Capone enters the ring with WWE superstar and LEGENDARY co-star John Cena!!!
Published at: Sept. 6, 2010, 11:19 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
My knowledge of the career of John Cena is exactly three movies long--THE MARINE, 12 ROUNDS, and his new family drama LEGENDARY. Despite its title, LEGENDARY isn't an action film at all, and it happens to showcase the growing acting talents of Cena in a way that his previous films didn't even get close to. In fact, he's not even the lead in the film. He plays the rundown, alcoholic brother of the lead (Devon Graye), a high school kid who wants to learn to wrestle like his high school and college champion brother and father before him. The kid hasn't seen his brother since he was a little boy, and he's looking to get close and connect with the man over the sport. Patricia Clarkson plays their mother, and the film is actually highly watchable--some (including me) might even say quite good, and Cena is a big reason why.
Of course I'm aware that John Cena has been a championship wrestler in the WWE for many years, but I've never seen him in the ring. Somewhere around the time of THE MARINE's DVD release, someone tried to put us on the phone together, but our schedules never quite meshed, so many years later we got it right. Cena is quite simply one of the nicest, most even-tempered men of muscle I've ever met. We talked about the change in direction he takes in LEGENDARY and the change that WWE Films has taken in the style and production of their films, leaning away from action films and more toward mainstream family dramas with real actor mixing it up with WWE performers. If LEGENDARY is any indication of this new path, I'm all for it. Anyway, please enjoy my talk with John Cena…
John Cena: Hello.
Capone: Hi John, how are you?
JC: Very good, how are you?
Capone: Excellent, sir. First of all congratulations on this movie. I didn’t know anything about it when I saw it and I was really impressed with it.
JC: Thank you.
Capone: Were these kind of wrestling basics part of your athletic background? That high school/college-style wrestling, was that kind of a throwback for you?
JC: No. As a matter of fact, I was a football player in both high school and college. I never had any amateur background. But by design, we didn’t really go too technical as far as amateur wrestling detail. We kept it very legitimate, but we didn’t want to go over anyone’s head. We didn’t want you to walk into the theater and have to be some sort of amateur wrestling expert to understand what was going on. So we used amateur wrestling as a fantastic backdrop to tell a good story.
Capone: Those scenes of the two brothers seeing each other those first couple of times, those we really tough scenes to watch. What do you remember about shooting those scenes, and what were you tapping into to get into that headspace?
JC: Yeah, but it's the real scenario that everybody has been through. It’s just one of those things where you just try to put yourself into character. I knew my character was in a lot of trouble, and the only way I felt I could deal with is to stay as far away from everybody as I could. I knew, as a character, I was in some bad times, but I just didn’t want to drag anybody down into the mud, and sometimes you’ve got to approach a situation with tough love, and that’s kind of how I tried to do my best to handle it.
Capone: When you were working with Devon [Graye] in those scenes, did you guys hang out a lot, or did you think it preserve the distanced relationship not to spend too much time with him.
JC: In the beginning, that’s kind of how we approached this, because we wanted it to be as uncomfortably standoff-ish as possible, and it really showed. But throughout the course of filming, he became quite an athlete, and we established a pretty decent bond. I’ve got nothing but respect for him, and that’s not just a movie part talking. He worked his ass off to make this movie happen and he certainly earned my respect, and over the course of the film, we developed quite a decent friendship.
Capone: It really did seem like there was a physical transformation with him. Did they shoot this in sequence?
JC: No, they did their best to shoot it in sequence, and they got most of it chronologically okay, and that was the glory of it. Devon came in really not an athletic kid, and by the end of the movie shoot, he really could handle himself. Trust me, they had him working hard everyday.
Capone: I kept waiting for someone in this film to get kidnapped, because that’s kind of how your movies have gone in the past.
JC: [laughs] That's definitely a theme. Exactly.
Capone: Seriously, LEGENDARY a straight, family drama, and I think it’s fair to say that you are not really the lead of the film.
JC: Oh that’s true, yeah.
Capone: That’s kind of a change from not just your films, but WWE Pproductions in general. What’s the shift there?
JC: Well, I think when you title a movie with a WWE superstar, it can be a great movie or otherwise. I just think people automatically attach a certain stigma, a certain persona to that, so I’m glad that WWE Studios has kind of recognized that, and basically what they are doing is they are trying to make the best pictures they possibly can, and they are trying to cast it with the best people they possibly can and they involve the WWE superstars in whatever capacity they can. That way everybody is portrayed in a good light. The goal of WWE Studios is simply to make great movies, and LEGENDARY being the first of many--I think they already have five in the can. And that’s basically just their philosophy, to let people know that when you go in the theater and see a movie with the WWE Studios’ logo, it’s going to be a great movie, and as a bonus you are going to get to see the WWE superstars that you may see on programming. But first and foremost you put a good cast up there and make a great movie.
