The Game Plan
The Game Plan In Theaters
"The Game Plan" tells the story of rugged superstar quarterback Joe Kingman (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), whose Boston-based team is chasing a championship. A 'serial bachelor', Kingman is living the ultimate fantasy: he's rich, famous and the life of the party. But this dream is suddenly sacked for a loss when he discovers the 8-year-old daughter (newcomer Madison Pettis) he never knew he had - the product of a last fling before parting years ago with his young wife. Now, during the most important time in his career, he must figure out how to juggle his parties, practices and dates with the newfound ballet classes, bedtime stories and dolls that come with his daughter. Equally perplexed is his hard-edged mega-agent, Stella (Kyra Sedgwick), herself without a parental bone in her body. Despite the often hilarious misadventures that come with being a new father, Joe discovers that's there's more to life than money, endorsements and thousands of adoring fans: the love and care of one very special small fan is the only thing that matters.
"The Game Plan" was filmed in and around Boston, and Wild About Movies sat with "The Game Plan" star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson three times during the shoot - once on the set and twice at Davio's restaurant, Johnson's favorite eatery while in Boston. Stay tuned for the exclusive feature.
STARRING: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Roselyn Sanchez, Kyra Sedgwick, Morris Chestnut, Madison Pettis, Gordon Clapp
DIRECTOR: Andy Fickman
STUDIO: Walt Disney
RATING: PG (For mild language)
Wild About Movies Grade: B-
"The Game Plan"
Behind The Scenes
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Switches Up His “Game Plan”
With his roles in such films as “The Gridiron Gang” and “The Scorpion King,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has used his raw athletic skills and rugged charisma to forge a reputation as today’s consummate action hero. But now, with THE GAME PLAN, everything’s about to change, as he turns from dead serious and invincible to funny and fallible in the role of a hotshot quarterback who thinks his life as the ultimate rich, tough and successful bachelor is completely perfect until he suddenly has to tackle one major obstacle: fatherhood. Starring as Joe Kingman, Johnson reveals how learning to be a dad, one comical mistake at a time, helps an already successful man become a better person.
THE GAME PLAN began when producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray – partners in Mayhem Pictures and renowned for creating such uplifting and visceral sports drama hits as “The Rookie,” “Miracle” and “Invincible” - got a wild idea. They thought it would be a lot of fun to try something completely different – a comedy starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who was an actor that they’d always wanted to work with. With a meeting looming with the action star, they put their heads together with Mayhem development executive Nichole Millard to forge some ideas to present, and were quickly inspired.
“We love movies about the triumph of an underdog, but that’s not exactly what you think about when it comes to ‘The Rock’,” explains Gray. “So we started thinking about that perspective. We also knew that Dwayne had played football at the University of Miami and that he was the father of a young girl. So, we sat down with Nichole Millard to come up with a story that might combine all those elements. And that evolved into THE GAME PLAN.”
Millard was so excited by the idea of a Disney comedy starring “The Rock,” that she asked her bosses if she could write the screenplay with her partner Kathryn Price. The two comedy writers had been inseparable since bonding as college students at the University of Kansas, splitting only when both pursued graduate studies at different law schools. Subsequent career moves landed both back in Hollywood, with Price working in television production and Millard in film development, but they still dreamed of getting their big break as screenwriters. It was a risk, but Gray and Ciardi were so won over by Millard’s passion for the project that they gave her the go-ahead.
In the end, Gray and Ciardi would lose their valuable employee, but they gained the screenplay they had hoped for in return. Meanwhile, Millard & Price were finally able to make their dreams of screenwriting in Hollywood come true and have since become a very busy writing team. Additional contributions to the film’s story were made by Audrey Wells, whose credits include writing and directing the films “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Guinevere,” as well as writing such diverse comedies as “Shall We Dance,” “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” “The Kid” and the family film “George of The Jungle.”
“We thought it would be so fun to see ‘The Rock’ as a football player becoming awkward and vulnerable with this teeny, tiny daughter. That naturally led to a lot of comedy,” says Millard. “How does this big guy -- who has been a bachelor for so long and doesn’t even have a guest bedroom -- suddenly deal with a little girl who needs him? We had a blast imagining all the scenarios they would find themselves in.”
