Whatever you think of WWE Superstar John Cena as a wrestler and entertainer, there’s little question his presence on the roster at WWE shows and events has become one of the most defining aspects of the current wrestling boom.
While Cena was brought into the movie world when he starred in the 2006 action flick The Marine for WWE Films, he’s now trying different things, including having a major role in Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, playing Steve, Amy’s musclebound “f*ckbuddy” for lack of a better term. Later this year, he also appears in Sisters, another R-rated Universal comedy appearing opposite no less than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, playing a drug dealer.
A few weeks back, ComingSoon.net spoke with Cena from the junket of Trainwreck about his two forays into comedy this year, his supporting role on girlfriend Nikki Bella’s reality show “Total Divas” (which just returned with is fourth season last week) and his current conflict with now former NXT Champion Kevin Owens, which will resume at the upcoming WWE pay-per-view event “Battleground” on Sunday, July 19. If that wasn’t enough, Cena has been nominated for an ESPY Award for Sports Humanitarian of the Year for his work granting wishes for Make-A-Wish, the winner to be announced at the ceremony aired on ABC tonight (July 14).
In the interview below, he talks about working with Apatow and Schumer (even having a sex scene with the popular comedian) and most of these other things as well as the perception WWE fans have of him after becoming one of the most celebrated and best-known wrestlers on the roster.
ComingSoon.net: I actually was on the set of both “Trainwreck” and “Sisters” on days you weren’t there, but they mentioned you in both cases. I was like, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” You haven’t done many straight comedies and haven’t appeared in any non-WWE Films, so how did Judd contact you for this? What was the pitch to do this?
John Cena: You know, just through the regular channels on how you would end up getting offered an audition. I had to go through the regular process. It wasn’t like, “Hey, here’s the part.” I had to go through an audition and then another one and then a table read. Eventually, I ended up getting it, but it was a very exciting time, when I was approached with the fact that, “Hey, do you want to read with Amy Schumer for Judd Apatow?” To me, that was both exciting and nerve wracking, but it was overall a great experience, and I’m glad I could be a part of this awesome movie that’s coming out.
CS: Were you already familiar with Amy’s comedy before you got the call?
Cena: Yeah, I think I’m not uber into the comedy scene, but I love to laugh, especially in our business, where you’re always front and center over an extremely, sometimes overly-critical live audience. I think it helps to laugh. You learn to laugh at yourself and you also lean on comedy as a crutch to kind of take the edge off because comedians often are self-deprecating and they cross lines that they shouldn’t. Stuff like that brings a smile to my face every once in a while when needed.
CS: Steven is a muscle bound guy, and in some ways, it’s making fun of being a really muscular guy, which you are. I was curious about taking on a role like that, which is sort of self-deprecating but also allows you to play with some people’s impressions of you.
Cena: I guess I’ve been in the WWE so long now, and I love WWE and I don’t want to go anywhere. Constantly, I guess from a critical side, critics are often asking me to evolve, in certain ways. I think I don’t know quite yet if that’s the evolution they’re talking about in WWE is possible, but it certainly is outside the ring. So at least when they go to theaters and check out “Trainwreck” on July 17th, hopefully, they’ll be able to see a little bit of the evolution outside of the ring that I’m going for.
CS: I’ve had a chance to see at least a clip from “Sisters,” so I know that that’s a completely different role for you. That drug dealer is just pretty crazy. I’ve only seen one scene.
Cena: How about that? In one movie, I play a sexually confused ex-boyfriend, and in the other one, I play a drug dealer.
CS: It definitely is a departure from what we’re used to seeing from you, the big action movies and stuff like that.
Cena: Yeah, I think the big action movies, it seems like a natural correlation, but I’ve often found that those action movies are tough, first of all. My hats off to anybody filming action, because you get beat up. If I’m going to get the crap kicked out of me, I would love 15,000 people on hand to tell me that I’m doing good or I’m doing bad. So, if I’m going to be in any physical duress, I’d really like it to be in a WWE ring, which is why I was so amped to be a part of “Trainwreck.” I mean, like you said, it’s something very new and very different and a chance to be surrounded by extremely, extremely funny people.
CS: Judd’s famous for throwing out alternate lines on set and I’m sure Amy’s also great at improv, so what’s that like working with them and having to keep up with all the stuff being thrown at you?
