While an actor by the name of “Paul Levesque” might not ring a bell, it’s more likely you would know him as Hunter Hearst Helmsley or “Triple H,” a professional wrestler who has gone to the very heights of the sports entertainment business after seventeen years in the ring. He has become hugely popular because of it, most famously for his run with Shawn Michaels turning the WWE (then known as the WWF) on its ear as “D-Generation X,” possibly the closest thing professional wrestling had to the Sex Pistols back in the day.
Seven years after co-starring in the comic book threequel Blade: Trinity, Levesque is back in movie theaters with WWE Studios’ latest, The Chaperone, a very different film that what one might expect from wrestling’s perennial tough guy. Directed by Stephen Herek of The Mighty Ducks, Mr. Holland’s Opus and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the film has Levesque playing an ex-convict who tries to reconnect with his young daughter, played by Ariel Winter of “Modern Family,” after getting out of prison while avoiding the temptations of his previous life of crime. It’s a movie that’s partially a comedy but also a rather touching emotional journey that might actually be enjoyed as much by parents as kids who have absolutely no interest in wrestling whatsoever.
ComingSoon.net had an interesting sit-down with the wrestling superstar to talk about the movie, and we found him to be a thoughtful and intelligent interview subject who not only talked about making the movie but also his overall career and his thoughts on what it means to be a “role model.”
ComingSoon.net: It’s been a while since “Blade: Trinity” and since then, other wrestlers have tried their hand at acting like Steve Austin and John Cena. Was it a personal choice for you to wait until this project came along before you did another movie?
Paul “Triple H” Levesque: Yeah, for me, I dug what I was doing, do you know what I mean? And that was the thing for me. When “Blade” came along and I did “Blade,” it was fun to do and all that, but I was a WWE star and that’s what I wanted to be doing, and that’s what I had in my head. I got offered a few other things, and if it would have been something great I suppose, I might have jumped on it, but it wasn’t something where I thought it was worth taking time away from this. I’m at a different point now, I’m at point of my career where I’m 41 years old, which from a WWE wrestling standpoint is a young man’s business. I’m not saying I’m done, but it’s not what I’m going to be doing full-time every day for the next ten years. It was the time for me to do it and it was a different challenge for me, I enjoyed it.
CS: How were you approached for it? I assume the project was built around you or did they have a script and just had to find the right guy to star in it?
Levesque: No, WWE Studios–I’m not sure how they acquired the script–but they sent a copy of the script to me and I thought it was good, I enjoyed it. It obviously needed some changes or whatever but I enjoyed the script. I thought the story was good, and I thought that it had a good feel to it, a good heart, and the character was good, so I told them I was interested in doing it when the time was right. We just kind of slotted it into production. I did another film for them also, which I was never scheduled to do, but one of the guys they were going to do it with we had contractual issues with and he left and Vince asked me to do it, so I stepped in and I did that one also. “The Chaperone” I was always supposed to do, and I just liked it because it was a different challenge. It was a character that I got to be a little funny at times, serious at times, emotional at times, so it was a different challenge for me. It’s easy for us to go out there, we can all do action pretty well, and I think that’s the standard of what everybody thinks they’re going to get out of us. To be able to do something else, not just from a fan’s standpoint, but from a challenge standpoint. I’d like to do things that aren’t just me being Triple H but with a different name.
CS: I think most people would be surprised that there isn’t a big fight scene where you have to rough anyone up.
Levesque: And realistically, if you want to look at it that way, I mean, one of the problems that I had with the script in the beginning was that I felt it needed to be beefed up because I thought the kids weren’t empowered enough. I wanted the kids to be more heroes in this, and that’s why I get captured and the kids come to the rescue. It’s funny, any time I show it to my niece and one of the guys who works for the company happened to be there when his son watched it. I think he’s like 10 and my niece is 10. When the kids started to make the escape and jump on the bus and have to go make the save, they were all at the edge of their seats. It’s a cool movie from that standpoint. Here’s this big, giant guy that you think in most movies is gonna take on the world, and he actually ends up being saved by a bunch of little kids and it’s kind of cool.
CS: This is the third WWE Studios film. The first one was a drama and the second was a comedy and this is really a mix of the two, being more of a family comedy so was that something you really wanted to try to do something different?