Adds Price: “There aren’t very many situations that you could put ‘The Rock’ into that he couldn’t handle, which is what makes the premise of having him go up against an 8 year-old girl so funny.”
The story grew from there, with the duo placing Joe Kingman into one perplexing parenting situation after another – from ballet class to dealing with dolls and bedazzlers -- even as he tries to maintain his he-man quarterback lifestyle. Along the way, Dwayne Johnson, the father of a 3 year-old himself, continually provided his own creative input. “He would send us emails saying things like ‘what if I had to do her hair?’ and his ideas were great,” notes Price.
Another idea Johnson brought to the table was turning Joe Kingman, whose nickname is “The King,” into a fan of the original “King,” Elvis Presley – echoing Johnson’s long-time love of Presley. Millard and Price had a blast with the idea. “When we found out how much Dwayne Johnson loves Elvis we found lots of ways to work that into the script,” says Millard.
Continues Price: “We were trying to pick Elvis songs Dwayne might sing and he said ‘let me put them on my iPod and I’ll try them out in my trailer’ – and we got such a kick out of thinking of him dancing to ‘Hounddog’ in his trailer,” laughs Price.
Ultimately, Johnson would give Kingman his own Elvis-inspired end-zone dance as well as a chance to serenade Madison Pettis onscreen with his own plaintive version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” – which almost wins her over.
Millard and Price also had fun creating Joe’s unlikely foil – his acerbic female sports agent who is even more flummoxed by children than Joe. “There aren’t many female sports agents, so we wanted Stella to be this tough-as-nails woman who has even fewer existing parenting skills than Joe. There were a lot of laughs to be mined there, as well as the chance to write a very unique female character,” says Price.
But, most of all, they were excited about another story element that’s normally absent in action movies starring major action heroes: the story’s heart. “We’re comedy writers but we also really wanted to tell a story about a man who discovers the power of putting family over career. This is a journey where Joe finally discovers the priorities that make life so special,” says Millard.
When director Andy Fickman – who is equally known for his film comedies, including the recent teen hit “She’s The Man” starring Amanda Bynes, as he is for his stage work (“Jewtopia”, the stage version of “Reefer Madness,” among others) – encountered the script, he found himself hooked, and even relating to Joe Kingman’s epic struggle to become as big a hero to his daughter as he is on the football field.
“I loved the notion of who this guy was and the whole relationship with his daughter,” Fickman says. “I have a 10 year-old son so just that dynamic of trying to balance work and family also spoke to me in a profound way.”
A meeting with Dwayne Johnson sealed the deal for Fickman. “He clearly was the perfect person for this role because he has the ability to laugh at his own image,” the director says. “The audience has to believe Joe is the coolest and most studly of athletes – yet, at the same time, the comedy has to stem from how completely out of the loop he is when it comes to parenting and everyday life. Dwayne certainly has all the physical attributes of Joe Kingman but, more importantly, he also was able to play the comedy. It was clear that Dwayne was ready to embrace this character’s moving journey and simultaneously have a lot of fun with him.”
The Comic Side of The Rock: Playing Joe Kingman
On the set of THE GAME PLAN, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s performance took even director Andy Fickman by surprise. “He really exceeded all my expectations. There was always a level at which we knew that who Joe Kingman is as a person would be funny, but Dwayne went much further and truly found the heart of this tricky character,” he observes. “He found the perfect balancing act between portraying a superstar who is outrageously self-absorbed and a humbled new dad you really want to root for.”
From the minute he first heard the concept for THE GAME PLAN, Johnson was thrilled to face a challenge unlike any he had taken on in filmmaking before. “When you have the chance to create a character like this from the ground up, that’s a lot of fun,” he says. “Having had the opportunity to play football for 10 years, I knew I would be able to bring some of that swagger to Joe as well as some of the invaluable lessons from the game that I’ve taken with me through life.”
Joe might appear to have it all, Johnson notes, because he’s got the hot women, the big money and the adoring fans, but he’s still missing something major. “Joe is one of the guys who from the minute he was born was destined to be a great quarterback,” he points out. “He’s worked hard for everything he’s gotten but, at the same time, I think he’s never quite understood the value of certain things, of what it means to be part of a team, to do things for other people – and it takes a little girl to show him what is really important in life.”
