Rampage puts action star Dwayne Johnson front and center, as he battles big-ass monsters the only way The Rock can.

Loosely based the popular video game about a secret lab experiment that turns animals into huge rampaging monsters, Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye who has a close bond with an albino silverback gorilla named George. When some of these experimental gases are accidentally released, George is one of the animals affected, along with a wolf and an alligator. Soon, all three animals are gargantuan and stomping their way to destroying a city. Davis has to team up with a geneticist (Naomie Harris) to figure out how to save the day AND his best friend.

The film also stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as an FBI agent who ends up helping Davis; Joe Manganiello as a mercenary for hire; and the evil Malin Akerman and Jake Lacey as the brother-sister team who run the corporation conducting the experiments.

At the recent press day, Johnson, Harris and other cast members, along with Rampage director Brad Peyton talked about making the ultimate smash-em-up monster movie.

Here are six things we learned, plus there’s a bonus tidbit about how the movie plays tribute to the video game:

On just how big the movie really was:

Brad Peyton: The movie was shot really fast. It was done in 55 days – 20 days less than San Andreas. We had six weeks less in post. For me, I was doing visual effects, the mix, the music all at the same time, which is not normal. I don’t like doing everything at once, but I learned from Dwayne, I like working a lot. The end of this movie was a lot of green screens. And Dwayne, and there’s a wolf there. Look at that stick and run around. It came together so quickly that even I, on the mix stage, seeing the music and sound come in so, for the last 25 minutes of the movie, even though I drew and storyboarded and previewed and all that, I had moments of, “Holy God! This is bananas!” It got so big, it kept growing. Post was so rapid. WETA Digital, Peter Jackson’s company, came in with so much great stuff, that even the person who planned it, was like, “OMG! This is crazy and bigger and better than I thought!” I don’t know what it was like for these guys [indicating the cast] “Okay, I’ll look at the goddamned tennis ball, what do you want from me?” But even for me, this was so huge.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan: When you get a call like, “Hey would you be interested in doing a movie with Dwayne and it’s got monsters in it,” it’s sort of what you dream about as a little kid. Brad is so on top of it. There is a lot of green screen and ‘look at the tennis ball,’ but we could see…He was so meticulous in his prep that he had scenes done on an iPad that we could see, which, thank God. When you’re talking about monsters pulling buildings down, it helped a lot. And then you see the final product, yeah go for it.

On how to make this video game-turned-movie stand out and surviving the “curse”:

Dwayne Johnson: We were very aware going in about the curse that has run rampant over the years. I made Doom, so I know. It was something we talked about very early on and how we were going to make it. You can have the calamity of a film like this and the expectation of the [people] who did San Andreas, what this next iteration of their film was going to be like. Especially with something like Rampage. The concept of this idea is an absurd one, a ridiculous one. We have three gigantic monsters completely destroying the city of Chicago. There isn’t a complex storyline in the video game, not like you have today in some of the games. It’s fairly one-note.

We took a lot of swings and cracks at it and got it to a place where it was viable and believable. And more importantly, fun. But we also thought we needed an anchor. What’s going to anchor this movie in heart and soul? And that’s going to be a relationship between myself and my best friend, a rare, gigantic albino gorilla named George. If we were going to be able to nail that anchor, then we have our shot at making a movie that people really want to go on the ride with. More importantly, we had a shot at making a movie that stood the test of time in the monster genre. There’s been a lot of great ones in the past… we just wanted to raise the bar just a little and anchor it with a relationship.

On how to use Dungeons & Dragons as a way into Rampage:

Joe Manganiello: I wrote a version of a Dungeons & Dragons film when it was at Warner Bro. I found out that Brad [Peyton] was also a big fan of the property and was looking to direct a Dungeons & Dragons film. I think they were talking to you [indicating Johnson] as well. I got my agents to connect me to Brad. I wanted to see what his idea is. We got on a Skype call and after a few minutes, he’s like, “I’m down in Atlanta. I’m getting ready to shoot Rampage. I have this great role if you wanna play it. Come down, we’ll shoot this movie, we’ll talk about Dungeons & Dragons. And we’ll go from there.” So that’s how I wound up in Rampage.

On what it takes to play such a badass:

Johnson: I think the key for me personally is finding those moments that are more interesting, funnier and more entertaining when something undercuts the badassery… I’ve had the opportunity to play some really cool characters in the past that have been some pretty cool badass guys, but there’s something inherently interesting when you can play a badass, but also the foe, the antagonist that you’re looking up at them and running from them. I love that, especially for a movie like this where you can have the latitude to just have fun.

On his influences and why he loves destroying stuff in his movies:

Peyton: It’s weird that my comfort zone is destruction. I got to the end of the movie and was like, “Yeah, let’s give Dwayne a rock launcher and blow some shit up.” Two people talking in a lab with three pages of dialogue makes me nervous, but blowing stuff up, no problem!

I grew up watching the movies of the late ’80s to mid-’90s, James Cameron, Spielberg, those guys. Tonally I can’t help being influenced by that. When I go to make a movie, I don’t look at other movies. I’ve seen them all, they are in my DNA. I’m such a movie fan, gamer, fanboy. But to me, the biggest influence is [Cameron’s] Terminator 2. I look at Terminator 2 and think, “This is the coolest shit ever.” This movie is the ultimate tone. So it’s coming from a place of passion and really relating to movies.

On relishing playing someone so evil:

Malin Akerman: It so juicy and so much fun to play the villain, the mastermind. To be that intelligent to conjure all this up. It’s always fun to go the other way. I’d like to think that I’m not as power hungry.

SPOILER WARNING: Here’s the Easter Egg nod to the video game, but it’s also a plot spoiler, so PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!

When asked what it was like being thrown in the air by a giant ape, Akerman gave it away that is how her character is killed (George eats her!)

Akerman: Being thrown into the mouth of the gorilla was one of those things when I became an audience member when I finally saw it done. I yelled out loud and thought it was the best scene ever, even though I was in it. I just didn’t know what to expect because I was being hoisted up on wires and it was a completely separate day when I was being dropped into the mouth of the gorilla. It was a bunch of mattresses I had to be plopped down into. A stunt lady was telling me to touch my toes as I went down and I realized how not in shape I was. Should have gone to the gym with Dwayne.

She’s also wearing a red dress in the scene, which Johnson explained is taken directly from the game.

Johnson: Her death was so cool to watch, but what you might not know that was our big homage to the video game. In the game, as the monsters go on their total destruction, there’s a lady in a red dress. Sometimes she gets away and sometimes she gets eaten. It’s great to see an audience erupt in applause that way.

Akerman: It’s kind of weird applauding my death, but…

Morgan: When you get eaten, my little 8-year-old was like, “She had that comin’!”

Check out all the big monster-fun when Rampage smashes into theaters this Friday.