Capone: Yeah, I think that getting someone like Patricia Clarkson, who you get to work with here, kind of broadcasts that changing focus. Are you a fan of hers?
JC: She really is an acting legend, and just to be surrounded by people that are that good, that elevates not only myself but also any other WWE superstar who is involved in a picture. If the business model for WWE Studios stays the course, and I think they are really onto something, all it’s going to do is make anyone involved in any of these films better. Being involved in scenes with Patricia made me a better actor, and I think that’s the goal. That’s why we have kind of taken a backseat to being the lead, when you are responsibly for carrying the picture, none of have done movies before, so that’s a really tall task. But to be involved in a movie where you aren’t necessarily the lead, you are a strong supporting character and you are surrounded by great people like Patricia, nothing but good is going to come out of there.
Capone: And again, those scenes with you and here at the end are hard to watch. Are you still learning as an actor?
JC: I think if you ask any actor, it’s an entertainment craft and it’s one that can never be mastered. It’s kind of like what we do in WWE. I’ve done thousands of matches and I’m still learning everyday. But those scenes were just real genuine, man, and not a lot of rehearsal, not a lot of talk about what we were going to do or how we are going to shoot it. It’s kind of like when they have the camera set and they felt that everyone was right, we just kind of went for it, and it shows on screen. Like you said, it is difficult to watch, but it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be the tension between a mother that has lost her son.
Capone: In terms of upping your acting abilities, is that an important thing for you in your career right now, becoming a better actor? You’ve obviously got this full time job that is probably taking up a lot of your time. How significant is this acting thing to you?
JC: Very significant, because even if it goes no further than this, it can only help my performance in the WWE realm. We make episodic televisions over there. That's what we do, we tell stories; and learning how to portray emotion better, be involved with the character better, development of a character… Anything I can learn to make myself a better actor, even if I never see frame one of another movie, is going to help me in the realm of WWE.
Capone: I'll admit, I don’t watch a lot of wrestling, but seeing you in this film, I say to myself, “Okay, I would watch that actor in another movie.” Have you thought much about the idea of people actually following your career as an actor and not so much as a wrestler?
JC: You know what? I don’t care how they follow it as long as they do. [laughs] Like I said, I enjoy both things though they are very different. What we do in the WWE ring certainly attracts a different audience than the average filmgoer. Filmgoers go to a movie to be entertained just like our fans, but in a different format, and if they enjoy this movie as much as I have and as much as everyone who has seen it has and they want to see me in something else, I’m certainly ready to do more projects. I’m going to film another one on October 1, another dramatic-based movie, so it will be fun to see how this thing plays out, man. I’m very new to this business and I’m trying to learn as much as I can, but like I’ve said I have been put in some really good positions and I’ve felt I’ve improved with every chance I’ve gotten.
Capone: What is the film you are starting to shoot in October?
JC: It’s called BLOOD BROTHERS and for a very brief synopsis, it’s about three brothers who do not get along and have to coexist to form a family business.
Capone: Has anybody else been cast in that yet?
JC: They are still working on everything. It’s a project that really kind of came up within the last, I’d say, 30 days, but it will come together, and we are going for it October 1.
Capone: So I’ve been reading a lot about the new business model of WWE Films works--real quick shoots, take a couple of weeks off, get right into the next shoot with basically the same crew. That’s a really interesting way to run a film production company.
JC: The movie industry in itself is changing. You have mostly branded titles that are successful right now and you are either… The middle ground is really being erased. You are either doing huge budget massive effects and massive cast, or you are going very small budget and you are trying to put forth an interesting platform for people to say “Oh, I want to go see that.” So those middle-range movies, those $15 million to $40 million, movies are becoming a thing of the past. You are either going $100 million and up or you're going $10 million and under, and you are trying to put your best foot foreword. I think the WWE Studios has a great model; one that’s going to work and hopefully this will be the first of many successes. Like I said, they’ve got another five in the can. Mine will be number six, and it’s for a relatively small cost, and I think we are going to do quite well.
Capone: I like that idea that they are transforming into--and I don’t know what the other five films are--but that idea that there’s that family film element, but not kid’s films.
JC: No. It’s less of a “Hey, here’s the big pro wrestler as the big superhero guy.” It’s basically, like you said, dramatic-story-based films that everybody can enjoy.
Capone: When you read John Posey’s script, did you have a connection to Mike?
