John Cena is the latest professional wrestler to make the transition from the ring to movies, following a well-trod path blazed by the likes of Hulk Hogan, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. The 33-year-old Massachusetts native, who played football in college, is a nine-time WWE world champion, a star rapper and is currently appearing in "Legendary," opening Friday, in which he plays an older brother who mentors an aspiring high-school wrestler. Lewis Beale caught up with the highly articulate grappler between bouts.
What's with all these wrestlers moving into acting?
It's a progression of our business. The grassroots of our product is a TV show, and it's episodic TV. It's a similar environment to a TV actor doing films.
How about the fact that so many pro wrestlers are former football players?
There are a lot of similarities, a lot of the moves in football are made at the line of scrimmage, there's a lot of stopping and moving. If you are good on your feet, it just goes natural. Football is an intense game, and football players can harness that. I love the contact, and the bravado, which football didn't have when I played.
What was it about "Legendary" that interested you?
It was a process of trial and error. When I did "The Marine", I was thrown in without much experience. If you watch that, I was extremely protected. People felt I had personality they wanted to know, and this film is a dramatic part, but not much of a reach for me, even though it's far from the roles I've been doing.
Watching Danny and Patricia was amazing. I'd watch them from a distance, I had scenes with Patricia, I learned a lot by observing. It was really organic; we just went in, rolled the camera and made it as natural and organic as possible.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses as an actor?
I need the most work at accepting roles outside of my comfort zone. Anything I can relate to - I can blow things up - but outside my comfort zone, I really have no clue. I think my strength is that I'm not afraid to ask for advice from the director, the cast, the crew.
You have a degree in exercise physiology, but you've become a wrestler instead. How come?
I got my degree and was unsure how to use it. I moved out West to spite my dad, and was working dead-end jobs. One of my friends was training to be a pro wrestler, and I wanted to do something athletic. My friend said, 'Why haven't you come down to this school and trained?' It was positive from day one. It was just like learning a position in football; it was like I was handed a new playbook. I've been able to adapt to different training, and I learned, although it was entertainment, you have to be as genuine as possible.
You've also had success as a rapper. Your first album, "You Can't See Me," debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard charts. What are the easiest and toughest aspects of the art?
The easiest part is the craft. I've always had a decent way with words, and I enjoy the music. The toughest part is the image, like in the WWE. I've seen talented wrestlers who don't have the image to succeed, and there are rappers with limited ability but a great image who make a lot of money. It really relies on image.
What are the best and worst places to wrestle?
I'm not going to be specific geographically, but the best crowds to wrestle in front of are the WWE live events and the television broadcasts. And the worst are the pay-per-view events, the tickets are more coveted, it's like super fans going to a baseball game. You really have to knock their socks off. The audience is slightly more jaded than your average WWE live event.
You've been known by all sorts of nicknames during your career - The Franchise, Super Cena, etc. Which one is your favorite?
The Doctor of Thuganomics. It's something I made up as a joke, and I've actually had people come up to me and hand me laminated plaques that say: "Dr. of Thuganomics."