Dany Garcia and the Drive to Succeed

Garcia talks her partnership with ex-husband Dwayne Johnson, HBO’s Ballers and Rock the Troops

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Forget all of the larger-than-life superheroes you know and love: Iron Man, Captain America … maybe even her partner-in-crime, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For our money, there’s not a harder worker in Hollywood than the real-life bionic woman, Dany Garcia. The story of how the young love between her and Johnson has evolved into entertainment’s most successful business pairing is a fascinating one, especially as they continue to conquer new ground in film and television. We chatted with Garcia about bodybuilding, her goals growing up in Jersey, and her role in the real World Tag Team Champions.

Paste: You are a manager, a producer, a pro bodybuilder … not to mention a wife and mom. What’s your typical day like?
Garcia: You know, I cheat a little a bit in that I do have to work more hours so I actually do need more time. One of the best things about the set-up is that I’m on the East Coast, and I have 75% of my team members on the West Coast. I have a 13-year-old daughter, so my day starts early. We start at about 6 a.m. and usually either my husband or I take her to school. Then, from 6 to 12 are really my hours that are focused on my bodybuilding career. I do cardio, make sure all my meals are ready, I get in my workout which is about an hour and a half to two hours, so I get that all out of the way. The cardio is 7 days a week, and the training is five to six days a week, depending on if I’m going into prep. So luckily, by the time I wrap up on the west coast everyone’s sort of moving and beginning to get serious. It gets hectic.

If I’m home, if I’m not on set [or a street location], then it’s work that’s stemming from the Garcia Company, which is my management media-holding company. Underneath there is Team Rock Enterprise, and my production company, and other talent I work with. We have so many layers. For example, on the Team Rock Enterprise side—Dwayne’s career in particular—we’re very vertically integrated. So if he’s doing something, if I have him filming—for example right now in Boston—or we have a press day, then we always try and see what else we can fill in on that day to service the other leads. Whether it’s something digitally or another film that’s coming out or a television show—it really requires a lot of logistical planning. You can’t get too deep in the weeds. I have to sort of zoom in and then come back out because when you have so many projects, if you get fully engrossed in one thing, you can’t see how they completely tie together.

And the work I do continually focuses on tying everything together. If you look at my day, it’s sort of why my bodybuilding career sort of starts in the morning and then I tie in the management aspect, the entertainment production aspect, and my family … and there’s philanthropy. It all sort of cycles and flows together and while they seem separate they all come as representations of who I am.

Paste: So basically, you never actually sleep.
Garcia: (laughs) That’s the thing, as a bodybuilder you have to sleep. If you don’t sleep your muscles melt. When I do go to sleep, I try and sleep well. You’d be surprised, when you start to be really accountable to the things you love and are really passionate about, it doesn’t take quite as much energy, it’s not quite as much of a grind. I can’t have things be grinding. I can grind when I’m in the gym, lifting 80-pound dumbbells, or what ever I’m doing—I can grind there. But the rest of my life runs very smoothly so that I can do a lot of different things.

Paste: Let’s talk a little bit about the good ol’ days. You grew up in Jersey, up in the Morris County area, before moving to Miami. Your original intent was to pursue an education in finance. What were your original career goals?
Garcia: I’m a first-generation Cuban, born here in the United States. My family immigrated, and my parents arrived separately. My dad came when he was 16 and my mom came as a 14 year old and then found each other. Growing up in that family, there was a sense of drive. My dad was amazing, he worked at an auto body shop when he was 16-years-old, sweeping floors, and stayed there for the next 35 years becoming the manager and putting three kids through school. I mean, talk about the American dream.

He instilled in me the drive to work and do better. So there was a point [early on] when I decided I wanted to be a millionaire. Boom, lock it in. Going to take care of my family, locked in, but what am I going to do? At 12, I was working at a barn that had eight horses: running the barn, cleaning the barn, and driving the tractor after school. I was able to work selling men’s suits all through high school. Then I went to university and also worked there while I was taking classes. So the drive to just create something and be more was very strong. In my head, while I was in high school, I was interested in International Finance and Marketing. This is a global world. When I was at University of Miami, the offer to work at Merrill Lynch came. For me, it was another opportunity where I could gather assets. Whatever I learned at Merrill Lynch would absolutely benefit me in any other career. The structure at Merrill Lynch didn’t create glass ceilings, and that was very attractive to me. That’s sort of how that process started.

The interesting thing is that during that time I met D.J. before I graduated the University of Miami. I sorta started managing because at that point Dwayne was a freshman red shirt. He was going into his sophomore year, and he was actually going to play. I started watching film with him. We started going over plays. The pillars of our future relationship were being planted where there was always back and forth in conversation.

