WWE Superstar John Cena still keeps one leg in the ring (for now), while focusing more on Hollywood blockbusters like Bumblebee.
WWE Superstar John Cena remains a professional wrestler, although he’s spending much more time these days on movie sets than inside the ring. The wrestler-turned-actor has gradually transitioned to the big screen, carving a path not unlike those of other former WWE stars like Dwayne Johnson and Dave Bautista. Cena has tackled ensemble comedies like Trainwreck and Blockers, as well as the indie military action thriller The Wall. But Bumblebee marks the first big budget Hollywood spectacle that Cena has enlisted for, and Paramount Pictures has high hopes for this Christmas blockbuster, which is set to reboot the Transformers film franchise.
The 41-year-old actor talks about his own love of Transformers, real Volkswagen classics, and explains how his career inside the WWE ring has led to his Hollywood success.
Innovation & Tech Today: Can you share a favorite memory from your childhood playing with Transformers toys?
John Cena: I came from a household that at times was very fortunate and other times was very unfortunate. And I also had four brothers, so we were always fighting for toys. When Transformers came out, you got essentially two toys for one and it was the first of its kind where the toys were actually realistic. Optimus Prime looks like a semi-truck and then transforms into a cool robot. The toys looked fantastic in either form. We could sit and play trucks in the mud or we could have an action figure fight with the same toy. So it was literally just the success of what the toy set out to be, and that was “more than meets the eye.” That’s why the phenomenon caught on. It was just so new and done so well, but it was really a concept that was ahead of its time and executed extremely well.
I&T Today: When you look at Transformers through today’s eyes, is there a particular favorite that you have?
John Cena: Well, I’m a lifelong good guy in my other gig. I have to gravitate towards Optimus Prime. I don’t think I can share any of the Decepticon values as far as my ego, so I’m pretty much an Optimus guy.
I&T Today: Going into this Bumblebee film, what is it in particular that you find appealing about this Transformer?
John Cena: People gravitate towards Bumblebee for a myriad of reasons. He can’t speak. So there’s intrigue to why he can’t. There’s also intrigue to watch him communicate, and the reaction not only by the other Transformers, but with people and the environment around him. He’s a protector, yet he’s an underdog. He’s not specifically super large, so he’s this miniature compact badass that seems – I can’t believe I’m talking about a 14-foot robot – but it seems like he’s an underdog in every situation that he goes into and he does have this extra gear. He is a peacekeeper by all standards, but when he gets pushed beyond his limits, you actually see him transform and become super Bumblebee and kick some serious ass.
I&T Today: What was it like for you to be around that retro Bug on set?
John Cena: I loved it. And don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the concept of the Transformers franchise using concept cars from the General Motors archive to try to make these new robots and their futuristic look, but I generally think there’s an entire generation like me who grew up with these toys and were fascinated by their innovation. So now, being able to see them come to life in almost their original setting is cool – like a rusty old Volkswagen, which creates a smoother, softer appearance. The exterior of the Volkswagen creates a little patina on Bumblebee; it’s pretty fascinating. This Transformer has become much more human and has much more depth, and I think that was the coolest thing about being around the Bug. [Director] Travis Knight was extremely careful in what vehicle he chose. I’m an automobile guy and the reason that the Bug has stood the test of time is because it’s a true performer. It’s not a great track car. If you really go back to when the car debuted in the 50s, it was economical transportation, but people fell in love with it in the 60s because it was a symbol of peace and togetherness. So the car is iconic, and I couldn’t think of a better car to be chosen to give a human element to Bumblebee.
I&T Today: What are your thoughts on Volkswagen saying they’re going to discontinue the New Beetle after 2019?
John Cena: As a car guy, I think we’re moving away from driving cars ourselves, so the Bug today isn’t the Bug that we fell in love with. It’s almost like the reboot of that. If people want to gravitate toward the classic VW Bug, the great thing about them is, because they were economical transportation, they made a whole lot of them and parts are still readily available. So it’s not like you’re going to be left out in the cold. If you want to drive a legitimate Beetle or a Volkswagen Bus or anything from that era, you definitely can get a hold of it. I think VW tried to recapture some of that peace and love phenomenon in the new design, but the stars didn’t align, so I think they’re making a good choice.
I&T Today: What was it like for you to step into this role of Agent Burns in Bumblebee?
John Cena: I really enjoyed it. After getting the script, I was fascinated with the way that they chose to reboot the franchise. I was fascinated with the fact that it was a prequel, so they got a little bit of liberty to deviate. But at the same time, they did a great job of not just ditching the tale that had been told, and truly being steadfast and trying to explain things from an origin standpoint. Details about my character are top secret, but it was really a decent challenge for me to step in and be able to do something like that. It’s something I haven’t done before.
I&T Today: How has your time in the WWE ring helped with this type of action-oriented movie versus a comedy like Blockers?
John Cena: What I’ve done in the WWE ring, no matter what the genre – it could be straight drama, it could be comedy, parody, huge-level action, minimal level action – always helps because if you break down what we do, we are storytellers. The character I play in Bumblebee is not an extension of who I am. I think the easiest way to transition from art form to art form is to begin with characters who are extensions of who you are. The awkward comedic presence in Trainwreck is kind of an extension of who I am. The awkward dad in Blockers is kind of an extension of who I am. And the reason I was drawn to something like this, it’s the first time where it’s not, but because I spent a lifetime telling stories and I try to use my tools of storytelling in taking a little bit of a risk, I think that’s where my career in the WWE will always help me in any sort of storytelling art form outside the WWE.
I&T Today: Do you have a favorite memory you can share from filming Bumblebee?
John Cena: It’s the rapport I had with Travis. I know that’s not very specific and there were certain explosions and effects that were really cool, but Travis is extremely gifted and not just as an animator, but as a visionary. He had a very tough job in front of him. He reimagined this universe, and he saw it all in his head very specifically, and I think the biggest challenge for him was not to animate Bumblebee in a new form, or which Transformers to choose, or how to reset a 1980s rendition of this franchise. His biggest challenge was relating his vision to the people acting in the movie, and he made that seem easy. And he did it differently because my personality is different from Hailee [Steinfeld]’s, from everybody. He did it differently with every actor and actress and I saw it up close. I saw his interaction with me. I saw it from afar. He was extremely gifted and he is destined for great things, and that’s my best memory. You never saw him lose his cool. He just stayed focused on his vision and I really am excited for people to see this movie.
I&T Today: What’s it like working on your upcoming film, Project X-traction?
John Cena: We’re now filming in China and Scott Waugh is the director and I take advice daily from Scott and from Jackie Chan and I totally trust the process, especially because it’s a Chinese movie and in China the movies are made differently. They tend to hit plot points very fast. The movies are a super fast ride. The action is different. Everything is different, but I have total faith in Jackie. I have total faith in Scott. And once again, I’m just going to trust in the process.