D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki co-star in the Louisiana-shot, action- and special effects-loaded G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the follow-up to the 2009 hitG.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Cotrona (Dear John, Detroit 1-8-7 and Windfall) and Palicki (Friday Night Lights, Legion, Smallville) battle the G.I. Joe enemies alongside veteran action stars Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock.

Even though Johnson and Willis have made careers out of hurting guys, they’re not so lethal off screen.

“They’re not half as intimidating in real life as you’d think,” Palicki said during a promotional visit to New Orleans in February. “They’re big sweethearts and big goofballs. We had a lot of fun with those guys.”

And although Willis and Johnson definitely hurt people on screen, Cotrona added, “it’s always for the right reasons. These guys are always doing what they have to do for the good side.”

Speaking on a Sunday morning from the New Orleans Arena, where Johnson would appear as The Rock in a WWE Elimination Chamber event that evening, Cotrona and Palicki were both glad to be back in Louisiana. G.I. Joe: Retaliation shot in the state for 72 days. Locations included City Park and Fort Pike in New Orleans and Greenwood Plantation in St. Francisville.

“We got to experience a lot of this place,” Palicki said. “It kind of became home after a while. Everybody is so kind here. It was like a big family immediately.”

“Everyone is so friendly in New Orleans and there’s such a rich culture,” Cotrona added. “The food here is better than anywhere in the world. There’s incredible music. You can get into a lot of trouble in the best possible way here. We all fell in love with the city, real quick.”

“And since we’ve been back,” Palicki said, “we’ve been going to our favorite coffee shops and restaurants. Yeah, it’s like we never left.”

At this point in their respective careers, Palicki has done more movie action work that’s seen release than Cotrona, including last year’s Red Dawn.

“I got really lucky,” she said. “I’ve gotten to play many different kinds of action parts, which was helpful for this movie. I didn’t have to work quite as hard to learn all the tricks of the trade.”

Nevertheless, cast members engaged in extensive training for their G.I. Joe: Retaliation roles. On first arriving in New Orleans, Palicki said, they got about 10 hours a day of gun training, stunt training, fight choreography and basic physical training.

“It was fantastic,” Cotrona said. “Each of the characters have a different skill set, so we each had special types of training. One of the fun things about working in a movie like this is you get to learn really cool skills and fun things that you wouldn’t normally learn if you weren’t actually going out and risking your life every day.”

However serious and tough making G.I. Joe: Retaliation was, it also was a fun time on the set and, obviously, off the set in New Orleans. Cotrona, a fan since childhood of the G.I. Joe franchise in its various forms, described the experience as a summer camp.

“You go away for six months and you’re really lucky when everybody gets along. It makes the job a lot more fun and I think it makes the movie more fun, too,” he said.