When Dwayne Johnson has a new film coming out, one usually has a pretty clear notion of what to expect.

Johnson usually plays a muscly hero who bursts with charm and charisma, whether in Hobbs & Shaw, the Jumanji sequels, Skyscraper, or Jungle Cruise. Director Michael Bay, on the other hand, coaxed a very different kind of performance out of him in 2013. The star of Pain & Gain begins the film as a weight-lifting Christian who is committed to living a virtuous life, but by the conclusion, he is sniffing pounds of cocaine and roasting a human hand in a backyard BBQ.

The based-on-a-true-story criminal thriller is one of Michael Bay’s best films, and it’s definitely one of Dwayne Johnson’s greatest career turns – so it’s crazy to think that Johnson tried to back out of making Pain & Gain a week before principal photography began.

Personally, my favorite Michael Bay picture is Pain & Gain, so I felt obliged to bring it up when I had the chance to sit down with him last week at the Los Angeles press day for his latest thriller, Ambulance. I expressed my admiration for Dwayne Johnson’s performance in the picture, and Bay told me how he prevented Johnson from dropping out of the project:

Dwayne Johnson plays Paul Doyle in Pain & Gain (authored by Avengers: Endgame screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), and the character is the polar opposite of all the family-friendly blockbuster protagonists we see him as today. It’s one of Johnson’s only two R-rated pictures in the recent decade, the other being Baywatch from 2017.

Dwayne Johnson was first cast in Pain & Gain in December 2011, and while he dropped out a few months later when filming began in March 2012, Michael Bay made it sound like the actors and crew had a great time on set. This was partly due to the director’s genuine enthusiasm for the project, and partly due to the fact that he was shooting in his own backyard in Miami, Florida. Bay remarked.

With Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, and Anthony Mackie in the cast, it sounds like there was some fun fast-and-loose-ness in the making of Pain & Gain, based on Michael Bay’s comments (one of his great pre-Captain America roles). Bay continued, recalling his time on the set of the 2013 film,

Pain & Gain is one of Michael Bay’s tiniest features, and it has a lot in common with his most recent. An ambulance was shot in the first year of the epidemic, and as a result, it’s a very stripped-down visual experience, with the tale taking place over the course of a single day and primarily unfolding as a feature-length automobile pursuit. It’s also, as I mentioned in my review, another of Bay’s best films.

Ambulance, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza Gonzalez, will be released in theaters on Friday, April 8. Visit the official website for showtimes near you, and check out our 2022 Movie Release Calendar to see what else is coming out this year in theaters and on Netflix.