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San Andreas director Brad Peyton on leaving Canada and working with The Rock

The earth splits wide open in the new Hollywood disaster pick San Andreas, but the film is also a groundbreaking occasion for Newfoundland's Brad Peyton.

The action thriller starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson opens in theatres Friday

Newfoundland-born director Brad Peyton talks about directing Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in the new disaster flick San Andreas and the advantages of growing up in Gander. 3:22

The earth splits wide open in the new Hollywood disaster epic San Andreas, but the film is also a groundbreaking occasion for Newfoundland's Brad Peyton.

The Gander-born filmmaker has been making movies and television shows for years now, but directing Warner Bros.' $100 million tentpole is the 35-year-old's most ambitious project yet.

"San Andreas has been about elevating myself," said Peyton in an interview with CBC News in Los Angeles."[I'm] challenging myself, trying not just to make bigger movies, a better movie, but to make more refined movies and really focus on what inspires me."

Set in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in California, San Andreas stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a Los Angeles rescue helicopter pilot fighting to save his fractured family.

Carla Gugino plays Emma and Dwayne Johnson plays Ray in the action thriller San Andreas. (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Thanks to the magic of computer generated special effects, audiences can take in the heart-pounding spectacle as California crumbles and Johnson makes impossible rescues in every conceivable fashion. But Peyton says the action film also succeeds at tugging the heartstrings.

"At the end of the day, you have to make something that emotionally touches you, because I think that's why we go to the movies," says Peyton, who was called "the next Steven Spielberg" by San Andreas producer Beau Flynn.

"Naively, I didn't actually recognize I was making a disaster movie when I started ... and I never really totally embraced that because, again, I was so focused on the characters."

Growing up in Gander

Character development is something Peyton is very familiar with. In fact, the young filmmaker credits his upbringing in Gander as key to developing his creativity.

"You're playing in the woods with your friends, you're drawing all the time, you're creating all the time," explains Peyton. "The culture is one of storytelling. It's arts and crafts. It's making stuff on your own, that's in the culture." 

Peyton's first foray into fame came in 2002 during his residency at Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre in Toronto when his comedy short Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl got noticed. Not long after, he was fielding calls from Tom Hank's people in Los Angeles and being hired as a writer by Universal Pictures.

Thirteen years later and San Andreas, Peyton's second movie with professional wrestler-turned-Hollywood superstar Dwayne Johnson, is about to go into wide release.

Working with The Rock

The men also worked together in 2012's action comedy Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the upcoming Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon. Peyton says that they've developed a kind of working relationship that is rare in Hollywood.

Canadian director Brad Peyton works with actor Dwayne Johnson on the set of the action thriller San Andreas. The movie, which imagines the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in California, opens in theatres this Friday. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures)
"You don't often get the chance and opportunity to work with the same star more than once," explains Peyton, "and the thing about this relationship is that there's a lot of trust."

Filming also offered a chance for Peyton and Johnson, whose father was born in Nova Scotia, to bond over their Canadian roots.

"What's funny about Dwayne is I feel like he's lived everywhere," said Peyton, who shared a laugh with Johnson over the fact that he shares his nickname with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I was a little surprised that his dad was from Nova Scotia, but at the same time, you're like 'of course his dad's from Nova Scotia, he's been everywhere.'" 

Peyton says Dwayne Johnson fans will be surprised by the actor's performance in San Andreas.

"I'd never seen him play a hero like this," he says, describing Johnson's turn as the divorced chopper pilot Ray Gaines. 

"He's a little more damaged than a lot of characters Dwayne's ever played, so there's an opportunity to build a new character and forward our relationship and do something new, both of us, that we'd never done before."

San Andreas goes into wide release on Friday.

With files from Alice Hopton and Kim Brunhuber

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