[When he] went into television, to World Wrestling Entertainment. I was able to follow so while he was doing story lines I was giving comments. I was watching shows. We would talk about the matches, what happened, what went over, what were the promos, what was the angle, and that just naturally evolved. This was occurring while I was also having this career in finance, which transferred over, especially when it was time to have conversations about contracts, about extensions of new relationships, or schedules with TV. It was all skills that I could use easily. The other thing was, because I had worked at Merrill Lynch for so long and was used to CEOs and corporations, I could walk into any room with Dwayne and be very comfortable with the executive team that was there. That was a massive asset for us. We didn’t have to be so dependent upon agents.

This is probably one of the really binding strengths of the relationship today. We know how to be a team, and we will grow together. I know what his goals are, the heartbeat of who he is. He can trust me. I can speak to his passion. I can speak to experiences he had.

It was interesting, when our divorce became final is officially when Dwayne asked me to take over his management. I was like “absolutely.” It was an easy step.

Paste: It’s an amazingly successful partnership with such an unlikely backstory. Looking back, did Dwayne the college football player and Dany the aspiring business professional ever plan for or expect this path to mega-success?
Garcia: Two thought processes were happening during that time. D.J. was very driven by his experiences being poor. “What can I do with my own two hands? I will never be there again.” He always had a love for entertainment. He stayed in that space. Then you had my mindset coming out of New Jersey, which is, I want to grow, and I want to be a millionaire, but I want to build an enterprise. Individually, we have a tremendous amount of bandwidth, and together we have this voracious appetite to grow, be better and do more.

Dwayne is an entertainer. He has that connection with the audience. Once he was able to do so much in the WWE, it was a natural progression for him to move to TV. Especially if you know him, you’ll understand because he’s like, “What more can I do? How can I move the needle? What can we do better?”

I remember the conversation when we were doing film [The Scorpion King]—I was pregnant at that time and it was a point where we were like, “This is what we’re doing next. Let’s go.” I remember five years ago realizing that we could entertain a global audience and just really have a much larger presence and connection.

One of the reasons it’s so safe to say those words is because inherently, in the W.W.E., Vince McMahon taught us to take care of your audience. That is one lesson that has never left us. Every script, every television opportunity, every social media post he’s ever done, has always addressed that question: are you taking care of your audience? Are you honoring the people who put you in the position that you get to be in? It was pounded into us continuously.

Paste: Another pattern I’ve seen in the product of your work together is an openness to embracing all different types of media and outlets. A lot of movie stars are hesitant to do TV or other projects, but we’ve seen Dwayne on everything from big-budget films to reality TV, and it seems to have only made him a bigger star.
Garcia: Absolutely. I don’t run into a lot of individuals who actually embrace that. [Not long after] D.J. shifted to film, I remember us deciding, “Let’s let Hollywood make room for us.” Whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to work our asses off and we are going to make sure it’s great. Make sure it’s the best version of what we can deliver.

Paste: Let’s hit on your new HBO show, Ballers. It’s coming out this month. It’s got to be somewhat of a passion project, as the Rock is starring in the show and playing a former football player-turned-agent. Where did the idea for Ballers come from?
Garcia: The idea came from Steven Levinson and Mark Wahlberg and their production company. They are brilliant … so wonderful to work with. We worked with Mark on the film Pain and Gain, so coming out of that was the thought of “what else can we do together?” We were extremely fortunate to not only have a relationship with Mark and Lev but still to be in a position where this came and we knew we could bring to it an authenticity that probably no other actor could at this time.

I mean, two steps to the left, and this could have been Dwayne’s life. In addition, knowing so many of the athletes and the stories growing up at the University of Miami, we were familiar with the outrageousness of grinding and being gods on the field and then coming off and finding that things weren’t quite as smooth. We shot it in Miami, which is wonderful. We were able to sleep in our own homes every night. There’s so much fun to it, and the cast is just amazing. We have so many great cameos.

Paste: I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as what you have on the agenda for the future. What else are you working on?
Garcia: We are pairing up with Spike and we’re doing this global event for the military. It will be filmed overseas. It’s called “Rock the Troops.” It’s going to air Veteran’s Day, and it’s going to have everyone. We’re going to have comedy and movies, and major musical performances—the Taylor Swifts of the world. It will be an incredible live show overseas honoring the five different divisions. We’re going to take a moment to actually honor specific individuals, and we are so excited about that. This is not our grandparents’ U.S.O. event. This is spectacular.

We have 50 projects in the works right now. One is another documentary with HBO called a Rock and a Hard Place, following a group of inmates here in South Florida who are obviously in prison. They go through this rehabilitation boot camp, which has a success rate of 87%,. It’s amazing, in lieu of 15 years, or 18 years, or five years—these are serious crimes that these inmates commit. The stories are dramatic. We had actually stopped there when we were filming Pain and Gain and were so moved by what we saw.

And we have developed some deals with Spike and USA Network. We’re going to get to do some fun programming that kind of wraps around the WWE and supports them, so we’re excited about that.