Levesque: No, I don’t think necessarily. For me, I read them and if it’s a good story and I’m entertained by it – I like all different kinds of movies. This kind of movie, I would like. I like action movies and dramas and horror movies and all different stuff. I kind of read them, and if I read it and I think like, “This is really good.” If I’m three quarters of the way through it and I can’t wait to get to the end then I feel like, “Wow, that’s a pretty good story. I’d like to see this.” If I feel that way, then I think, “This would be a good thing to make.” To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big part of a small part in that movie. It’s part of making a good story, so you’re just a part of that storytelling.
CS: Well, this could have gone either way because it could be done as a family movie but it also could be done as a crime comedy for teen or older male audiences.
Levesque: It could’ve, yeah. We kinda did a blend of it, and I felt like because of the age of the kids that were in the movie, which we actually toned down a little bit, made a little bit younger, I felt like it actually worked better. It was better for the script. If we were gonna go for the older teenagers, it’s a completely different movie now, but I think it would’ve been much more of the realm of just what people expect from us.
CS: I felt like it was a throwback to “The Goonies” a bit and it had that kind of vibe so that kids can like it but it wasn’t completely alienating for adults either.
Levesque: Yeah, I look at it and I think, “This is a movie that a parent could take their kid to and not feel like ‘I shouldn’t have taken my kid to that,'” but what will be something that their kids will enjoy, but they’ll also think like, “Oh, this is a pretty good story, and the characters were well-developed. It had some good stuff to it. It wasn’t just a kiddie movie where I feel like I just wasted two hours of my life, but my kid was entertained.”
CS: Obviously you have a certain image from your years of wrestling, so do you think parents will understand that this is something they can bring their kids to see?
Levesque: I mean, I hope they will. I guess to me there was a point in time when Arnold (Schwarzenegger) was making movies where he slaughtered hundreds of people per scene, and then he made “Kindergarten Cop,” but people kind of went with it. I’m hoping that’s what they’ll see. The thing that’s difficult for us is I think they think they see Triple H of the WWE and they think that’s all we are, because it’s the character they see us as the most and we get typecast in that role. But it’s really a character I play, no different than Ray Bradstone in “The Chaperone” is. It’s a character that you portray in a show, but not everybody, but there’s a lot of guys that are very talented in the WWE that can do other things than just what we do, too.
CS: I think every actor has that problem. They basically get famous for a certain type of role, then they try to do something different, and it’s hard to go back and forth, especially when you come from wrestling, and you have to maintain an image of whatever your character is going through at that specific time.
Levesque: Well, it’s tough, especially like in a TV show I think where you watch it in your home and it’s kind of a weekly thing, you picture that person as one thing. I think that’s why people that come out of TV shows struggle then to be mainstream movie stars because all you do is envision them as that character. It’d be tough (if you’re) Kramer from “Seinfeld,” you don’t even have a chance. No matter what movie he walks in, you see him as that goofy character. He would be hard-pressed to do a dramatic role. When Robin Williams tried to do that dramatic movie–and he ended up being successful at it in the long run–but the first one he did, all you could picture was Robin Williams the comedian. Of course, it’s tough to separate. You kept waiting for him to do something goofy.
CS: Ariel is obviously pretty amazing on “Modern Family” and she’s really good in this, too, so what’s it like working with kids, especially ones like her who already have a lot of experience acting?
Levesque: Well, first of all, let me just state that Ariel is amazingly talented, and she’s a great little kid. We became very close on set, and playing her father is almost like a father-daughtery kind of relationship a little bit to a point. Her mom was on the set all the time, but her dad obviously was working and wasn’t there. Because there was a lot of kids of that exact age, there was a lot of junior high romances going on on-set – the boyfriends and the girlfriends, and the she-said-he-said, and it was entertaining from that level. But then, she was “dating” one of the other boys and I took him aside and was like, “Hey buddy, I’m watching you,” and he was scared to death and she thought it was the funniest thing. (laughs) He came to me and he said, “Sir, I’m a gentleman. I would never” and I was like, “Well, you better be!” (laughs) The first day that she and I met, when I learned how good of an actress she was – I never met her before and we were just gonna rehearse a couple of scenes for (director) Stephen Herek. We were just literally walking through the script reading the scene, not acting it out or anything. We’re sitting at a table, and she does a scene, and she’s kinda angry. Steve says, “I think in this scene, by now in the script you’ve gone from being angry to being emotional. When we do it, maybe even to the point of a tear,” and that kind of thing. She says, “Okay.” He says, “You guys want to, just walk through one more and try it a little bit more emotional on this one.” She goes into like, this Oscar-winning performance with the tears steaming down her face and the whole thing. (Laughs) I thought, “Oh crap, I gotta bring my A-game. This little girl’s gonna smoke me.”
