'Legendary' -- in theaters this Friday -- tells the story of Cal Chetley (Devon Graye), a skinny teen who joins his high school wrestling team, in an attempt to live up to his family's athletic legacy. Hoping to aid him in his training and reunite his troubled family, he seeks out his older brother, played by WWE Superstar John Cena.
Cena, who has wrestled in steel cage matches against six-foot, 300-pound athletes, took on a new challenge with 'Legendary': starring in a family drama, opposite stars like Danny Glover and the Oscar-nominated Patricia Clarkson.
The nine-time world champion recently chatted with Moviefone about Hollywood and wrestling. In our exclusive interview, Cena explains how WWE superstars will take movie audiences by surprise, and which celebrities he would like to face in the squared circle.
What is more difficult, trying to pick up The Big Show for an Attitude Adjustment, or doing a tough, emotional scene with Patricia Clarkson?
Trying to pick up Big Show; he is ... fat; he's absolutely obese. Whether it's an emotional scene or just a regular scene, Patricia is a lay-up. She is just so good. She can take a broomstick and make it look emotional. There are people in WWE who are said to be able to go out and wrestle a broomstick and make it look believable. She has "it." That's why she's so successful; that's why she's so acclaimed. She can bring the best out of anyone.
But if the General Manager of Raw ordered Devon Graye to compete in a WWE ring, does he have a fighting chance against his opponent?
Well, there's a great line from the movie: "Mathematically, is it possible? Yes." I would think that's a good estimation of his chances. Let's leave it at that.
Is there any Hollywood star who you think could make it in WWE?
That's a good question. Even physically, if they had a bit of a chance, when they get used to performing 250 nights a year, I don't think anybody would last. I really don't.
That being said, is there any celebrity you want to get your hands on?
'Jersey Shore.' Line them up. I love the show; they got me, I watch it every week. But I wouldn't mind them trying to bring some antics into the WWE ring. I don't think ['The Situation'] would handle himself well. I think Ronnie has probably got the best chance out of anybody; I've seen him drop a few people on the show. But it's more like this: 'The Situation' avoids any situation.
Outside of 'Vision Quest' there hasn't been many high school wrestling movies; how do you do cinematic justice to the sport?
'Vision Quest' is heavy romance, but kind of the same backdrop: the really un-athletic kid who's not supposed to be anything goes up against the state champ. I liked how 'Legendary' used wrestling. It wasn't "the" story, it's an element of the story. It's in the film enough to make you interested about wrestling. That's the goal. Like, "Wow, here's a sport I know exists, I've never been to a meet, maybe I'll go check one out, learn more about amateur wrestling." Let's hope years from now they're talking about 'Legendary' as the cult text of amateur wrestling.
As a movie fan, is there anything you're tired of seeing?
I'm tired of people hanging onto trends. I'm tired of people looking for "the next action star" when I think the action genre has been completely re-defined. I'm tired of movie houses hanging on to "you need to have a solidified brand to do any business." That's not true; there's a lot of good stories out there that can get made for a reasonable price and be profitable in the movie business. But it is, at the end of the day, a business. Movie houses want to make sure they go in with a guaranteed profit before they even turn on the projector. I hope it changes, because I dig watching good films; I hope I don't just see a bunch of corporately marketed B.S. on the screen. I'd actually like to see some good movies.
What movies can you not live without when you're traveling the world?
I dig comedies. So much of our days are filled with travel and the very little moments we can spend out of the ring, being able to laugh is a blessing. [I] love anything that John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell have done; I've watched 'Step Brothers' 'till I'm dumb with it. 'Talladega Nights,' 'Anchorman' -- anything Ferrell has done is awesome. 'Tropic Thunder' is one of my favorite movies of all time. 'Blazing Saddles.' Anything that will get me to smile.
Well who would play your big-screen step-brother?
I would say an interesting pairing -- not necessarily a 'Step Brothers' -- but I think I could do a triplets piece with me, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg. Throw Channing Tatum in as the distant cousin.
Is comedy the secret weapon of WWE Films?
We really do have a lot of personality in WWE. You have to, to be in this job. You showcase a lot of personality. It's one of those things where we got a lot of funny dudes in the locker room. We have to play within the goal posts of our program, so when we get the chance to do some funny stuff, I think people are going to be surprised. Paul Wight [aka The Big Show]'s movie 'Knucklehead' comes out Oct. 22. Big Show is doing comedy for the first time, and I think that's going to make a lot of people laugh.
You're also starring in the movie version of 'Fred,' the high-pitched internet sensation. He's a polarizing phenomenon; how did you get involved with that?
It's cool, because it's the WWE version of "John Cena." Fred is a very imaginative kid who grows up without a dad and has fantasies of a dad, who he views as the toughest, strongest, most motivational guy alive. And they called on me -- I got to watch the 'Fred' shows to become familiarized with what I was getting into. I was amazed. Some people don't understand why things work. I certainly still couldn't tell you why this works, but for some reason, it works.
Who wins this cinematic fatal four-way match: Roddy Piper as "Nada" from 'They Live,' Jesse Ventura as "Blain" from 'Predator,' Andre the Giant as "Fezzik" from 'The Princess Bride' or Hulk Hogan as "Thunderlips" from 'Rocky III'?
Ventura doesn't have time to bleed, so I got to go with the Governor. He's got some of my favorite movie lines of all time: offering everyone Red Man Tobacco and saying it will make you a "sexual Tyrannosaurus." He was a pretty tough son-of-a-b**** in that movie. So memorable, I think anyone who knows that movie remembers the Gatling gun coming out of the duffel bag. Awesome, awesome moment.
Do you think the negative perception of wrestlers acting in movies has gotten any better since the '80s?
I think the perception is the same, but it's on the way to being changed. I think Dwayne [Johnson] has done such an awesome job being a successful actor. The only problem is he left us; he's no longer doing activity with WWE. I think the way WWE Studios is going now -- they're going away from action, doing more drama, more comedy -- it will open a lot of people's eyes. Because a lot of people see big guy, big frame: action superstar. We've proven, especially with 'Legendary,' that that is not always the case.
How would WWE CEO Vince McMahon do as a leading man?
Quite well, actually, believe it or not. I think people would be surprised. He's full of surprises.
What woman is capable of playing his leading lady?
It would have to take someone with a hell of a lot patience.
What's the next challenge for you: winning an Oscar or trying to end the Undertaker's undefeated Wrestlemania streak?
Ending Undertaker's streak. I would like to [challenge Undertaker]. I would just like to wait a couple years for him to get a little bit more "seasoned." That's when I'd have my best chances. I have all the respect in the world for the Academy, but I don't think the feeling is mutual. [Laughs]