Capone oils up, slides the spandex trunks on and goes one on one with Steve Austin!!!
Published at: April 25, 2007, 6:25 p.m. CST by quint
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Ever since my interview with The Rock last year while he was out promoting GRIDIRON GANG, I've gotten e-mails and calls from various wrestling representatives (usually a wrestlers manager) to interview some wrestler or another looking to promote some event or another. Let me make this clear, although I have nothing negative to say about professional wrestling or wrestlers, I don't know much about the sport or who the players are. As a result, I turn down these interview requests. But Steven Austin (who has dropped the "Stone Cold" moniker as he transitions into acting) is a name I'm very familiar with, thanks largely to his several engaging appearances on Howard Stern's radio show over the years. I always found him a guy whose sole purpose is making sure he never lets down his fans, and he never seems to put on much of a persona when he steps into the ring. Stone Cold may have been a bit louder and more aggressive than Steve Austin, but not by much.
His first film as a lead actor is called THE CONDEMNED, and it's a brutal and violent exercise that resembles an adult version of BATTLE ROYALE, with 10 death row inmates from around the world put on an island to fight each other until only one lives (and is given his/her freedom). All of this is done for the benefit of a live internet broadcast run by a morally corrupt would-be media mogul. Austin plays the an American prisoner picked out from death row in Latin America, and he kicks much ass. In person, Austin is still larger-than-life, but he's also extremely clear on where his career has been, where it's going, and who he ultimately answers to--namely, his fans. Just to let you in on the timing, this interview took place just a few days after Austin took part in a Wrestlemania that pitted Donald Trump against Vince McMahon. Austin physically restrained the losing McMahon while his head was shaving. When I walked into the room where Austin was waiting, he had enough breakfast food in front of him to feed three men. The smell was wonderful. Enjoy…
Capone: Looks like you've got a nice healthy breakfast this morning.
Steven Austin: I don't know about healthy, but it's damn good. [laughs]
C: You said at the Q&A after the movie last night that you'd gained 15 to 20 lbs. since you finished THE CONDEMNED that you'd have to take off before your next film.
SA: That's right.
C: So you showed up a couple days ago at Wrestlemania to take part in the shaving of Vince's head. Was that particularly satisfying for you. I know you and the WWE have had some conflicts in the past.
SA: I don't know if "particularly satisfying" is the way to put it. They guaranteed that there was going to be a winner and a loser, and that's what happened. And of course, the winner was going to get his head shaved and that's what happened. It was interesting. You always have to pay off a match like that, which they did. And I think the biggest thing is that I'm still a little bit shocked at the shape of Vince McMahon's head. [laughs] I didn't picture it being such an odd shape, but it is. And I wish him well in his endeavors to grow his hair back.
C: I have to admit, I was hoping to see Trumps hair shaved off, or at least have his comb-over unspooled somehow.
SA: That would have been interesting. Vince knew he was going to have a bad head. He said, "I have so many knots in my head from being hit with chairs. It's going to look misshapen."
C: And it did. So, you're a man in your early 40s; you've sustained injuries that are still bothering you today, that have kept you out of the ring for sometimes months at a time. Why is now the time in your life to become an action hero?
SA: The bottom line is, if I still wanted to wrestle I could. If I did return to wrestling, I could go right back where I was, and go back to being on top. It's just now, at one time in your wrestling career--maybe more than once--but you just think you're absolutely bulletproof. Finally you wake up, because you haven't recovered as fast as you used to. And you wake up and say, I never did look at the future, I look day to day, but now let me look 10, 15 years down the road. How am I going to feel? What's my quality of life going to be like? I feel really good now; let's bail out and do the movie thing. I've sustained a lot of injuries, but walking around on a day-to-day basis, I'm fine. People ask me, "What about the knees?" The knees are fine. You saw the movie, I do all my own stuff in the movie, a lot of action. I did use knee braces when I was doing stuff like wrestling, but it's kind of like for me putting on shoulder pads and a helmet for football; it's part of the gear. My neck is fine. I'm fine. It's just that when I looked down the road for wrestling, I needed to bail out when I did.
