John Cena is a 16-time World Champion, and one of the biggest box office and television attractions on the planet at the moment. Still, not every project can be a winner.
Cena sat down with In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast where he discussed his wrestling and acting career. During the conversation, he admitted that his transition from being a full-time pro wrestler to a full-time actor was difficult.
“There sure was, and that was a lot of failures and a lot of stuff that people didn’t want to see. Once again, I’m not professionally qualified. I have a street sense or guerilla training in everything that comes to marketing and promotion and branding, performing in front of a live audience, and acting. All of my education is from people I can learn from, not in a formal classroom and not because I chose it as a career path at a young age.”
“I just kind of learned as I go. And those curves are harsh sometimes, and there are a lot of failures there. But if you can just hang around and learn from every mistake, you get better. I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize that I was doing what I was doing with the character in WWE. I was just familiar with it, it was comfortable for me.”
“So because it was comfortable and because the audience knew me, I knew the boundaries of chances I could take. And I would test those. I would keep reaching farther and farther. But I couldn’t conceptualize the shift to television and screen.”
John Cena shared how he found his comfort zone, where he said he portrayed parodies of himself or performed in front of an audience. He shared that he was not afraid of failure, saying that there is no shame in receiving feedback from the audience.
“Where I found my comfort zone was parodying myself, like in the Fred movies, and being on shows with an audience,” Cena said. “Doing the monologue for the ESPY’s, being the co-host on The Today Show, anything. Even in front of a small studio audience, because even a small studio audience was a chance to work a room.
“But I could do it in the Clark Kent version of the Superman John Cena character. And it became different, and I became a little more confident. And I think everyone has their own process and no one of them is wrong. But for me, I think the greatest strides I’ve taken have been ‘be confident in your abilities. You have had the chance to say no to this one time, and you said yes, so you are committed.
“Be confident in the people around you, because they’re there for a reason. And trust in them that they don’t want to do bad, because very few of us want to get into something to do bad at it.’ So if you lean on the folks around you and you can learn from the folks around you and you’re confident in yourself. If I make a mistake on set, which I often do, I don’t feel shame, at all.
“I expect people to give me the right feedback, like ‘this sucked’ or ‘I’m looking for more like this.’ I’m okay hearing that, because no one sees the one that sucks. Everyone sees the good one, or the one they feel is the best, the most passable one. But that takes guts because I have to fail in front of my crew, I have to fail in front of three cameras, I have to maybe waste some time or take some more time.
“I have to fail in front of my castmates, and all the people behind the camera. But I’m not afraid to do that, because I’m just searching for that one gem that’s going to be there. So many things from the WWE have helped me. That was the one thing that hurt; me being comfortable in one character. But so many things have helped.”
John Cena discussed wrestling as a giving business and how everything depends upon the work of opponents and the audience. He also confessed that his wrestling career gave him a major boost to dive into acting.
“The WWE is a giving business. You cannot be selfish,” John shared. “You are only as good as the person you are in there with, or the people you are in there with. And by the way, the crowd is one of those people, so you also have to give to them. We as fans have seen so many matches where the crowd is going bananas, having nothing to do with what’s going on with the match, and the performers aren’t recognizing the audience and the audience tunes out.
“And then there’s silence, no one is interested. And these guys and girls can be killing themselves with the physical things they do, but no one’s interested because they didn’t give. They weren’t giving enough, they were too selfish. ‘I want to do the things I want to do, and you guys are going to pay attention.’ That’s not how the industry works.
“You go out there in front of 10,000 people and they have energy. And you have to give and then they give back, and then you give more. They give more, and then somebody else comes out, and there’s a match. It’s all about being able to just give. And that taught me that it’s okay to give, and it’s okay to let other people be great because if other people are great, you’ll also be great.
“So when you mix all that stuff up and add just a sprinkle of a little bit of wisdom I’ve gotten for failing for 20 years now, I feel just much more confident when I undertake a project. And I also think it starts with the fact that I say yes to it, which means I know what I’m getting myself into.”
John further discussed his new upcoming projects and reflected on his work with WWE studios. Cena featured in The Marine, a rare WWE film that made it to the silver screen.
“I just filmed a movie Freelance in Columbia,” John said. “And I’ve always wanted to do another Marine, because so many folks talk to me about The Marine. I can’t believe it. And it was actually something I wasn’t really proud of, because that’s a situation where I look back and say I didn’t give my all. I was commuting back and forth from Australia to Smackdown.
“I really, as a young man, I wanted to be in the middle of the rock star life. I wanted to be in front of those sold-out crowds. And then I get to a quiet movie set where everything takes forever, and I just didn’t have the wisdom or the knowledge or the perception to realize how big of an opportunity it was. But come hell or high water, a lot of folks watched it.
“I get a lot of ‘hey man, I saw you in The Marine.’ And I read this script Freelance, which is a thrilling action three-hander that we filmed in Columbia. I can’t wait to see it, because when I read it, I was so connected to it, like ‘yo, this is John Triton twenty years later.’ And I was like ‘man, this is kind of what I’m looking for, and this is my chance to play, twenty years later, John Triton. This is exactly it.’
“And my whole little piece of the story, you can hear how excited I am talking about it now. It was one of those things where people always ask me what I’m looking to do, I have no clue. Cause if you’re asking ‘hey, we’re looking for a three-hander action movie. You want to film in the jungle?’ ‘No.’ But I always read it.
“I try to read everything, and this is one of those things. It’s like ‘yo, this is a chance to do that.’ And I think that’s the approach I’m going to take to that, and that seems cool, that seems fun. And those made the tough days on set and the process of making the movie, it made it fun.”
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