Cena: I enjoy it, only because we do a lot of physical improv in the WWE. I think Judd has great focus. He focuses on the story first, and then just kind of builds the words around the story. As long as the sentiment and the emotion is there and the story is there, sometimes some words are better, sometimes some words are different, and sometimes, it’ll take it in a whole different direction. When you’re out there performing in front of a live audience, you often have to very much so, more than people ever know, just physically improv on the fly. So, to be able to kinda do that verbally, and especially with the star of the movie and the director of the movie encouraging you, it was a very fun challenge.
CS: Was there anything you wanted to bring to Steve that you kind of threw out there, after you read Amy’s script, or at least your scenes? Did you have some ideas of what you wanted to bring to Steve or something that you could add?
Cena: Originally, the character was written as just a typical big guy who does big strong things. The sex scene, for example, was originally written as a very physical sex scene, where it was like me doing wrestling maneuvers and the sex was overbearingly physical. But, there was one punch line in the original script about Steven – it’s even awkward to say, but you’ll end up seeing it in the movie – Steven reaching climax when he says, “The first time I saw Amy, Amy looked like a dude.” It was just one throwaway line. From that line, I’m like, “Well, maybe this dude is yearning for this normal life, but he always wants to be physically fit. He’s always hanging out with his bros at the gym. Maybe this dude is just confused about who he is, as much as Amy’s trying to find herself, maybe this guy is really just in the wrong sort of situation.” So that’s where we kinda got all the improv for the sex scene that didn’t end up overly physical at all. It was just his ineptness to talk dirty, and then his sexual confusion, which hopefully plays out throughout the movie.
CS: The first time I heard about the sex scene was on “Total Divas,” when Nikki was talking about it. I knew you were in the movie from being on set, but then I watched “Total Divas,” and I heard about this sex scene. Doing those scenes in general are hard, but having to do a funny sex scene must be even harder to kind of keep the comedy going while trying to manage all the other stuff.
Cena: I will say, it is anything but sexy. It was easily, easily the most awkward, embarrassing moment of my life, being covered up by a very small amount of material in front of an enormous crew of characters. Just to let everybody behind the curtain, it’s not just two people. There’s two camera operators, two focus pullers, two or three lighting guys, two or three sound guys, props, the whole people watching in the row of director’s chairs. It ended up being just a bunch of people in there. So, it’s not at all intimate in any way. It was very just being out there.
CS: I’m sure for Amy as well. She wrote the scene, so at one point she must’ve been like, “Oh yeah, I just wrote these sex scenes for myself and now I’ve got to go and do them.”
Cena: Yeah, and I think the thing that was great about Amy is, and true to form, she can make anything funny. I think when you can laugh, it can take the edge off. It ended up being a very funny scene, and like I said, it was because of the environment that Amy and Judd created. They just encouraged comedy. It was different, but at the end of the day, I think it plays very well on screen.
CS: Are you surprised at all when you see how the final scenes are edited together? I was on the set for the baby shower thing. They were there all day shooting that one scene, so I saw a lot of different takes. Were you surprised by the final scene when you saw it?
Cena: No, no, it’s one of those things where you just have a lot of trust in the guy making the movie. I’ve been a player in producing live television for 15 years now, and I always have trust in those producing to make the best choices, to produce the best TV possible. There is a director for a reasons, because a director knows what’s best for the movie. You just give your director as much as you can to work with, and hopefully, the decisions they make are going to be great. In this case, with a great director, they were fantastic.
CS: Right now, you have some pretty intensive stories going on in the WWE, so I’m surprised you have time to make any movies. Where do you see your acting career at this point versus the fact that you’re really at the height as a wrestler right now?
Cena: I think it all comes down to perspective. People are always asking me where I find the time for all this. It’s just a matter of budgeting your time and getting everyone on the same page. Oftentimes, WWE lives in its own bubble because it is forever moving. Oftentimes, a motion picture will live in its own bubble because they have a certain amount of time to get everything done. It’s just, when you connect the two and get everything straightened out, truly, it may take a little elbow grease. It may take a little extra finance, but there really is very little of it that can’t be accomplished. It’s just a matter of budgeting time correctly.
CS: I was a wrestling fan as a kid and I recently got back into it after a long time away. The two things that got me back were the WWE Network, which is just amazing, and also, “Total Divas,” which I found by accident on E! and was surprised that it’s just a really good, well-made show. You’re kind of a supporting role in that, so I wondered what that’s like because you’re working a lot, so how hard is that to have your personal life out of the ring being filmed for the show?