JC: Absolutely. I had a connection to the entire script. I loved this story. I absolutely loved it and I called up Mike Pavone, who's the head of WWE studios, and said, “Listen, I don’t know when you are making this movie, but I’m on board and I will play any part; it doesn’t matter.” I would have been the wrestling coach. However I could have fit in, I really wanted to. He got back to me and said, “We want you to play Mike,” and that really kind of hit home. I was a former college athlete, very successful. I come from a family of five boys. I know what being a younger brother and an older brother is like. It really spoke to me. It was a good read, a great script, and I really wanted to be a part of the movie.
Capone: And that part wasn’t written for you, was it?
JC: Oh no, the script had been in circulation for years. They've been trying to do the movie since 1995.
Capone: There was a line in the film when Cal gets Mike that job, and you say something about that you are not used to getting that kind of help. That kind of sums up Mike in a lot of ways. He’s a good guy that no one has ever really reached out to.
JC: He was such a standout performer in both high school and college, I figure nobody probably wanted to give him help, because they figured he didn’t need it. He went from being a complete hero to falling off of the face of the earth.
Capone: And that’s probably the story for a lot of people who are athletic superstars in high school or college, and then they don’t find a way to convert that into a career.
JC: They get into the real world and then they get lost and have no way to go, because they have had it all for the first couple of years of their lives, and they realize that they are not able to make it to the next level and when they do, there’s really nobody there to help them pick up the pieces.
Capone: You have quite a bit of success under your belt. Is it difficult for you to get into the head of a character that is so defeated?
JC: No, absolutely not. When I graduated college, I really had no idea what I was going to do. There was a period in my life when I was completely broke and living in my car. I've been homeless. It’s one of those deals where you’ve got your ups and downs, man, and when you need to channel some positive energy, you think of the good times, and when you need to channel some negative energy you think of the bad times. We’ve all gone through stuff like that.
Capone: So this actually hit a little closer to home than people might realize.
JC: Yeah. People only know what they see, and that’s a part of my life that obviously didn’t get a lot of publicity.
Capone: Who are some of your acting heroes, guys when you are trying to work out a scene you say, “I wonder how that person might play this.”?
JC: I really enjoy watching Leonardo DiCaprio. I love watching Matt Damon. Brad Pitt is another guy I enjoy watching. Will Smith. These are guys that, for me, you attach a name to the movie, and I’m automatically going to see it.
Capone: And in terms of your actual performance, is there anyone you kind of emulate at any time?
JC: No, I’ve learned especially through the WWE industry emulating someone or attempting to emulate someone is just that, and it will come off as that. You just try to be yourself and take advice from everyone that surrounds you. You take maybe some key points from people, but I will certainly never try to emulate anybody. I’ve seen that attempted and failed a lot in our business. I’m just trying to be me.
Capone: Yeah, now I noticed that your screenwriter on LEGENDARY has also written a a George Wagner bio film, GORGEOUS GEORGE. Any chance you'll be showing up in that one?
JC: You know what? I certainly would love to. I think I would have to play a part a bit even closer to home. Posey’s really good about taking the main focus, even in LEGENDARY… I mean, the script is supposed to be about wrestling, but it ends up being a wonderful family story. His GORGEOUS GEORGE idea has professional wrestling as the backdrop for an amazing story. I’m a bit familiar with the life of Gorgeous George, and he has a lot of material to work with. Hopefully that movie gets made. It will be a fantastic movie.
Capone: I’ve been reading up on that character--or person, I should say, he’s not a character, but he was a character. That’s such a great story even outside of his wrestling career. I know that kind of goes against the grain with the WWE films trying not to make movies about wrestling, but it seems like it’s a real passion project for Vince McMahon.
JC: Like I said, that’s going to be a great movie to watch, but if WWE Studios gets pigeonholed into doing movies about professional wrestling, there’s not a lot of room for growth there, so I don’t know if it’s the right project for us.
Capone: Where would you like to take this acting career of yours?
JC: As far as I can. I’m glad we have gotten a lot of positive feedback from LEGENDARY and I’m glad everybody is excited about it, because this is the first role, like you said where the big wrestler guy is not necessarily playing the big wrestler superhero guy. It’s a very vulnerable role for me. It was a very challenging role for me, but at the same time I thought I held my own and I think I can do more of this stuff and I really want to try to explore any and all options. I just want to make sure that every project I’m involved with from here on out is a script as good as LEGENDARY.
Capone: Was this film originally going to go right to DVD, or was the theatrical run always a part of the plan?
JC: The theatrical run was always part of the plan and will be with WWE Studios. They are just doing very limited releases.
Capone: I think it’s opening here in Chicago, so I’m glad that people are going to get a chance to see it.
JC: The pre-response has been so good that they have opened up a ton more cities which is great. We are getting a lot better response than we anticipated, so they are opening it up to more and more places.
Capone: Excellent. John, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk, and good luck.
JC: Thank you so much.
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