C: Did you feel you'd gone as far as you could in the world of wrestling?
SA: I do think I went as far as I could. I actually, a long time ago, wanted to turn back into a bad guy, and I attempted that when I wrestled The Rock, because I was starting to feel a little stale. But people didn't want to see that out of me, so I went back to being a good guy. So yeah, I think that I did everything that I could. I don't know what else that you could have done.
C: There are certainly actors today doing action films, but they haven't committed to it the way Stallone or Willis or Schwarzenegger did in the 1980s and '90s. And you said last night that if action movies were all you did in your movie career, you'd be alright with that. In a strange way, you're filling a void left by The Rock, who has gone on to more dramatic roles.
SA: If I end up being that guy, I'd be very happy. If I end up making 30 or 40 movies that are action movies, that would be a wonderful thing. I look at what I'm bringing to the dance: I'm 6' 1"; in THE CONDEMNED, I came in at 253 lbs., I'm a big guy. In wrestling, I'm a mid-range guy, but in L.A., I'm a pretty big guy. That being said, I don't want to box myself into anything by saying I only want to do action movies. I want to anything, anything that makes sense. But if I get labeled as an action guy then so be it. I don't care as long as I'm working and I get to make good movies that I enjoy making, and that people enjoy watching. That's my life, being happy with what you're doing and people being happy with what you're doing.
C: Plus, there's no shame in being an action hero.
SA: I don't think so.
C: Those actors have some of the longest careers in Hollywood.
SA: Absolutely. They've done a lot of business and created a huge fan base.
C: How did you first find out about THE CONDEMNED?
SA: An agent brought me the script a few years ago, and it was very, very rough. It was a great concept and a great idea, but a rotten script. When I took this thing to Vince McMahon [who is credited as an executive producer on the film, which is a WWE Films project], I originally wanted to be the Vinnie Jones character [the film's definitive villain, and by far the most brutal of the convicts], but he said, "No, you're going to be this guy right here." I said Okay. We got the writer-director Scott Wiper, who did an excellent job rewriting the script--which he had to do eight times. He also did an excellent job directing the movie. He was very detailed, very prepared, very good listener. It took a long time to get it all together.
C: Vinnie is terrifying in this movie. He's like you in the sense that he's a former athlete who made the transition to films with the Guy Ritchie movies that he's in. Was he the one you connected with on the set?
SA: I definitely connected to Vinnie. I'd actually met Vinnie back in '99. We did some business together in London years ago with WWE. But also because he's a former athlete, as I am; he's big time hunter-fisher, just like I am; and he likes to drink a few beers, as I do. So we had a lot of common ground. Above and beyond all that, he's actually a very nice guy, has a great sense of humor. So all we did was joke around and plays jokes on each other the whole time. I really hooked up with Vinnie, as I did with a lot of the other actors too, but most of my connection was to Vinnie.
C: Even though it was your first films in a lead, did the other actors look to you to set the pace and the tone on this production?
SA: I think everybody wondered what was going to happen, yeah. I think that were many actors on the set that have done a lot more than I have as far as the acting thing goes, but not too much more. That being said, there are some really, really good performances in the movie by these actors. This was a WWE production from the word go. I felt at home; I was never nervous; and I don't work with an ego. There were no egos, it was a relaxed set, and I think everybody followed suit and did their thing. But I think the big thing that everybody was wondering was, Hey, what's the guy about? When looking at what I'd done, they know from the wrestling end of it, that I was very successful, and we just left it at that. It's not something we talked about, and I didn't really try to notice.
C: It had to be a lot more pressure than the work you did in THE LONGEST YARD remake [Austin played a prison guard].
SA: I was only in that thing for two seconds, and the director didn't really tell me anything. And I thought, Wow, I must be doing really good if he's not saying anything. It was really strange.