Equally exciting to Johnson was the thought of putting on pads and a helmet again. Having played as a member of the 1991 NCAA Champion University of Miami Hurricanes before an injured back toppled his NFL dreams (and paved the way to his pro wrestling career), Johnson says he envisioned Joe Kingman as combining “Brett Favre’s toughness with Joe Namath’s charisma.”
But, even more than the football action, Johnson relished the chance to show off his comic chops. He especially enjoyed allowing this tough, confident man’s awkwardness and terror in the face of parenting shine through. “For Joe, being a father requires a whole new playbook,” laughs Johnson.
It also means going into a whole new world, one that includes such unlikely pursuits as ballet, which meant Johnson had to dive into his own Ballet 101 lessons. He admits he rather enjoyed it, especially once he realized the different-but-equal set of athletic skills it requires. “One thing I realized is just how difficult ballet is,” says Johnson. “You’ve gotta be disciplined, you’ve gotta be on your toes literally and you’ve got to have total body control. It’s a great thing to learn. And when else am I ever going to get a chance to wear a one-piece spandex outfit in green?”
Johnson also enjoyed the opportunity to give another very personal touch to the role – bringing his own passionate love of his musical idol Elvis Presley to Kingman -- who takes his nickname “The King” very seriously. “I’ve been a huge fan of Elvis for as long as I can remember,” confesses Johnson. “I’ve got three artists who always inspire me: Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Sam Cooke -- and that’s it. And I thought that being an Elvis fan would be another great little layer for Joe. It was a chance to have more fun with the character – and even to sing an Elvis song.”
Not only is Kingman’s house lined with a Elvis posters and memorabilia, Joe also whips out his curled-lip Elvis imitation whenever things get rough – including with Peyton, who shows him no mercy with her critique of his performance!
While Johnson went on a limb with the character’s humor, he also notes that playing Joe was about revealing the moment of a man’s unexpected transformation. “Joe may be a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he’s been by himself for a very long time,” sums up Johnson. “His only real friends are Spike the Bulldog and the end zone. But when this little 8 year-old girl comes along who calls him daddy, it changes him in ways he never thought imaginable. How many times do you get the chance to win the championship game and get the girl…only this time you get to win the love of your little daughter who means the world to you? Joe discovers just how lucky he really is.”
A Chip off “The Rock”: Casting Joe Kingman’s Daughter
While Dwayne Johnson was on board with THE GAME PLAN from the very beginning, the filmmakers faced a daunting task: how to find an irresistibly cute and sweet little girl who could also evoke the same sassiness, spunk and toughness of spirit as her on-screen dad?
An extensive nationwide search led them to 7 year-old Madison Pettis of Arlington, Texas. A complete newcomer to moviemaking, Madison won the role of Joe’s daughter, Peyton, in impressive auditions which demonstrated some real spunk along with her sweetness. Explains Andy Fickman: “When we screen tested Madison with Dwayne, we all could see it. The very first time they interacted, Dwayne looked over at me with this face that said ‘wow…watch out for this one!’”
He continues: “Madison really embraced the emotional complexity of Peyton. After all, Peyton isn’t just a Shirley Temple ragamuffin -- she has plotted a major con and she has to pull it off. At the same time, Peyton is also going through a lot of hurt as well as hope in trying to discover a new father. I started out with my own ideas about Peyton, but Madison educated me every day on how much more the character of Peyton could be.”
The producers also knew they had lightning in a bottle once Pettis was cast. “Madison not only has a brilliant energy, but she even looks a bit like we thought Joe’s daughter would,” says Gordon Gray. She also had a rare comic sensibility for someone so young. Comments Mark Ciardi: “Madison is so smart and funny that we continually laughed at what came out of her mouth. Once the cameras rolled, the chemistry between Dwayne and Madison just grew and grew.”
Madison also managed not to be intimidated by her hulk of a co-star. “Dwayne was just so nice to me,” she says of working side-by-side with The Rock. “The very first day we started shooting, he brought me doughnuts and told me that we were just going to have so much fun doing the movie. That meant a lot to me!”
