Interview with “Young Rock” actors

TV Interview!

Stacey Leilua and Ana Tuisila

Interview with actors of “Young Rock” on NBC by Suzanne 3/23/21

There are two short interviews here with the actors from “Young Rock.” One is with Stacey Leilua, who plays Ata; and with Ana Tuisila, who plays her mother, Lia. The other is with Joseph Lee Anderson, who plays Ata’s husband, Rocky, and with Matt Willig, who plays Andre the Giant.  This is a fun little show, and I enjoy watching it.

Here’s the first interview, with the women.

Suzanne:   My first question is for Stacy: what has the fan reaction been like so far that you’ve seen?

Stacey:   It’s mostly just been, I guess, in the way of messages through social media, because it’s not screening in New Zealand yet. So, I get messages from people – like the stuff I love is Pacific Islanders around the world saying how awesome it is to turn the TV’s on and see, you know, their mums and the grandmas sort of represented, their uncles. So, they’re seeing their culture on primetime US TV, and they’re loving it. So, that’s awesome for me to be able to be a part of that representation.

Suzanne:   Yeah, that’s great about the show. I didn’t even realize that he had lived in Hawaii, and I spent three years in Honolulu, and I miss it so much. I was happy to see that. And, Anna, are you on social media at all?

Ana:   Yes, I am.

Suzanne:   What is the reaction that you’ve gotten?

Ana:   Well, like Stacey, my family in New Zealand hasn’t seen the series at all, and so they’re putting on these promotions and “watch this,” and they are coming back to me sort of, “Watch what? We haven’t haven’t seen [it].” So, it’s a bit disappointing that they’re not keeping up with the excitement that I’m feeling as well. But we’re really lucky that I’ve got a link that was sent, so I’m able to watch it at the same time, but for the rest of New Zealand and Australia, it’s a shame that they’re not feeling the same as we all are.

Suzanne:   Yeah. It’s too bad you can’t get a copy to send to your family at least.

Stacey:   It’s coming soon, I think.

Suzanne:   Oh, good. I can’t imagine.

Question:   This is a male fronted comedy, but what I really like about it is that the women are a really big part of it, and you guys get to not just be background players; you’re really in the narrative of it. I was just curious how you feel about that, and how you feel about this show? It’s a success. Did you feel more pressure before it was a success, or do you feel more pressure now to keep it a success?

Stacey:   I think when you get the original audition, and you can see who’s attached to it, and you see Dwayne Johnson, that already is an indication of the success of what it [is] most likely going to be like. It’s pretty hard to imagine that something that he’s attached to is…not going to work or whatever. He’s just incredible like that. So, he finds a way to make everything work.

And I was excited about the fact that he will very often and publicly speak about his mother and his grandmother and the influence that these women had on his life. I mean, to this day, his mother, I think she she lives with him, or she’s pretty close to physically where he is. So, it’s kind of like at the end of this long journey that they’ve been through and the ups and downs. It’s the two of them still there looking after each other.

I quite often say that playing a real character, a real person, Ata Johnson, I don’t like to think of it as pressure, because I feel like that sort of has negative connotations. I think there’s definitely a huge responsibility in there.

I guess, if we’re talking about the success of a show, for me, what I really cared about the most was that I was going to do this character justice and that Dwayne and Ata were going to be watching this and going, “Yes,” and that has happened.

So, for me, I think, like, we talk about the ratings or more seasons and things like that, and I’m like, as long as I’m bringing this truth to that character – Just, I think in light of what a life they’ve had, and, you know, like we were saying, the ups and downs, we only see a sort of snippet of it in the show. It was so important to me; that was the priority for me, really being able to do the family justice and make them proud of the representation on the screen, for me, anyway.

Ana, do you want to speak to that?

Ana:   You ask about being the only woman in a very male dominated cast. Well, you know, it just helped me play the role even more diligently, because, Lia, the grandmother, is obviously a very strong character, and being the only woman and in with the wrestlers and the football team, it just makes – you know, I’m even sitting up straight now just thinking about it. It just makes the role that I play so much more physical [and] mentally and emotionally more dominant to just get there and make sure that I play this character the way it should be. So, being in a very male dominated, as you say, cast, and the storyline, it just just helps me portray this character even better.

