Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What It's Like Portraying Dwayne Johnson's Mother On Young Rock, According To Stacey Leilua – Exclusive

Fans of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson know how close he is to his mother, Ata Johnson, often walking red carpets with her and bringing her out during Zoom interviews. Their public presence goes all the way back to The Rock's professional wrestling days when Ata was often seen on the sidelines of the wrestling ring.

Now, she's a big part of Johnson's hit TV series, "Young Rock," on which the pro-wrestler-turned-actor portrays himself in the not-so-distant future, after running for president. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about The Rock's upbringing and early career, with Joseph Lee Anderson playing his wrestling-legend father, Rocky Johnson; Stacey Leilua portraying the grounded Ata; and Ana Tuisila as his business-savvy grandmother, Lia Maivia.

In order to nail her performance as Ata, Leilua made a personal connection to Johnson's real-life mother, speaking with her on several occasions. Still, it was a daunting task. During an exclusive interview with Looper, Leilua revealed what it's been like walking in Ata's shoes for the past three seasons of "Young Rock," which airs Friday nights on NBC.

Leilua was 'nervous' about playing Ata

"When I got cast, you have these moments of going, 'Oh my gosh,'" says Stacey Leilua. "We would have a look through his Instagram and the things that he was putting out there. You get a bit nervous because [Ata is] still a huge part of his life and very involved in things he does, and he's this massive success."

But talking to both Ata and Johnson about the role helped alleviate some pressure, giving her a way to connect the maternal ways of Ata to her own experience as a mother. "Once we got to speak with them, that [nervousness] goes away because, without taking away from her and who she is as a mom, there are so many similarities [between] Ata as a mom and me as a mom, or my friends as mothers, or my own mother, or Ana," says Leilua. 

"Mothers have this quality that is very consistent with how Ata was written as a character. They want the best for their children. They want their children to succeed. They want to love their child and protect them and teach them the ropes and the ways of life. All those things were very much the day-to-day stuff that I was familiar with [and] I knew from other people. That helped to bring it away from 'Oh my gosh, she's Ata Johnson, the mother of Dwayne' [so] it was more about making it real and relatable for me and portraying that on-screen."

As for what the real Ata thinks of Leilua's performance, the actor feels nothing but support. "Getting feedback from the real Ata, like, 'That was spot on. That was me. That's exactly how it was,' made me think, 'Cool. Perfect. We did that right.' It's about taking it from this big thing down to what's at the core of it, and I think we did that with the show."

Season 3 of "Young Rock" airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. Episodes are then available for streaming the next day on Peacock.