C: Were there any actors on that set who were helpful or just nice or wanted to talk to you?
SA: No. I mean, I just had a couple scenes with Adam Sandler, and he was perfectly nice on the set. Let's put it this way, if you watch me in THE LONGEST YARD and watch me in THE CONDEMNED: big difference.
C: I must confess if it isn't painfully obvious that I've known who you are in the wrestling world for many years, but I don't follow it. But the way I learned about you over the years was from your appearances on the Howard Stern radio show. Are you doing the show to promote this film?
SA: I think he's definitely on the list. I love doing the Howard Stern shows, and I love Howard. I've done his show eight times. He's one of the most fun interviews you can do, because nobody calls and sets up a pre-interview. You go out on the show and you let it fly. That's why Howard's so good. He actually listens to what you say. He listens to your answers and he asks good questions. If you go on Howard's show, you have to be ready to laugh at yourself and everything else, and you'll be just fine. But if you go on there with a big ego, you're dead. But if you just go and enjoy, Howard will take care of you. He does business for him and he does it for you. That's why he's my favorite interviewer.
C: Have you been on his show since he moved to satellite?
SA: No, but I looked forward to it.
C: It might be different.
SA: It might, but it's still Howard and he still has that very easy-going interview style, and he asks intelligent questions. He doesn't just ask the formula questions that someone who isn't in the know is going to ask, because they don't know what else to ask. That's why I like him.
C: Thanks for the pressure on me, Steve. [He laughs.] Are you still friends with The Rock? I know you guys were pretty tight a few years back.
SA: I wouldn't say that I'm not friends with him. I haven't talked to him in a couple of years, ever since he went out to L.A., I haven't seen or heard from him.
C: I ask because I wondered if he had any advice about acting or making the jump to films.
SA: You know what? I don't like to ask for advice on that. I like to learn as I go. And if you make a mistake or two as you go. When you get taken out of context, you sort of learn things like that. No, I don't like to follow anybody's set plan. I do things my way and learn from myself. I really don't like to ask for advice, even from a different type of actor, someone who's bigger than The Rock.
C: Sometimes people offer it up, whether you ask for it or not.
SA: [laughs] Absolutely. I'll always take advice, always. But if I make a mistake, it's my mistake. And my mistake won't be asking someone for advice.
C: We talked before about looking at things outside the action genre. Are there other types of films you'd like to try out?
SA: I'm a big comedy fan. We laugh all day when I hang out with my buddies, so some type of comedy movie would be a lot of fun. Also, I'm not a candidate to play a James Bond-type guy, but a vehicle kind of like that would be pretty cool. Something that's a little more one-person driven, or two-person driven.
C: You said earlier, you originally wanted to play the villain in THE CONDEMNED. Is that something you'd like to try in another film?
SA: I would, I just think it's fun. With the WWE, even before the WWE, I always wanted to be the bad guy, and I was before I came up with the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin thing. I always jokingly say it backfired on me because I became a huge good guy and sold a lot of tickets. It's just the way society was at the time, they liked to see a trash-talking guy and I was very entertaining. But I just think the psychology is completely different, whether it's in the movies or wrestling, playing the bad guy over the good guy. You get away with a lot more as the bad guy. I find that fun.
C: Do you think the "Stone Cold" persona has influenced the way the Hollywood system perceives what you're capable of as an actor?
SA: Absolutely. I think when they look at what I've done with the WWE for the past 10 years or so, they think, He's very loud, he cusses a lot, he drinks beer, and he's very violent. That's Steve Austin playing "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. That's a guy I created. And it's part of my personality. I think whatever you do has got to be a piece of you. That being said, the character I play in THE CONDEMNED is 180 degrees different than what you would see on the WWE. I've been doing that for so long, I think people think that the only thing I can do is yell. In real life as we talk, I have a very raspy voice. If I talk at low volume, my voice is very quiet. That's why when I'm talking for the WWE, I talk the way I do to talk trash to be loud and project. But in real life, I actually have a very quiet voice. And I think people think the wrong way about me. I'm so happy this movie is going to come out just to break out that perception of me. I'm always going to have my ties to my WWE fans, but just as far as people's perception of me, I'm looking forward to them knowing I can be a lot different.