There isn’t much known about it, but after listening to Dwayne and Ata describe her, I thought, “Oh, that’s great.” It’s just great putting the women up here. So, it wasn’t too difficult. I guess, as Stacey said, the pressure was ensuring that the character and the role was played with integrity and honesty, and making sure that I play the role the way it should be.

Question:   …What role did your mothers and grandmother play in your life?…Was there something that you brought on from your mother and grandmothers on to this show?

Stacey:   Yeah, I think I’ve mentioned before in interviews, my grandfather was actually a boxing champion here in New Zealand, and he held the light heavyweight title in, I want to say, early 1960s, I think. So [it] was my grandmother at home looking after the babies and holding the fort while her athlete sort of superstar husband, as much as he could be back then in New Zealand, was out traveling and on the road and everything that came with that. So, for me, in the early portrayals of Ata, that was something that was on my mind as well, and just kind of channeling a little bit of that and what that might have been like.

Like Ata, my grandmother is a very… strong matriarch of the family and really led with love and care for her children. I think that that was really, [and] after speaking with Dwayne and Ata, we’ve been saying sort of the character is really the heart and soul of the storytelling, and she brings that love and the nurturing. I mean, she’s a fighter, and she’s fierce, but it’s always done with the integrity and love for her son first and foremost, and then the family that wraps around him and guides him through his life journey. So, I was really holding on to, I guess, a lot of those aspects that I had seen myself in my grandmother growing up. Yeah, on a personal note for me.

Ana:   I didn’t know my maternal and paternal grandparents, grandmothers, but when I read the script, that was just truly my mother, my own mother, and, I guess, for myself, as well. She was also the matriarch of the eldest of 13 children. So, even though we had high chiefs, and there were five girls and eight boys, she just dominated. Whatever she says, goes.

When I read the script, I thought, “It sounds just like my mother,” and, I guess, it’s just passed down to the way I have parented. So, it was quite easy for me to step into Lia’s shoes, and even more so that Lia’s Samoan, and I’m Samoan. I guess, the connection there was really easy, and the cultural terms.

So, you asked, were my mother and my grandmother, or people who I knew – Yes, they were great inspiration, and it’s just passed down to how we are. Women are very strong. Even though they talk about the patriarchal system in Samoan, the [unintelligible], it’s the women that run the household. So, they are very strong, and, I guess, for Lia, which is different being in a white male’s institutional sport, that would have been [unintelligible]. Yes. So, the inspiration for me was my mother, which made it easy for me to play the character.

You can see the video here!

Joseph Lee Anderson and Matt Willig

Here’s the transcript of the call with the two men.

Question:   Hey, guys, thank you so much for taking the time and congratulations on on this fantastic journey. So, let me just ask, and I’m sure you’ve been asked, but I’m really curious, what was the biggest challenge for both of you in portraying your characters, especially because they’re based on real people? And what’s the most surprising thing you think you learned in the process of preparing for the characters?

Joseph:   Yeah, the biggest thing for me was the weight. I was at about 220 pounds when I first got the role, and then got a call and said they wanted me to be about 250 pounds. So, I had about two months to put all that weight on and make it as much muscle as possible…The opposite of what Matt did.

…And I was shocked to learn that Rocky, he fell so far from grace. He worked so hard to get to that moment, and he was on top of the world, and it just didn’t end the way I’m sure he wanted it to end.

Matthew:   Yeah, a lot like Joseph, you know, it starts with the weight. I knew I needed to have a certain look, and I normally kind of am more much more diligent about my diet and exercise and stuff. So, I just ate whatever I wanted for a couple months, and I gained about 35 pounds myself, but it was bad weight. So, it was fun for a while, and then it got old after a little bit, but that was important to kind of have that feel of having that girth that André had. I knew I wasn’t gonna be 7’4’’ or, you know, a seven footer, but I could have the dimensions that would be important. So, that was the first thing, and then, getting the sort of the Frenchisms and the French accent down was important [and] not easy. So, just kind of working with a French dialect coach first and then sort of making it my own sort of mumbled André speak was important to have. I had to be very careful about making it understandable for television so that people can understand me, but at the same time, sort of keeping authentic to André in the way that he spoke. So, that was hard.

And the surprising stuff, I guess, it’s just the fact that he was so close to Rocky, their family, and Dwayne. I wasn’t aware of that. So, that was a big revelation and sort of immediately sort of made my character André of all these crazy wrestlers, specifically having André in his life as uncle Andre, so that was pretty cool.

