Exclusive interview: John Cena on his role as a 'douchey Captain America'
Launching off the ropes onto the What’s On website, we present: The man, the legend, John Cena…
We see you John Cena, you of the star-spangled suplexing through your decades-long wrestling career, you and your numerous forays into the action movie genre (most recently, as part of the Fast and Furious franchise ‘family’), your bodybuilding, presenting, even your casual dalliance with the rap game… we see you John Cena, and we understand why to many, you are a real life super hero.
Appropriate then, that his (thirty somethingth) acting gig is as Peacemaker, a big screen (agruably, anti) hero, in James Gunn’s upcoming The Suicide Squad. Set to be released in the UAE on August 5, the film is Gunn’s own interpretation of that comic book saga where a group of super villains, scheming ne’er-do-wells and confused pacificists do the right thing for the wrong reasons — and from the trailers, looks like this could be the movie to get the DC box office record back on track.
Peacemaker (or as Gunn described him to Cena “a douchey Captain America”) won’t be a ‘one and done’ wonder either, HBO have already started production on a spin-off series for Cena’s character. The future’s looking pretty super for John right now, but how does he feel about it…?
What’s On: Did you read comic books as a kid and, if so, did you have a favorite superhero growing up?
John Cena: No, I have very little experience in comics. If anything, I related to real life non-fictional heroes, I guess, as a kid.
WO: And what was it in particular about this project that drew you in?
JC: James Gunn, 100 per cent. I admire him. I admire his work and his ability to tell stories. I was flat out completely impressed with what he did with the Guardians universe, making a group of unknowns not only known, but beloved. I got to meet him and understand his storytelling process even more before we started. I didn’t care if he was doing a superhero movie, or a period piece, a comedy, a war movie. He’ll tell you that The Suicide Squad’s probably all three.
WO: Could you talk about the environment that he creates on set? I’ve heard words like ‘familial’ and ‘friends I’ll have forever.’ What was it like for you, working on this movie?
JC: I think perspective is different for everybody. We’re in the movie business, and it’s a collaborative, creative effort to make the best piece of creative work we can. James is, among other things, the most prepared, dedicated, committed, persistent individual that I’ve had the chance to work with. He’s in a very, very small conversation about people that are as dedicated as he is to the craft. I want to work with those people because they will give it all they have. In success or failure, they will leave nothing on the table. I would much rather go into a project, especially one that we’re trying to do for business, with people who are willing to leave their heart on the table, than make a bunch of friends; making friends is ancillary and fantastic. But what you described is actually correct. James gravitates towards these ensemble pieces. You get a lot of people together day after day of a 90- or 100-day shoot. It’s like the live touring business, which my experience with WWE gives me. The people become your family. That happens as a by-product, but first and foremost, he invests his whole self and casts accordingly. I think he organizes a great team of people. That’s also in his skill set, the ability to cast great performers.
WO: To that point, what was it like working with such a diverse ensemble cast?
JC: I’d be speaking for James, but I don’t think that’s done intentionally. I think he just searches out people that are going to help him fulfill his vision. That’s a tough question to answer because once again, perspective is everything. I just think that those things should be a given, rather than a luxury.
WO: I think this is a film that’s coming out of the perfect time. Are you excited people will get to experience this film in the communal, theatrical setting they’ve been missing?
JC: Well, I think everybody will take something different away from it. If you truly love the immersive experience of movies, go see it in IMAX. It was designed for that. Also, it’s got so many twists and turns. It is literally a journey inside the crazy, sick, awesome, emotional mind of James Gunn. It is unfiltered. There’s no real way to describe it, to get people ready for it. There’s no real way for me to tell people what they’ll take away from it. That’s how awesome and crazy it is.
WO: How did you prepare for this role? Did you study your character’s comic book canon?
JC: Sure. But, all that got thrown out the window. When I found out what I was going to be doing, I dove into the mythology a little bit. I crafted what I thought would be the best version of who this person was based on the facts that I’d been given and the script that I read. As far as physical training, I don’t vary that for anything. What you have is what you get. I’ll never stop training, but I’ll also not cater training to a role. If anything, roles make training tougher, because the days are longer and there’s much more to do. I’m training less while shooting. But James threw out all that prep on the first scene of the first day. I very much thought that Peacemaker was a collection of things that he did not end up being. I have great faith and trust in any director that I work with, but most certainly James, because he really is involved in every point of the process. Writing, directing, creating, editing, producing. He was like, “No, I don’t want you to do this. I just want you to be a douchey Captain America.” That, right there, as soon as he said that, I was like, “Oh, all right. I get it.” So all the prep work? There’s a great quote, I think it’s [General] Patton. I’m paraphrasing, but: “Every battle plan is great until the first shot’s fired.” Here I am ready and trying to prove myself. I’m trying to learn and grow as an actor. And he throws all that shit out the window and tells me to go in another direction. And I did.
WO: What do you hope audiences take away from seeing this film?
JC: I know people will encourage people to go back to the movies. I know that. I know we’ll campaign, and we’ll be as loud and as proud as we can. But when people see this movie in theaters, word is going to travel rather quickly that you need to go to the movies to see this. Like I said, I’m not going to say what people will take from it. It’s so out there that people will take whatever they want. It will be one of those things where they come out of the theater, probably not knowing how to feel about themselves or what they just saw but encourage their friends and family and those close to them, or those on social media, to go to the movies and see it. It really is going to be a summer experience, a movie experience, and at a time where we desperately need it.
WO: One last question: As Peacemaker you have a very memorable fight scene alongside Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). What was that kind of fighting like as compared to your past experiences with WWE?
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JC: Well, my experience working with Joel was amazing. He’s amazing, as is the entire cast. I learn from everyone I work with every day. There’s a lot of stuff that Joel taught me on set, that I’ll take with me for every project from here on after, as with Idris, Margot, Steve Agee, Daniela, and everybody else. I learn from everybody every day.
WO: Thanks again for taking the time.
JC: Awesome, thank you.
Written and directed by James Gunn, The Suicide Squad also stars Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, and Peter Capaldi. It will be released in cinemas across the UAE, on August 5.