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Interview: John Cena

The wrestler and actor on his foray into Hollywood, childhood inspiration and career path

Wrestling with heavy emotional challenges—rather than physical, for a change—John Cena, aka Johnny Fabulous, takes on role model, father figure and identity crisis dilemmas in the coming-of-age sports drama Legendary. Though the WWE small-screen pseudo-scary icon was quick to point out during this interview—which involved a quick change of clothes to tone down and spiff up his kickbutt image—sometimes the strategy for entertaining can be as plain as chicken soup.

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Q: Where’s that gold and purple T-shirt you were just wearing, before you put on this shirt and tie?

JOHN CENA: Uh, I’m hoping not to have to beat anybody up. But if I do, I’ve got it right in the bag, and I’ll change right into it!

Q: What’s bugging your character in this movie?

JC: Here you see this mountain of a man on screen. And you wonder, “Why has he fallen on such hard times?” Especially because he had such a prolific career as a high school athlete, pretty much Oklahoma’s favorite son. So, what the hell went wrong? I believe it’s because he put all his chips in one basket. I think the way this story develops, a helping hand comes from a least-expected source—it comes from his smaller, younger, nonathletic brother. I believe that my character Mike relied so much on his dad, that when his dad died he was kinda unable to harness his ability. It’s just a way to understand, “OK, why is somebody this big, this strong, so dominant; why did he go wrong?”

Q: What was your approach to making Mike come alive?

JC: I was trying to make this larger-than-life character seem completely vulnerable, until the very end.

Q: Did you take anything from your wrestling to put into this role?

JC: I’m a sports guy; I take a lot from sport. It truly shows, especially from broadcast sports, pure emotion and rock solid competition at its bare essential. Your career comes from greatness, from being surrounded by the best. When you’re surrounded by people who are that much better than you, you have two choices: You can shit the bed, and your performance can go to hell, or you can step up and rise to the occasion. Being in scenes that are so emotional, you have no other choice but to get involved. I mean, where we were shooting, there were so many times that I wouldn’t be caring about the cameras. It was just very real, very genuine. However you find that—and every actor will give you a different recipe for chicken soup—the fact of the matter is that it shows up, and however you can make it show up. For me, it was the people around me who brought it out of me, and I’m very thankful for that. It did wonders for me, and it lets everybody know that I’m not just a pro wrestler superman and that I’ll hopefully have more movies to make.

Q: Why did you pick Legendary for you big acting challenge?

JC: When I read this script, I knew I wanted to be part of it and play any role. I didn’t care which part. I read it from cover to cover which is a rare occurrence for me. I’m not that much of a reader!

Q: So you’ve got the acting bug now?

JC: I always have. Our form of entertainment is very different from making movies, but it’s entertainment. We entertain millions of people every week, and have millions following us globally. I’ve always been a bit of a class clown; I’m more apt to be making fun of myself on Monday night. But to be able to do something like this movie, I took myself in a completely different direction. The whole goal for me was to make myself seem as vulnerable and as small and unassuming as I possibly could. I was really happy when I watched the film. I thought we achieved that. I try not to over-analyze stuff as an actor. I just go with my instincts. I’m very inexperienced, so I try not to over-think anything. If I do that, I think I’ll just be in a place that I’m not familiar with. When you go with your instincts, nine out of 10 times you’re right. I haven’t put myself in an element where I’m truly exposed. I’ve only done projects that I’m truly comfortable with. And I’ll continue to do that until I’m more comfortable as an actor. But nine times out of 10 I just…grip it and rip it and kinda go with my instinct. This is just my third time out, man, and I’m still really learning.

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