But most of all, Madison loved being the one who changes Joe Kingman for the better. “Joe really is kind of a jerk at the beginning and he doesn’t even know it,” she observes. “But Peyton shows him what it’s like to be nice. And, in the end, she realizes her dream of finding her father, too!”
All The King’s Women: Roselyn Sanchez and Kyra Sedgwick
When Joe Kingman is suddenly thrust into the foreign world of parenthood, his confidence is rocked by one situation after another that prove a whole lot harder than making plays on the field – including finding his bulldog dressed in a tutu by his ballet-obsessed daughter. But when he takes Peyton to enroll at Monique’s Ballet School, he’s in for a different kind of surprise: the beautiful, fiery Monique herself, who demands total discipline, including from Joe as a parent.
To play Monique, the filmmakers knew they would need someone with both a strong personality and an authentic dance background, which ultimately led them to multitalented actress Roselyn Sanchez. Sanchez, a dancer, model and singer who journeyed from Puerto Rico to New York to jumpstart her acting career, can currently be seen in the hit television series “Without a Trace” and was recently seen in “Rush Hour 3.” She immediately impressed the filmmakers.
“Roselyn’s a gifted dancer, she’s beautiful and, on top of that, she can also act very tough,” says Gordon Gray, “We needed a woman with the strength to stand up to Joe Kingman.”
Director Andy Fickman liked that Roselyn was able to be as light on her feet as she was hard on woefully inexperienced dad Joe Kingman. “It was important to us to treat the world of ballet in the film with the same respect as the world of football,” he says. “Roselyn grew up dancing ballet and she learned an entire new ballet for our film, without using a dance double. She was also so much fun, making everyone laugh even when things were hard. I am forever in her debt for joining the production.”
Sanchez, who also played a ballerina in “Yellow,” was thrilled to be able to put her dance training to use in creating a character who has a life-changing effect on Joe and his daughter. “I grew up in Puerto Rico, where I had danced ballet since I was four years old myself. I love dancing so, for me, this was an amazing experience,” she says.
Another character who is key to the film is Joe Kingman’s cutthroat super-agent, Stella, who is more than happy to cheat and lie for Kingman – but not to baby-sit for him! The role gave Emmy Award nominee Kyra Sedgwick a much-desired break from more recent serious fare in her career.
“I had done some gut-wrenching roles recently when I got the call from Andy Fickman to do THE GAME PLAN,” explains Sedgwick. “And add to that the pressure of doing a weekly series (TNT’s “The Closer”), it was great to do something so fun. I loved being light, and being able to laugh a lot. Dwayne Johnson was a sweet and utter gentleman, while Andy Fickman was so funny and smart. He’s incredibly fast and witty, which always helps me in a scene.”
“Kyra is one terrific actress,” concludes Dwayne Johnson. “She has a rough character to play -- one who doesn’t take any crap and gets the deals done – yet manages to be very funny at the same time. She was aces to work with, just great.”
Recruiting the Boston Rebels: Casting The Team
A superstar player needs a superstar entourage, so director Andy Fickman next set out to find a roster of actors with a unique combination of athleticism and acting ability to play Joe Kingman’s teammates and coach. The result was a cast of former pro football players and actors with football experience who were truly ready to play.
Key among the Rebel team members is Sanders, the team’s veteran wide receiver, who wants Joe Kingman to be more of a team player. To play the role, the filmmakers chose Morris Chestnut, who first came to be recognized by moviegoers in John Singleton’s “Boyz N The Hood” as a high school running back trying to use his football skills to escape his violent South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. More recently, Chestnut joined with Joaquin Phoenix in the ensemble cast of the firefighting drama “Ladder 49.”
Chestnut first had to pass an unofficial audition for football coordinator Mark Ellis to make sure he had the hands for making the movie’s crucial catch – but with that proven he threw himself into the role. “I’m a huge football fan and I’ve never had the opportunity to really do a football movie,” he says. “When I read the script, I also thought here’s a really fun movie for families.”
As for his character, Chestnut says: “Sanders is always taking the high road, even at the expense of some of the team laughing at him. But I think he’s a guy who’s been around and sees the big picture. He witnesses Joe changing and stepping into this grey area where, for the first time, he is in over his head.”
