John Cena Embraces His Comedic Side in Trainwreck
(It’s never a good idea to start off a story with a cliché, but bear with me a moment.)
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
(It’s also never a good idea to start off a story with hyperbole. Again, indulge me.)
Never has this been truer than with WWE wrestler and actor John Cena.
(Ok, I’m done.)
Cena looks the part of a wrestler—all brawn and tan skin, apparently constantly oiled up, the jaw line of a caveman and serious brow. He’s been with the WWE since 1999, and that career has provided him with the title of WWE Superstar, 15-time World Champion, the current United States Champion, 7.2 million Twitter followers, and the opportunity to perform more Make-a-Wish’s than any other celebrity or athlete ever. But now, Cena seems ready to break out of his big shell into the bigger world of entertainment. This month, he appears in Trainwreck, a new comedy starring Amy Schumer.
“When you talk about R-rated movies, there’s an obvious difference from TV PG stuff,” says the West Newbury native, who gets back to see his family a couple times per year, and where everyone knows him and treats him like the little 12-year-old punk he used to be. “I am a 38-year-old man, and I do have a certain sense of humor that appeals to me. It’s been great to be able to embrace that. Being involved with mature content is a whole different side [of entertainment] to have fun with.”
Trainwreck is comedian Amy Schumer’s feature film debut and is essentially a version of her standup routine wrapped in a rom-com bow. The story follows Amy, a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe who learned her best traits from her philandering father by age seven. Borrowed generously from Schumer’s honest and raunchy stories of her travails as a single woman, the film pulls heavily from her own life experiences in love and lust and loss. For Cena, though—who plays Steven, Amy’s sensitive beau who discusses marriage while she’s into non-exclusivity—it was a huge departure from his real life and his work in almost a dozen other feature films, including macho-flicks The Marine and 12 Rounds.
“I got to go crazy in a lot of different ways with this role,” Cena tells me over the phone from backstage at Monday Night Raw, an hour before granting a Make-a-Wish with an ESPN crew in tow. He then performed for thousands on live television and jumped on a plane to Singapore for a one-night WWE event, followed by two nights in Tokyo.
“At the core, [Trainwreck] about a couple with relationship issues. I think every relationship has its issues,” he says.
Cena should know. In 2012, he went through a very public divorce to a hometown sweetheart amid rumors he was cheating, and has since been dating pro wrestler Nikki Bella—faithfully according to Schumer.
We all know Cena’s right: relationships are hard. Even harder when you’re under a spotlight and the situation can become an image that is cultivated rather than based in the couple’s reality. In Trainwreck, there’s a lot of mess, and Cena is at the forefront in one of the best (read: hilarious, raunchy, touching, and confusing) sex scenes in recent history.
“I think I was led astray as a kid,” said Schumer on stage post-premiere at South by Southwest. “I didn’t lose my two front teeth until fifth grade, but I had my period. I was this jack-o-lantern with tits walking around.”
It’s this awkward visual that Schumer likes to give everyone, over and over. In Trainwreck, it comes in the form of Steven. Close to the beginning of the film, we’re given a visual of his butt crack that missed the tanning bed lights—“I’ll let that debate go on forever,” when I ask him if it was really his bum. His bulging muscles and browned, slick skin rock back and forth on top of Amy, who’s clearly not having a good time—it’s all meat, no heat.
Through a series of attempts on Amy’s part to get Steven to talk dirty during sex, he feels defeated and says he’s more physical in his emotion. But eventually, some semi-analogous sports cheers flow along with gym and protein shake metaphors. “Can we stay away from anything with food or sports?” Amy cringes. Finally, he recalls the day they met: “You were so hot babe,” he says as Amy finally relaxes into the 250 pounds of WWE rawness, “I was coming out of the gym, and you were at that pizza place. You looked so good. You were wearing those jeans, and when you turned around, you looked so hot…[he’s getting close]. You looked like…[closer]… like [really close now]…a dude!”
Cena’s face in that culminating moment and the comedic timing of the scene, along with the unadorned outcome of what Steven reveals there will surely cement Cena’s place as a sought-after talent. Indeed, he’s been getting a master class in comedy. In the upcoming Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Sisters, Cena was cast as a drug dealer—and he says that we should expect something very different than a typical thug.
Back on set with Schumer and Judd Apatow, he says they were open to just about any idea he might have and created an environment where he was in turn able to create a lasting character.
“The awkwardness between Amy and I…everyone was cracking up,” he remembers. “It’s funny what people come up with when you have an open forum. If you had a joke that wasn’t funny or tried something that bombed, you didn’t feel that you wasted their time. And likewise, there was a mutual sense of respect that you wouldn’t just blurt out anything that came to mind…but you could take risks.”
For Cena’s comedic future, he doesn’t care how big the role is and cares only about being associated with good scripts—“something that I laugh out loud at”—and it’s his past that he thanks for where he is today.
“My father is a very hard worker,” says Cena, one in a family of five. “And my mom is an extremely driven human being. I think the combination of my dad’s affinity for showmanship and my mom’s resolve led me to where I am today.”
Trainwreck opens July 17 nationwide. Watch the trailer below.