Johnson voices the character Maui, the great ocean demigod who helps fearless Moana as she embarks on a journey to discover what is beyond the confines of her island and save it from a terrible curse.
What Johnson said he found particularly relevant and empowering was having a young girl drive the story. He told ABC News that he loves this new version of a female hero.
"There is no love interest. And there's no damsel in distress character in here," Johnson said. "She represents so many 15-, 16-year-old girls out there."
The heroine, Johnson said, reminds him of his own 15-year-old daughter, "Ambitious and has a really string point of view. Wants to tackle the world -- loving tapping into her own identity. Putting me in my place," the actor admitted laughing.
Despite Johnson's resemblance to his animated onscreen character, with bulging muscles and tribal tattoos, his tough exterior couldn't shield him from getting emotional.
"I have never cried consistently ... through a movie more than I have with this movie," Johnson said. "Just to be clear, they’re all manly tears though."
And that look for his character, down to his shape and hair, was actually based on Johnson's grandfather. "He looked like that," Johnson said. "He was a Samoan high chief who had high chief tattoos all over his body," and he was a wrestler, like "the Rock," as well.
The on-screen star said this film challenged him to project a character relying solely on his voice. "It was exercising a different muscle and it was a great challenge, he said. Johnson explained there were multiple cameras shooting him while he would say his lines, "And how you say them, how your facial expressions are delivering the lines. All that is infused into the animation."
Johnson, who comes from Polynesian descent, said this was "an opportunity to showcase Polynesian culture to the world on the big screen in a way that it had never been showcased before."
A lot of Johnson's real-life experiences and parts of his own story were reflected in this movie. "I played football, didn't make it. Failed at that. There were a lot of failures that Maui has had to go through as well," Johnson said.
Proud of the film, his character and what it represents, he told ABC his favorite line from the film is when Maui tries to tell Moana she is a princess. "And she’s very adamant, 'I'm not a princess. I'm the daughter of a the chief, but I'm not a princess,'" he said laughing. "And I say something like, 'Well, listen, if you got a dress and you got a sidekick then you're a princess.' It's very funny. It’s the best line in the movie."
"Moana" will be in theaters on Nov. 23.
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