A former NFL player for the New England Patriots, Brian White, next joined the cast as the team’s running back, Webber. The son of Boston Celtics’ great JoJo White, Brian was also a professional lacrosse player for the Boston Blazers before becoming an actor, most recently seen in “Stomp the Yard” and “The Family Stone.” White appreciated the authenticity that comes along with the story’s locker room world and the joking amongst the players. “I’m familiar with the world that this movie deals with, with the trials and tribulations of being a professional athlete,” he says, “and I think this story pretty accurately portrays what athletes have to go through to really find themselves. Madison, in her role, reminds us all that we’re just big kids at heart and that the key to happiness is to never lose that.”
Meanwhile, Jamal Duff, a former NFL lineman with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, took on the role of the Rebel’s dead-serious offensive lineman, Monroe. They don’t come any bigger and tougher than Monroe but when it comes to little Peyton, he suddenly turns into a sweet and gentle giant.
Says Duff of his character: “Monroe is sort of the silent warrior, but when Monroe speaks, people listen!” Yet when Peyton makes her entrance into the life of the team, Duff notes that this tiny child changes Monroe’s world in a big way. “There comes a moment for Monroe when he is suddenly totally affected by Peyton, when he sees the magic in her soul and they just connect – and it really opens up a whole new side of him. She reminds him that it’s what is in your heart that you really need to win,” says Duff. As for working with Madison Pettis, he adds: “She’s a pleasure to be around and even more fun to see in action!”
Rounding out the featured players on the team is Hayes MacArthur, himself a record-holding former quarterback for Bowdoin College and player with the semi-pro football team the LA Gunslingers, in the role of the Rebels' tight end Cooper. MacArthur notes that, along with the comedy and story of family, "there's a real guy element to this story, which captures the way guys are together on teams and how they rally behind their leader."
Finally, Gordon Clapp, an Emmy Award winner for his role on the long-running series “NYPD Blue”, was tapped to play the Boston Rebels’ iron-fisted coach, Mark Maddox. Clapp saw his character as an amalgam of several of the game’s most celebrated coaches. “I think he’s a combination of Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and a few others I admire,” says Clapp. “He’s more of a brainiac than a gung-ho type. He has always tried to goad Joe into being more of a team player, but he also wants him to find his own way, even if he never expected him to do it quite this way.”
Two Boot Camps: Football and . . . Ballet
Riveting, nail-biting sports action has always been a trademark of Gordon Gray and Mark Ciardi’s sports dramas, from “Miracle” to “Invincible,” and although THE GAME PLAN breaks out into comedy, they wanted this film to be no exception. So, to train and choreograph their team of already skilled football players, the filmmakers brought in football coordinator Mark Ellis. A former college football player, Ellis previously worked with Ciardi and Gray to forge the stunningly true-to-the-sport baseball sequences for “The Rookie” and hockey sequences in “Miracle,” and had also honed his football choreography on such films as “The Longest Yard,” “The Replacements,” “Any Given Sunday,” “Varsity Blues,” “We Are Marshall” and, for Ciardi and Gray, the critically acclaimed hit “Invincible” with Mark Wahlberg.
For Ellis, veracity is the key to any movie involving sports, whether drama or comedy. “The audience will never believe the characters emotionally if they don’t believe what’s happening on the field,” he summarizes. “With this movie, you have to believe that Joe Kingman is the most aggressive player in football, one of the toughest guys in the toughest environments, because when this 8-year-old girl melts him, then it means that much more.”
Adds director Andy Fickman: “This is a family film but we also were determined that the football should look just like it would on TV on Sunday. I wanted there to be strong hits and the game to be at an A level, so that people would say, ‘wow, that looked so real.’”
Ellis began by helping to figure out Joe Kingman’s quarterback style. “We really liked the idea of him being on the edge a lot, of getting him out of the pocket a little bit,” he explains. “So we took that and created our playbook.” Ellis and Johnson also watched plenty of classic football action film clips together for further inspiration. “We took a little bit of Brett Favre, Joe Namath and Joe Montana and put them all in one package to create Joe Kingman,” says Ellis. “And Dwayne loved that because he’s such a good actor he could apply all the stuff we saw immediately.”