Suzanne:   Hi, guys. For Matt, what research have you done? What did you do before you got the role playing André the Giant?

Matthew:   Well, it started with watching documentaries and going from the documentaries to interviews, listening to him speak, trying to do as much research as possible. What else? You know, like I said, getting the speak down, his accent. Things like that were important, because I knew that when you’re dealing with someone that’s a real person, there is a sense of being true to him. You have to do a lot of work to get to that point before you even put your own spin on it. So, that was important. …Just watching him, watching his videos, watching his interviews was really important. Again, speaking to Dwayne and getting his take on it and finding out what was real in his life, in that relationship, how it was real, and what was going to be explored sort of for the show, as opposed to being in real life. Like I said, it was really nice to hear that that was a real relationship that was really, really important to him. So, that kind of made it nice so that we could be talking to Dwayne and getting the history of where André came into their lives with Peter Maivia, his grandfather, and kind of working into to being uncle André with him as a kid and beyond.

Suzanne:   Okay, great. And Joseph, I watched the four episodes last night on demand. You have such great energy on there. Have you gotten a lot of fan feedback so far?

Joseph:   Yeah, everyone’s been very kind saying they love what I’m doing with Rocky. People that have met him have been awesome with the feedback. So, that was great. Then, most importantly, Dwayne is beyond happy.

Suzanne:   Oh, that’s good.

Joseph:   That’s really the person I wanted to make happy.

Question:   …Joseph, I’ll start with you…Talk to us a little bit about how involved – and Matthew, you can also speak to this – how involved has Dwayne been throughout this process of helping you guys create and build on these characters who are real characters and real people that he lived with? [unintelligible] Like with Joseph, you play his dad. Talk to us a little bit about how involved Dwayne has been throughout this process.

Joseph:   He was insanely involved. Anytime there was a question, anything, it was a text away. He made himself open to me at any time. Anything I needed, it was just, he was there, and that was amazing since we were in different countries. So, yeah, hopefully, once COVID is over, we can all get in the same set, same room. It’d be nice to talk.

Question:   Definitely. Matthew, what about you?

Matthew:   Yeah, you know, it’s obviously a little different being that I’m not playing his dad. So, I come and go, but I think the biggest thing was just, number one, Dwayne being accessible. Like Joe said, from the first zoom call that we had on the first table read, he said, “Anytime any of you want to get with me -“ You know, he kind of apologized for not being able to be with us, but, “Anytime you guys want any information, have any questions, ask us.” And I did. So, him giving me a really detailed, honest account of his relationship with André and what he meant…He actually kind of commented what I think he meant, to me, but he really felt like André had a sense of being uncle André with him, and that was really important to him, especially early on in his life. So, Dwayne was really, really detailed about that relationship, and so, that was really cool. And again, he kind of left with, “If you ever need anything, any questions about anything, please let me know.” So, he’s been great.

Question:   Definitely. Joe, let me ask you this. You play Rocky, Dwayne’s father. Did you study him before Dwayne was assessable in helping you with the character, but did you study him on your own to learn a different side of him than what Dwayne told you? Did you study him and research him yourself?

Joseph:   Well, I think my research on Rocky was a lot of watching matches, a lot of trying to emulate how he moves in the ring and his signature moves, because Dwayne, he really gets the, you know, I’m not gonna learn about the man better than from Dwayne, so that was great. Yeah, I watched any interview I could find, every match I could find. There was a lot of that.

Question:   Why do you think people love the show so much? I mean, the fans are on Twitter; they’re in the comments on Instagram. People love the show. I think it gets better each week. It’s like, “Okay, oh, it was cute.” Then, each week it gets better, and then, you get an inside look into Dwayne’s life. Why do you think viewers love the show so much?

Joseph:   It’s such a heartwarming show. It’s nice; it’s loving. It’s a loving show. It’s about family. There’s so much that this show brings. We go in the 80s with the wrestlers, as, you know, the older generation loves wrestlers. And people who love Dwayne get more of an inside look at Dwayne that they probably would have never known if he wouldn’t have done this. There’s a lot that this show brings.

Question:   Definitely. Matthew, why do you think [that]?