C: Is it tough not getting that immediate feedback, as you do in the ring, on a movie set?
SA: It's so different. Wrestling is kind of a violent form of Broadway, but you get response. You're on stage, you're playing to 20,000 people--or like the other day: 80,000 people, and they're feeding back. And you base your decisions based on the noise you're getting. In acting, you're making decisions based on where you think you should go. When I hooked up with my acting coach and breaking scenes down and mining them, and he'd say, "Hey, Steve. There's a lot more happening on this page than what's being said in the dialog, all the stuff in between the lines." The quiet of the set is different. I found that when I used to leave the ring I had instant gratification and satisfaction and adrenalin rush, which you can't explain. After a long day on the set, after I felt like I nailed a scene, I felt many of the things. I felt really, really good about myself, a deep satisfaction, but a whole different thing than being in front of a live crowd.
C: I noticed you stuck around for a while after the screening last night. Was that to get a taste of that instant satisfaction?
SA: There were some people lined up for autographs. If we're going to do a screening and people are going to bring stuff for me to sign, I'm not going to turn down any autographs. Those are the people who have supported me for a long time. You've got to take care of the people who take care of you.
C: Speaking of the differences between a movie set and the ring, is the stunt work training considerably different?
SA: Some questions I've been getting, people will say, well, the choreographed fighting for the movie must have been easy for you must have been easy for you because that's what you used to do for a living. No, no, no. I used to be a professional wrestler for a living, and I never choreographed a match in my life. I'm not going to say that no one else has. I don't work like that. I work off psychology and doing things to get responses and move accordingly. The film's fight choreography was different for me because I'm not used to memorizing sequences like that. Also in the ring, as we talked about Broadway, when you play in the ring in front of 20,000 people, everything is so big because you're playing to the worst seat in the house. When you're talking filming and lenses and technical fighting, first of all the technical fighting is tighter anyway. The way everything is and when they start bringing in those close lenses, those are big differences.
The professional wrestling thing, that form of fighting/entertaining, is what I've done for a long time and I consider myself excellent at it. I did a very good job in the movie fight scenes because I had such a good choreographer, Richard Norton, and my fight double, Sam Greco, who really worked with me and brought me up to speed. I found of lot of satisfaction putting together great fight scenes. But still, when you're fighting in front of a live crowd, it's hard to beat that.
C: What do you have lined up next, film wise?
SA: As we speak, we've got two scripts I've got to read. We're trying to find the next script, and we're hoping to start shooting in June or July. One is a project that is a little more solo driven by myself, more of the weight on my shoulders. It's not going to be like THE CONDEMNED, but it is an action-type movie, something gritty and rough. We need to do the kind of movie that I think I need to be in right now and my fan base would expect me to be in before we try to do some more experimental stuff down the road. I don't mean anything wacky or crazy, but I'm keeping an open mind to everything. I'm still comfortable doing what I'm doing, but I am kind of shouldering the weight.
C: Can you give us some idea of the genre the new movie might fall into?
SA: Look at Clint Eastwood and the Dirty Harry stuff, or look at Charles Bronson in Hard Times or--not Death Wish--but Death Hunt, or the cool Steve McQueen movies, like Bullitt. I'm in no way comparing myself to the people I'm naming; these are just the movies I like to watch. Or a movie like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Is that an action movie? No. But is that a cool movie? Absolutely, one of the best of all time. So stuff like that would be interesting.
C: Well, you just answered my last question, which was Who are some of your favorite action heroes of old. Thanks for you time, Steve.
SA: Yeah, thanks for talking to me. I appreciate it.