The Rock
Credit: World Wrestline Entertainment

“Ladies and gentlemen,” yelled an announcer five weeks ago on the WWE’s Raw, “Please welcome the host of WrestleMania 27.” The lights in the arena dimmed. A minute’s worth of anticipation built. Then, a voice… “If ya smeeeeelllll what The Rock is cookin’” came roaring from the speakers. And out came the man himself — scowling and posturing like he’d never left. Really though, Dwayne Johnson was gone for seven years.

Johnson, of course, used the sabbatical to become a force outside of the ring and on Hollywood movie sets. It worked. He’s since acted in Walking Tall, Get Smart, and The Game Plan among other films. On April 29 he’ll star in the latest installation of the Fast and the Furious series, Fast Five.

Endless cheers upon his entrance that Valentine’s Day evening confirmed wrestling fans missed him dearly. EW caught up with the people’s champ recently to talk about why he left the safe confines of studio sets and returned to the physically taxing, but oh, so entertaining life of smackdown-laying and slick-talking to jabronis. The Rock promises WrestleMania XXVII (April 3 on pay per view) will not be one to miss, and he hints that we can expect more from him after.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After seven years away and becoming increasingly successful as an actor, why did you decide to come back the WWE?

DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON: I’ve always had a love for live performance. And growing up in the wrestling business, I have a love for entertaining the fans in that way. It’s a very visceral, intense, emotional, entertaining outlet for me. To be able to perform in front of 75,000 people… It’s always inspired me.

Your exit wasn’t a big deal. You kind of slipped out the back door. Did you know you’d be back?

When I left the business seven years ago, I quietly walked away. I didn’t want a big exodus or farewell. I quietly thanked who I needed to thank and I walked away. I wanted to 100 percent commit myself to acting and making movies of different genres. I always knew I’d come back. I just didn’t know in what capacity. Nor did I know when.

What made this opportunity look so appetizing?

This opportunity came along and it felt right and I felt we could do something that’s never been done. They’ve never had a host at Wrestlemania. And as a performer, the adrenaline rush and excitement to host 75-80,000 people, in the Georgia Dome? S—! There’s nothing like it.

Before your return last month, it had been a long time since you’ve been in front of that crowd. How did you feel backstage when you were about to come out and surprise everyone?

It’s a charged excitement standing backstage and knowing that there is great anticipation in the air. There are probably 18,000 people hanging on every minute before the big announcement happened. So now the challenge for me is to have fun and electrify and entertain the audience. I had a 20-25 minute monologue.

I caught it.

When my music hit, going out…. It was f—ing incredible. That night was the greatest Raw moment I’ve ever experienced. And that’s saying a lot. I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of icons in the WWE. The goosebumps never left my body during that monologue.

You know, a lot of kids got in trouble for saying stuff like, “It doesn’t matter!” to the teacher when I was in middle school. You had a huge impact on kids. Some of it was positive, some detention-worthy.

[Laughs] I gotta tell you, man, that was the cool thing back then. There’s not another platform like that for me where I can be that intense, in your face, infused with entertainment. Coining the phrases that people go on to say like “It doesn’t matter!” or telling John Cena, “Enjoy your Fruity Pebbles, you yabba dabba bitch!” Boom, “Yabba dabba bitch” is everywhere now. This is why I love that. And I’ve always loved the showmanship of professional wrestling. While I love making movies, I love that platform, too. I can be that guy who you see calling someone a “yabba dabba bitch” and then cap it off by planting their ass with a Rock Bottom. As an actor, no other platform like that exists.

What can we expect for you as Wrestlemania’s host? I know you’ll be holding the mic. But as a fan, we all expect for you to lend a hand or a boot in the beat down party.

What you can expect is getting me at my best — microphone in hand, entertaining the audience, taking the 75,000 people on a great ride for four hours, interacting backstage and in the crowd. And on top of all that is the fact that I can take my boot and stick it straight up someone’s ass. And when I’m done with that, I will slap the lips clean off their face. [Laughs]

It’s crazy, because this will actually happen.

Yeah! So we’ll go from there — whether it’s a singing bit or a comedy bit or something that’s a bit more intense [like] exactly what I just said. I worked with Anne Hathaway and I love her. And I’ve met James Franco. He’s a great guy. They did a great job at the Oscars. But they’re not putting boots to asses. They’re not slapping lips off faces.

Are you going to take a break from movies for more wrestling?

No, I’m going to do both. I’m coming out with Fast Five. I think audiences are really going to like that. I’m a new character [in the Fast and the Furious series]. I hunt down Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. That comes out at the end of April. You know, I do pretty good at hunting guys down.

I believe you. When you made your return you said you were never going anywhere again. Will we see you often as a recurring act in the WWE after Wrestlemania?

It’s all up in the air. It depends on what makes sense to the audience. You always think audience first. Much like this return to wrestling, I’m always looking forward to do big and better. [Laughs]

What’s with the diabolical laughter?

After Wrestlemania, you’ll see what I’m talking about… Coming back into the business, I wanted to partner up with [WWE chairman and CEO] Vince [McMahon] and create something special that’s never been done that’s big on a global scale. And hosting Wrestlemania answered that. In addition to that, it’s not only hosting. It’s evolved into me whopping somebody’s ass. I’m looking to do something big and special with Vince after Wrestlemania.

How good does it feel to be back?

To be privileged and blessed to be able to make movies and then to be able to go into an environment that is my home — that I was born in to — is not only an honor, but something I live for. When I was a kid at four-years-old, that’s when I started amateur wrestling with my dad and family. And when that’s instilled in you it never goes away.