Hopkins
NBC

One of the scenes that really stand out in this season is The Iron Sheik talking to Lia Maivia and reading a list of cuss words he’s not allowed to say at the family barbeque. I love that scene.

That was a real situation, and you mentioned Brian Gewirtz, he was telling me that it really happened, and it was funny when it actually happened because when the Sheik was told he couldn’t say Jew, it literally sounded like he was crying. So he was like, “I want you to nail this,” so it was like, (Sheik accent) “No Jew,” and his voice went super high. Then they bleeped it all, so I was like, they didn’t even hear the voice.

It was on NBC, so they had to bleep it, I’m sure (laugh).

Yeah, I know. But for those of you who are fans and want the inside track, the words were: “No shit. No f**k. No Jew. Uh, okay, boss.

What was it like filming that scene? One take, or did you need a couple for that scene?

It was hilarious. I didn’t care how many takes. We did a few to nail it down, just to nail the placement of the paper and where to hold it. Like, I screwed up, I held it up here [holds a hand up to his face], so my face was covered while facing the camera the whole time. No, that scene was great, and when Josh [Thomson] comes in, he puts the newspaper down with Yao on there with the cowboy boots. When Lia crumples up the paper and throws it, so many times she would crumple up the paper, and it would hit me, and I was just waiting to see what they would use. That’s the exciting part, like, when you do a funny scene, and you do so many different takes of it and so many different versions, for me it’s like Christmas. To watch it on TV and to see which one they pick. That’s the most enjoyment I get out of watching anything I film, is to see which one they actually go with. And finally, she crumples up the paper and she throws it, and it kind of landed in my lap, and I just brushed it to the side slowly because I didn’t know what to do. That’s the one they went with.

Iron Sheik

My favourite part in that scene is actually when they discuss Lia being a female promoter and Sheik scans the list while saying, “Sheik respect all… women.”

Mine too. That was my absolute favourite line. You know, there was another one, when they were talking in Lia’s apartment, and it was Lia and ‘Soulman’ Rocky Johnson talking, and Lia’s like, what am I going to give the belt to the Sheik? And I’m sitting there with a Danish. They cut this whole monologue I had, which I’m bummed about. I had this whole monologue where I said, “One day, I will be WWF Champion. I will beat the legend, Mr. Bob Backlund. The six-time champion and he and I will become great friends because he respect me. He respect my talent.” Then I look at the Danish, “There is a fly on this Danish. You jabronis never close the box,” and I throw the Danish, and I throw the box. But they cut it down to that simple, “There is a fly on this Danish.” They went with the dumbed-down version.

Episode 6 is a standout episode because it has that fantastic battle royal scene at the end, which has the ‘80s style footage as well. The whole episode builds to that finale, almost like a professional wrestling show builds to the main event. Was that a standout episode for you?

Hundred percent. When we were filming that, I was working out in the gym with Chavo, and I did a couple – I did what you call a muscle up, where you do a pull-up, and you pull your whole body up above the bar. He goes, “Oh, you can do that, huh? I got an idea for you.” So the next day, we start with Macho Man jumping on my back, we flip over the top rope, I hold on, he falls out, and I flip myself back in. I was like, “We’re gonna use this in filming?” He goes, “Oh, yeah.” So we did that, that’s how Macho Man goes out. I get back in the ring, and the [Wild] Samoans grab me, they headbutt me and throw me through the rope, not over the rope. I don’t know if that was the original script where I actually won. I think that changed, I don’t remember. But I was so on cloud nine to just be the winner at the end of that battle royal. I think it might have been playing favourites because of Natch’s family.

(Laughs) Did Natch give you her family’s reaction to Sheik’s victory?

Oh, they were loving it. As we were filming, she was showing the filming tapes, the dailies to her family. They were like, “Yeah, you’re nailing it.” We’re happy to have you kind of thing. You know, for an actor, that’s all you can ask for.

What was it like filming that battle royal because I can imagine it could’ve been pretty chaotic?

It was a long day. It was harder for the jobbers, for the other guys that weren’t the main actors because they were real wrestlers in the independent circuit in Australia. So they’re not used to doing a scene, cut, okay, back to one. Do your move, cut. Okay, back to one. Repeating over and over again the same stuff. We were just like, “Yeah, that’s acting, man.” We were mentally ready for it – all the prime characters, and for me again, when you combine physicality with an acting role, I’m in heaven. So for me it was a dream come true. I did pass out. I was sitting there – it wasn’t my scene. I think they were shooting Macho Man’s jump, and me and The Wild Samoans were sitting off set, and I was sitting in a chair, and all of a sudden, I’m out. And John Tui takes out his phone and he’s sipping a Red Bull, and I’m snoring in the background. It took a lot to do that battle royal. We did it in one day, I think.

Iron Sheik Camel Clutch

What was great was, they got to highlight – they tried to highlight all the wrestlers’ big moves. Like, for me to do the camel clutch was, I could’ve been happy just with that. Just a shot of me doing the Camel Clutch as the Sheik. Macho Man got his top rope signature, [Ricky] Steamboat got his crossbody, and Soulman always has his punch and dropkick. Wild Samoans had the chairs and crazy antics. Andre had that guy over his head. They really made sure to respect every wrestler in a true way.

There was a scene that got cut, where Iron Sheik and Sgt. Slaughter had this little standoff. We went chin to jaw, and I did like a “Number one,” and he slapped my finger out of my hand. Yeah, I wish that got air time, just for the fans of the Sheik, who know that whole thing.

So that was going to be a part of the battle royal?

We filmed it. It was like in between someone getting thrown out, we had that standoff, and then he hits someone, and then another jobber got in the way. But it didn’t make it to air.

Hopefully we get some of these scenes in DVD extras or something along those lines.

Oh, hopefully. That would be cool.

Young Rock is being renewed for a season 2. What are your thoughts on that, and what excites you the most about season 2?

I have no clue what’s in store for season 2. But if it’s anything like season 1, the greatest thing I’m looking forward to is John and Tui (The Wild Samoans) BBQ cooking for the family of the cast.

Check out part 1 of our interview with Brett Azar here.

To stay up to date with Brett Azar, follow him on Instagram at @brettazar.

Young Rock will return for season 2 on NBC.

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