Matthew:   Yeah, I think, just to piggyback Joe a little bit, it is that sense of – it appeals to many different audiences. People that want to see the wrestling and those iconic wrestlers are getting that. People that want to see more about Dwayne’s life are getting that. In today’s age where you can stream any sort of violence and sex and drugs and all that stuff, I think just to have a good heartwarming family type story, where you can sit down with your kids and know that for at least a half hour, they’re not going to be overwhelmed with some sort of sex or violence, it’s kind of a nice change. And I think that people are responding to that and really appreciate [it]. And, again, you’re really getting like four different stories in one show, which is pretty amazing that we’re able to do that. So, people come in and out, and they enjoy different aspects of it. So that’s, I think, contributing to the popularity of it all.

Here is the video of this call!

Interviews Transcribed by Jamie of


“Young Rock” focuses on different chapters of Dwayne Johnson’s life. From growing up in a strong and resilient family, to being surrounded by the wild characters of his professional wrestling family, to playing football at the University of Miami, the show will explore the crazy rollercoaster that has shaped Dwayne into the man he is today and the larger-than-life characters he’s met along the way.

Dwayne Johnson, Joseph Lee Anderson, Stacey Leilua, Adrian Groulx, Bradley Constant, Uli Latukefu, Ana Tuisila, Fasitua Amosa and John Tui star.

Nahnatchka Khan, Dwayne Johnson, Jeff Chiang, Dany Garcia, Hiram Garcia, Brian Gewirtz and Jennifer Carreras serve as executive producers.

“Young Rock” is produced by Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group, Seven Bucks Productions and Fierce Baby Productions.

Stacey Leilua

Ata Johnson, “Young Rock”

YOUNG ROCK --  Season: 1 -- Pictured: Stacey Leilua as Ata Johnson -- (Photo by: Mark Taylor/NBC)
Stacey Leilua plays Ata Johnson on the new NBC comedy “Young Rock.” Leilua is of Samoan, Maori and English heritage and based in New Zealand. She graduated from one of New Zealand’s leading drama schools: UNITEC School of Performing & Screen Arts, where she majored in acting. Leilua has worked on a variety of productions, including New Zealand’s longest-running series, Shortland Street.” Other credits of note are the UK/NZ feature film ”Love Birds” and the highly acclaimed web series “The Factory,” which she also co-executive produced alongside Kila Kokonut Krew under the mentorship of Robin Scholes, one of New Zealand’s most well-known producers. Leilua has also worked as a presenter (“Homai Te Paki Paki”) and director with the South Auckland-based theatre company Kila Kokonut Krew. Most recently she performed in Tusiata Avia’s ”Wild Dogs Under My Skirt,” which won Production of the Year at the 2018 Wellington Theatre Awards. The production was picked up for a season at the Soho Playhouse in New York in January 2020 where it played to full houses every night.

Ana Tuisila

Lia Maivia, “Young Rock”

YOUNG ROCK --  Season: 1 -- Pictured: Ana Tuisila as Lia -- (Photo by: Mark Taylor/NBC)
Ana Tuisila stars as Lia Maivia on NBC’s new comedy “Young Rock.” Tuisila’s career spans over two decades in film, television and theater. Her most memorable performance is in “The Songmaker’s Chair,” a stage production written by esteemed international author, poet and playwright Albert Wendt, and directed by Nathaniel Lees and Nancy Brunning. Following a successful season, the show later participated in the International Arts Festival at Te Papa Museum in New Zealand. Tuisila has starred in two short films on location in Samoa, Vai and Liliu, which have both been recognized throughout film festivals globally. She speaks fluent Samoan as well as having familiarity with other Pacific languages.

Joseph Lee Anderson

Rocky Johnson, “Young Rock”

YOUNG ROCK --  Season: 1 -- Pictured: Joseph Lee Anderson as Rocky Johnson -- (Photo by: Mark Taylor/NBC)
Joseph Lee Anderson plays Rocky Johnson in the NBC comedy series “Young Rock.” Anderson has appeared in the Oscar-nominated film “Harriet,” recurred on “S.W.A.T.” and has guest starred on “Timeless,” “American Soul” and others. He also directed and starred in the critically acclaimed short film “The Jog,” which premiered at South By Southwest. Anderson is a Kansas City native currently living in Los Angeles.




Matthew Willig retired from the NFL after 14 seasons. He played for 6 teams (New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers). He went to 2 Super Bowls, winning 1 and losing the other. He is steadily rising up the acting ladder and receiving acclaim as his roles get bigger and better.

Proofread and Edited by Brenda

Back to the Primetime Articles and Interviews Page

Young Rock cast members

Follow Us!

Leave a Reply