Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in 'The Smashing Machine' Credit: A24

To say that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has played it safe in Hollywood to this point might be an understatement.

In fact, in some roles, the professional wrestling legend hasn’t even bothered to cover up his signature tattoos.

But while most of Johnson’s roles have seen him play varying degrees of exaggerated versions of himself, he appears to finally be stepping outside of his comfort zone. And ironically, he’ll be doing so in the middle of a ring — albeit an octagon and not a squared circle.

Late last year, it was announced that Johnson would play former UFC fighter Mark Kerr in A24’s autobiographical film The Smashing Machine. Based on the 2002 documentary The Smashing Machine: The Life and Times of Extreme Fighter Mark Kerr, the film details Kerr’s rise to stardom in the world of mixed martial arts and his ensuing battles with addiction.

Even when it was first announced, the Benny Safdie film seemed like a unique choice for the 52-year-old Johnson. For one, he’d be playing a character who will presumably be in his late-20s to early-30s during most of the film. For another, A24 typically focuses on low-to-midsized budget films, whereas The Rock has almost exclusively starred in blockbusters (or in the case of Black Adam, attempted blockbusters).

But if there were any questions about Johnson’s commitment to the project, they likely vanished on Tuesday. With filming for The Smashing Machine underway, A24 released a still shot showing a totally unrecognizable Johnson getting checked on in his corner during the middle of a fight.

While his signature muscles remain intact, that’s about the only feature in the photo reminiscent of The Rock. Otherwise, his skin tone appears to be a different color, his hair is grown out and he’s clearly wearing some sort of prosthetics to change the appearance of his face (and yes, his tattoos are also hidden).

For one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, Johnson has clearly made a new habit of embracing new challenges, whether it’s his heel turn heading into WrestleMania XL or taking on what appears to be the most dramatic role of his acting career. While it will certainly be interesting to see how he fares in the film, it would be tough to argue that the first look didn’t increase the interest in the 2025 release, which will feature Johnson in a way he’s never been seen before — literally.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.