At the movies

DJ Cotrona from ‘G.I. Joe’ plays with the big boys

DJ Cotrona got to realize a childhood dream by being in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, out Thursday. While growing up in Connecticut, the 32-year-old actor had all the toys related to the Hasbro comic books, even the coveted aircraft carrier (“the holy grail,” he says). In the sequel to GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra (2009), Cotrona plays Flint, a hothead in a team of fighters trying to eliminate a presidential imposter who has infiltrated the U.S. government.

And it doesn’t get better than playing with the big boys, a k a Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Cotrona is also rumored to be dating costar Adrianne Palicki, so it really was a win-win). .

How similar are you to Flint?

He has a serious problem with authority, but things happen to him that mature him pretty quickly. I’m stubborn in the same way, which can be a problem in my personal and professional life. It’s always fun to explore characters. Hopefully, I learned a little something about myself in the process.

What kind of prep work did you have to do?

I had to be in really good shape. Lots and lots of weight training and changing my diet. I put on like 20 pounds of muscle. You can’t really tell because I’m standing next to Dwayne Johnson the entire movie [laughs]. You work really hard for five months and feel strong, then you show up on set and suddenly you realize all of it was for nothing.

Have you kept up with the workouts?

I try to stay in decent shape. I’m pretty consistent. My friends find it annoying. We go out drinking and come the next morning I head to the gym. Though I’m off my game with this crazy press tour. I wake up at 4 in the morning and eat a pizza then go back to sleep. I’m all over the place. It’s a beautiful problem.

What was it like working with Bruce Willis?

Watching his movies made me want to become an actor. He’s from New Jersey, so we’re from a similar part of the country. I feel like I grew up with the unfamous version of him. To see him make it like that in Hollywood as such a revered actor was really inspiring to me. It gave me a goal to aim for. Bruce is a guy who comes to the set ready. He stays on script but always has curve balls, there’s way more coming at you. And nine times out of 10 the spontaneous stuff is what’s best in the film. I learned a lot from him.

What about The Rock?

I had never heard more positive rumors about anyone in the industry. I gotta tell you, after meeting him, he’s all that. He’s such a professional, kind, generous guy. Look, he’s crazy busy, crazy famous, but he has time for everyone and treats everyone around him with the utmost respect. That’s very, very rare. Just in life and as a professional, the way he carries himself I look up to him.

You costarred with Channing in “Dear John.” Are you friends?

Yeah, we’ve been buddies awhile now. Anytime we can put our fatigues on and roll around in the dirt with each other, it tends to work! I don’t know what that means. Someone’s trying to tell us something. No, seriously, he’s the nicest guy in the world. A great human being. I’m so happy for all his success. He’s about to have his first child. It’s nice to see him and his wife [ Jenna Dewan]. They’re so in love.

How was the chemistry?

What’s great about John Chu’s direction is the energy he created: We’re a group of peers coming up with the best ideas, not listening to one person’s instructions. We all felt like kids playing in the back yard.

How many GI Joe dolls did you have as a kid?

Oh God. All of them. It’s pretty funny because my parents used to say they were a waste of money and distracting me from schoolwork. Now it’s really my job.

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