CS: Has she been acting for her whole life?
Levesque: I don’t know how much other stuff–she hasn’t been here that long (Laughs)–so I’m not sure how much other stuff she’s done, but I know she’s been acting for a while.
CS: What about shooting in New Orleans? I’ve been to some of those places you’ve shot and they can be quite crowded, so how were you able to do some of those outdoor scenes without lots of people coming up to you and recognizing you?
Levesque: No, we did. That’s the thing, a lot of scenes that we’re shooting there’s a barrier on one side of the street and a crowd of people that recognize me from the WWE on the other side. I would go in between shoots and sign autographs and stuff, but New Orleans was great except for it is the hottest. It was like the surface of the sun hot.
CS: Well, because it was summer. Yeah, of course.
Levesque: Yeah, I mean, almost between every other take I think they had to change my wardrobe because I was just sweating through everything I had. They would literally take a shirt off me, put a dry one on, go dry that one… it was just 115 degrees hot, it was ridiculous.
CS: But you did shoot a lot of cool scenes out in the main drag of New Orleans
Levesque: We did. Yeah, we did. To the point it was so hot where we had a day where Steve Herek actually kinda late in the day – we’d been shooting all day and it was blazing sun, and there was really no shade for the crew. Steve all of a sudden started saying a little bit of stuff that didn’t make sense and we all thought he got heat stroke. We had to have him go in to the hospital, and they put an IV in him, and they put ice packs on him all day on his neck to try to keep him hydrated. I think we were all just in the sun, drinking coffee to perk yourself up, and dehydrating yourself even further. He was just overheated and dehydrated.
CS: And acting is supposed to be the easier and more relaxing thing to do when you’re not wrestling.
Levesque: Yeah, baking in the sun, yeah. It was good though.
CS: You have this other movie you mentioned, WWE’s “Inside Out,” which I think is more of a crime-drama type thing I guess?
Levesque: Well, yeah, it’s almost a “Coen Brothers”-esque kind of slice of life type movie. Michael Rapaport’s in it and Parker Posey and Bruce Dern. It was a lot of fun. A completely different movie and completely different genre of film and different people to work with. Working with kids and Yeardley and even Annabeth Gish and Kevin Corrigan, it was laughing all the time. I mean, it was just funny all the time. I laughed all the time with Michael Rapaport too, but that was just more serious. When Bruce was there, he’s such a great actor and it’s very serious. I mean, Parker, she’s a phenomenal actress.
CS: Wasn’t she in “Blade” with you, too?
Levesque: She was, yeah. When they talked to me about doing that movie and Parker was already committed I was, “Oh, this will be great.” Then she told me that when she heard – originally she didn’t know the guy that was gonna be in it, and then they switched it to me and she was like, “Oh, this is great,” because we actually have a romantic scene in it, so knowing each other makes it a little bit easier.
CS: “Blade” was a really different movie for her and it was pretty big for you, too, so it’s interesting to see you two back together in something different.
Levesque: It was. She had told me at the time that was kind of her first big budget Hollywood thing. I was just blown away by the whole Hollywood thing anyway, then she was used to the indie run and gun and get it done fast and move on type thing. On those big budget films, you’ve got these ridiculous sets and everything takes all day. To assemble a scene takes all day.
CS: So this other movie you’re doing is more like the indie type stuff she’s done before, you’d say?
Levesque: Yeah, I mean, we shot in five weeks. One of the things that WWE Studios do, we shoot movies back-to-back in the same location. We shot four films in New Orleans, all back-to-back, so we save a ton of money on releasing the crew, then starting with a new crew. Basically, we would shoot a film five, six weeks, take a week off or so, and then they go right into the next film with the same crews, and all that changes out is the cast and the directors and stuff like that. Everything else kind of stays the same, so by the time we got to doing “The Chaperone,” these people had all worked together for probably the better part of a year. So it was a very family environment, which is kinda what the WWE is anyway, so it really kinda worked.
CS: It’s a really interesting way to work. Not many studios really work like that anymore.
Levesque: No, Vince is big on looking at things and saying, “Well, this is how it’s always done, and they do it, but to me, that doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t we just do it like this and do it cheaper and do it faster and do it more efficiently?” I think he’s ahead of the curve on a lot of things.
CS: That’s how they used to make movies back in the ’30s, the studios would just have the actors come in and there’d be a script and most of the crew were on staff.