Ellis also put the rest of the actors through their paces during a football training camp prior to filming where they learned to play as a team and got themselves into football shape.
Adding to the authenticity, the filmmakers wrangled permission to have their fledgling team train and play in Gillette Stadium, home of the 3-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, and even filled the press rooms with well-known sports personalities and journalists including Los Angeles Times’ columnist T. J. Simers, USA Today writer Jon Saraceno and broadcasters such as Boomer Esiason, Marv Albert, Jim Gray, ESPN’s Steve Levy and Stuart Scott, among others.
With the football world in expert hands, Dwayne Johnson, Madison Pettis and Roselyn Sanchez headed for a different kind of boot camp, one neither Johnson nor his fans likely ever imagined he would enter: ballet school! THE GAME PLAN’s choreographer, Mary Ann Kellogg, worked with Andy Fickman, production designer David J. Bomba, costume designer Genevieve Tyrrell and composer Nathan Wang to create an original mini-ballet that was integrated into the film, while several dozen local Boston dancers were recruited to dance alongside the stars.
“We attacked the ballet the same way we attacked football,” says Mark Ciardi. “We had one of the best companies in the United States, the Boston Ballet, and the beautiful Majestic Theatre in Boston, at our disposal. It was a massive undertaking, and in some ways, even bigger than the football!” Adds Fickman: “I hope dads and football fans get a treat out of the football just as much as dance fans will enjoy the ballet scenes. I even think that the impressive ballet scenes pushed football coordinator Mark Ellis a bit to come up with even more spectacular ideas for the football scenes.”
“It was one of the highlights of the whole movie for me,” says Madison Pettis. “Here I was, dancing with the Boston Ballet, and they were all my new friends. I loved doing the production with them and I hated to see it end. But the funniest part of all was seeing Dwayne dressed like a tree!”
Indeed, when Joe Kingman is forced to play a role in Petyon’s ballet production, the 6’4” Johnson found himself no longer in a helmet-and-pads but in a leaf-covered ballet costume. “That’s not an outfit that most guys would be brave enough to get into,” laughs Gordon Gray, “but Dwayne did it and he made the most of it. In fact, he even seemed pretty graceful out there!”
Designing "The Game Plan"
The next task for the filmmakers was creating a believable world around Joe Kingman, whose universe comes with all the sweet rewards of fame and adulation. He drives a gorgeous, gull-winged Mercedes, dates only the most fashionable women and his lavishly furnished townhouse is the stuff of which bachelor fantasies are made. He even owns a brand new trendy downtown watering hole, the Jelly Bar.
To create a lavish lifestyle befitting “the King,” Fickman recruited production designer David J. Bomba, who previously worked with Fickman on “She’s the Man” and also designed the early rock ‘n roll world of Johnny Cash for the acclaimed “Walk The Line.” Bomba started by constructing Joe’s multi-million dollar penthouse apartment on a large converted warehouse floor in the town of Westwood, Massachusetts. Complete with its own elevator, the apartment needed to be able to house something huge: Joe Kingman’s ego. Bomba further outfitted Joe’s home with a pool-sized bathtub, a designer kitchen, a gigantic personal gym and souvenir merchandise of Elvis Presley.
“Joe’s an egomaniac, to be sure,” says Bomba. “Andy wanted to make sure the audience never forgot that, yet still have his apartment show us Joe’s loneliness at the top. We used lots of mirrors so he could always be checking himself out. We put all his past glories on display, from pictures and trophies to game balls. To top it all off, we had a wall-size portrait of him that dominates the living room. It is all in line with his huge sense of self, which is toppled by little Peyton.”
Whether he was working on the field of Gillette Stadium or designing on the stage of the Majestic Theatre, Bomba notes that his design strategy was always “to contrast Peyton and Joe, the child and the adult, football and ballet.”
While those contrasts create hilarious situations, they are ultimately overcome by the one thing Joe Kingman has never acquired among his possessions: real love.
Sums up Andy Fickman: “I’d love the audience to walk away from the movie with the notion that anybody can heal someone else, large or small. Because, for all the layers of cockiness Joe has built around himself for years, it just takes one little girl’s love to melt it all away.”