Cena: Well, to me, that’s easy because it’s like you said–I’m not the focus of that show, I’m a supporting character. So I don’t even pay attention to the cameras, they just kind of ask Nicole and I to go to dinner or ask if they could follow us on a date or ask if they can just film around the house for a little bit and we just kinda go. I mean, you want to talk about wide open, know nothing, it’s if you can block the cameras out, you just exist. Then, they film you while you exist. Now, that being said, they only do that for me for a little bit, where I’ve seen the amount that they follow Nicole and Brie and the rest of those divas, they work their butts off. They’re very proud of that show. They always want to try to give the audiences as much of their real lives as they can, but it is a commitment. They are followed all the time by everyone. I take my hats off to the cast. It was a bold step to pull the curtain back on the life of the WWE in the first place. But for them to be coming up on their fourth season now and people become obsessed with their lives. I truly think that obsession grows because of their passion they put into the projects. They never ever say “no.” They always want the cameras around. A lot of times, it’s emotional. A lot of times, it’s trying, but man, I’m so proud of Nicole for being able to do that.
CS: That’s great. I kind of wish the Divas had more matches and got more airtime, so hopefully that will change some time.
Cena: Yeah, I think so. I think so
CS: This feud with Kevin Owens thing you’ve been doing is just amazing and has led to some amazing matches. He’s a really talented athlete, but he’s also a huge heel and I’m kind of surprised people love him so much and they’re always so critical of you. You talk about it a lot at the shows. Do you see that going for a long time, this feud with Kevin?
Cena: I hope so. Kevin is unbelievably skilled. If there is anyone deserving of a spot on “Monday Night Raw”… superstars often talk about their journey to the WWE. His is one of legend, having worked in the independent circuit for a decade and a half, and truly being able, for someone of his stature, being able to all that he can do, combining strength and unbelievable agility in the ring. Well well deserving of being showcased on “Monday Night Raw.” He truly brings out the best in me, and people will always be critical of me. There’s a portion of the WWE audience that is just yearning for new, so when they see a new talent that doesn’t have any inhibitions, who knows who he is as a character and says what he wants, and then, on top of that, follows it up with unbelievable performances, that’s how you captivate the audience and that’s how you get something really special started. I think Kevin Owens’ name we’ll be talking about 10 years from now as one of the major players in the WWE. I’ve been around for quite a long time, and for me to be able to get in a ring with a guy like that and go like hell and then do it again and hopefully do it again, that’s all I’m looking to do. I just want to be able to let the WWE universe know that I can still go with the best of them—the newest, the best and the brightest, I can still compete.
CS: Is that all it is? Is it just people wanting new things? I think you’re a great role model and you have strong standards and ethics and you show them pretty much every time you’re in the ring. I’m really confounded by how the world sees that and how they would not see that as a positive.
Cena: The ever-popular question: why does a portion of our universe despise John Cena? You know, there’s a million different answers to that question, but at the end of the day, our consumer, our member of the WWE universe, can feel exactly how they want. I think the second that I try to force them to feel it a different way is the second that I alienate all of them. I’ve been very true to know that I have a base of fans and I’m extremely loyal and extremely supportive to that base of fans. To the rest of them, I enjoy the fact that they fill the arenas and tell me to go to hell.
CS: I guess that’s a question for a doctorate thesis that someone will eventually have to do.
Cena: Believe it or not, that’s an interesting psychological breakdown, because it’s very much like you explained. I literally wake up and try to tackle every day the best I can and do my best to try to make life as productive and positive as I can. Yet you get in front of these tens of thousands of people and they’re just upside down with disdain. It would actually be unique to see a psychologist’s take on that.
CS: The first time I experienced this was at a house show at MSG, my first house show in 20 years, and I had no idea there was that kind of divide.
Cena: (laughs) The crazy thing is that so many folks who have that first experience like you are walking away going, “What’s going on?” I literally have been dealing with this since “WrestleMania 22” and before that, so it’s been almost 10 years now. You just come to accept it as part of the product. It doesn’t change the way I work. It doesn’t change the way that I carry myself. I think maybe that’s a little bit of what is the subject for disdain–I refuse to sacrifice my ideals just for a response.
CS: Well, listen, it was great talking to you and good luck at “Battleground” which takes place a few days after “Trainwreck.” Any chance you might convince Amy to join the Divas?
Cena: (Laughs) I think Amy is busy enough and I think she’s doing just fine where she is. I think after people see “Trainwreck,” they’re going to want to see a lot more of Amy on screen.