Levesque: Yeah, and even on the aspect of how we do our DVDs. It’s a limited theatrical release right into DVD a few weeks later, no window, your advertising once as opposed to the double. I mean, it’s just a much more efficient way of doing things.
CS: Do you have the acting bug now? I don’t know what your plans are for wrestling at this point, but do you feel like you want to try and do more acting?
Levesque: I enjoy it. Yeah, I enjoy it. Here’s the thing: I’m at a point in my life where one, I don’t have to do anything. I’m enjoying working behind the scenes for WWE and enjoying the time when I do get in the ring still. If the right picture comes along with the right story and I think, “Wow, I’d really like to do this,” I’ll enjoy doing that. I’m at a good place. I’m really just kind of trying to do things that I’ll enjoy doing at this point, so if it’s the right project and I think, “Man, that is something I think I’d really like to do,” then I’ll do it. I’ve gotten a couple of scripts since then, and I’ve read them and been like, “It’s a good story, but I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like a challenge to me or something.” I’ll let somebody else do it.
CS: Are there any more challenges in wrestling? There’s really not many wrestlers who’ve literally won every single belt possible.
Levesque: You know, from that standpoint, it’s not a challenge anymore. I just read an interview with The Rock the other day where he said why he went into Hollywood. He’d done everything he wanted to accomplish in the WWE. I kind of feel like I’ve done that, but I still just enjoy the process. It’s not for me about the challenge of, “Can I do this anymore?” It’s more now about the challenge of like, just going out there, and we’ll do WrestleMania and there’ll be 75,000 people, and if you can’t get a rush outta that, something’s wrong with you, you know? So, to me, that’s just fun.
CS: Do you still get a rush out of WrestleMania after doing it nine or ten times?
Levesque: Oh my God, yeah. It’s still a rush, and the adrenaline, and it’s performing. I mean, you can do fifty movies. If you still enjoy making movies, you enjoy making movies. I enjoy being in the ring and performing in front of fans. When I get the opportunity to do it, I have a lot of fun doing it. If I get the opportunity to do the right movie, I’ll have a lot of fun doing that. To me, at this point, I’ve got three kids and they come first, then everything else is just what I feel like I want to do, and what will I enjoy?
CS: It’s funny you mentioned before about the TV person and the real you, because while I was doing research, I found out that you actually are married to Stephanie McMahon, and all this time, I thought that was a storyline of the show.
Levesque: No, what’s funny is Steph and I actually met–well, we had met before, but we didn’t know each other at all. I’d only met her a few times, and how we got to know each other was because we were married on the show. That’s how we started spending time around each other all the time. That’s why I say our marriage works so well all the time, it’s because we had a dry run on TV. We were married and divorced on TV, so we got it down now.
CS: That’s hilarious because often, you see life imitating art or vice versa, and it never really works out.
Levesque: Yeah, and it just kinda happened, and here we are however many years later with three kids. It’s great.
CS: Do you consider yourself a role model, or do you like being a role model? Or do you feel like you just want to be a performer and do what you want to do and not worry about that stuff?
Levesque: I like that we have the influence to make people happy, Make a Wish kids, or any kid, or something like that, “to put smiles on their faces,” as Vince always says. That’s what we’re looking for. I don’t like when people say, “Well, you’re a role model” perse, because I feel like parents should be the role models and should tell kids what’s right and wrong, not a character on television. While I still see that and take that seriously, I think there’s a lot of things that happen now in the media where they tear people down for the smallest thing and say what horrible role models they are when nobody would’ve ever known about that if the media didn’t put it out there, so who’s the bad role model? Guys get in trouble now for doing things that every person in the world does, not that it’s the right thing to do. It’s just people make mistakes. They make bad decisions, and everybody does, and all the people that are throwing accusations at em all have skeletons in their closet, and things they wish, “God, I wish I never did that.” That’s the way it is. But the media puts it out there to the point where you can’t so this Miley Cyrus thing in a way. Is Miley Cyrus a role model? Yeah, I suppose, but she’s also a person, and she’s also a kid, and she’s living her life, and she’s gonna make mistakes like every single person in the world does when they’re 21 years old. You make mistakes and you hope you don’t make too bad a one, but her mistakes unfortunately are shown on “TMZ” and in front of the world. Then they say how horrible of a role model she is when that kinda stuff happens to everybody else, too. To me, I don’t know who’s more to blame, her or the people that are putting it out there like, “Look, this is your hero? Look at what she really is!” To me, it’s almost worse.
The Chaperone opens in select cities on Friday, February 18 and then is available on DVD on March 8 .