Still a kid at heart

D.J. Cotrona stars in the latest Hollywood action blockbuster ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’.

Still a kid at heart (photo credit: Courtesy)
Still a kid at heart
(photo credit: Courtesy)
He’s one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood, but D.J. Cotrona has his feet planted firmly on the ground. The down-to- earth 32-year-old is starring in one of this year’s most highly anticipated films, G.I. Joe: Retaliation . Although the role is set to catapult him to super- stardom, Cotrona is taking it all in stride.
“I’m not one to believe in all the hype,” Cotrona says. “I’m the type who’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Cotrona, who has starred in films such as Dear John , Love Is the Drug and the TV show Detroit 1-8-7 , knows that his role as Flint is one of his biggest career breaks.
“Despite whatever happens from here, my day-to-day won’t change. No matter how successful G.I. Joe: Retaliation is, I have to get back into the ring and compete with other actors for the next job,” he says.
It’s that attitude, a rarity in Hollywood, that made G.I. Joe director Jon M.Chu realize that Cotrona was perfect for the pivotal role.
According to Cotrona, Flint is very smart, he’s very efficient, he’s very good at what he does, but he’s kind of a lone gunman. He doesn’t take orders very well. He doesn’t do well with authority, and he doesn’t really fit in.
“The Flint we’re introduced to doesn’t gel well. He immediately butts heads with Roadblock (played by Dwayne Johnson) and with everyone. A lot of crazy things happen to our guys, and he’s forced to work with everyone. He has no choice but to work with them in order for them to survive and overcome their obstacles,” he says.
Starring opposite Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki and Elodie Yung, Cotrona says the cast bonded quickly.
For the role, Cotrona says that apart from hitting the gym on a daily basis, he also trained in free running and parkour and combined it with combat fighting.
“I trained with Team Tempest in LA. When we got to New Orleans for filming, we did some amazing work that hasn’t been seen yet. Everyone’s seen free running before in movies, but I can assure you, nothing like this. The way we integrate it with attacking enemies is really incredible,” he says.
In addition to being physically demanding, there were also many explosions on set, which made for an intense work day.
“Every one of us did insane stunts,” he says. “We would have eight, 10, 12 giant vehicle explosions going off while we were shooting a scene. Another day I had to jump over a 250-foot railing straight down to concrete, so there were lots of crazy things people were doing every day.”
Doing as much stunt work as he was able to came at a price, though. On the second day of shooting, during a scene with co-star Adrianne Palicki, Cotrona got a little too close to the action.
“Annie [Palicki’s nickname] shot her pistol while she was standing next to me, and the shell casing went flying through the air. I don’t know how it got in there, but it got into my flak jacket, burnt my chest and fell onto my, um, area.”
Although in pain, Cotrona finished the scene. When Chu yelled ‘Cut!’ Cotrona started jumping up and down and screaming. “Everyone was looking at me like I was a psychopath,” he says. “But it hurt!”
When the work day was done, Cotrona and his new G.I. Joe buddies would regularly go out in New Orleans and explore the city’s famed restaurants and bars. “We were in New Orleans for about six months, and we all had the best time. The best part about New Orleans was all the great places to hang out, but that was also the worst part because you’d have to show up for work the next day, sometimes not feeling too great,” he smiles.
Playing the role of Flint is a dream come true for Cotrona, who says he regularly played with his G.I. Joe action figures in the backyard of his Connecticut home when he was growing up.
“The nine-year-old is very happy I’m playing Flint and also a little bit in awe,” he says. “I couldn’t believe the day I was on set and I was having an action figure being made of me. I was presented a box with six to seven different versions of my head for the action figure. It was surreal for a kid who grew up playing with these things,” he says.
He says he still can’t quite fathom how he will feel the first time he sees his face on a giant billboard as he’s cruising down Sunset Boulevard.
“It’ll be great, I’m not going to lie. But you can’t take anything to heart in this business. Here’s the one thing I’ve learned: It is mostly out of your hands,” he says. “I’m just happy to work. I’m not curing cancer, and it’s an absolute blast doing my job. I get to run around just as I did in my backyard as a kid and hopefully entertain people along the way. You can’t ask for much more than that.”G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens Thursday around the country.