Man, you’re gorgeous.
That smile speaks a universal human language. Do you ever think about how huge you are right now?
I just came back from the gym, and I’m driving down Sunset and I see a massive billboard that says San Andreas, and I’m like, “Wow, that’s great! This worked out!” I get corny like this. And I swear to God, I turn my head and there’s an even bigger billboard that says Ballers. Man, I can’t believe it.
What a path. You look like an old wrestler I used to see every once in a while.
I’ve been fortunate to have had the life I had prior to Hollywood. I wasn’t starving, I was going to eat the next day. I came to Hollywood wanting a career that had longevity, and I wasn’t afraid to take risks because I had a dollar in the bank. I wasn’t driven by money as much as I was driven by making a successful transition. And I was smart enough to know that I certainly didn’t have all the answers and I needed to surround myself with smart people and be willing to take risks and be willing to fail.
[His assistant brings him a plate of food.]
Potatoes and chicken. A postworkout meal.
How are the potatoes prepared?
They’re cut like french fries, but they’re baked. Phenomenal. And the chicken is just a grilled chicken with a little bit of some sort of barbecue sauce.
You want ten minutes to eat? I don’t want the food to get cold.
No, it’s fine. I’m rarely sitting and eating, so this is nice.
As long as you’re comfortable.
It’s funny, journalists will come in and say, “Thank you so much for sitting with me; I know your day’s been so long.” I’ve got to be honest with you, we’re literally sitting here talking. It’s the easiest thing. Everything’s free, we’re at this hotel, you’ve got free food, we’re just talking about things.
I was talking to Mickey Rourke a long time ago, after he quit acting for boxing. He felt that acting wasn’t manly. I’ve talked to other actors who seemed tortured by the work for other reasons. You’re having nothing but fun.
I think wrestling for $40 a night and eating at the Waffle House three times a day, wrestling every weekend at a flea market, then at a state fair or a car dealership or in barns, “blade jobs,” where I cut my forehead with razor blades… These days I never question, “Oh, do I deserve it? Am I a real man?” No.
How accurate is The Wrestler? All that stuff’s for real?
It’s very accurate. I would do blade jobs. I get a call once from the WWE, saying, “Vince [McMahon] would like to see you in Stamford.” I went to his office and he says, “I really think you have a lot of potential, but you’re not ready for the WWE. You should go to Memphis, Tennessee. That’s where I want you to learn the business.” And as I was leaving, he said, “You keep working hard, but don’t go down there and cut your fucking forehead with razor blades, you understand me?”
In the ’60s and ’70s and early ’80s, the trainers would grind you and eventually they would break something—they would break an ankle in ways that it would heal. It was just the way of the business, to ensure that you learned respect for wrestling. It was crazy. My dad [Rocky Johnson, a WWE Hall of Fame grappler] didn’t break anything on me, but he grinded me out every day for months.
Do you enjoy making movies as much as you enjoyed wrestling?
Wrestling is intimate. You can reach out and touch the wrestlers. I don’t get that connection in movies, but the impact is so much greater. You’re able to craft a longer career in movies. In wrestling, there’s a shelf life, and some wrestlers don’t pay attention to the shelf life. Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler—that was my dad, that was my uncles, that was so many members of my family. It was the only thing they knew. And then they would end up wrestling for a hundred bucks, go to autograph signings for two hundred bucks.
Did you feel self-doubt as you were building your career as an actor?
When I first came into acting, I had great opportunities to make a decent movie. I had a run there in 2005, ’06, ’07—for a long time it was “Oh, he’s the best thing in the movie that’s not that good.” I started questioning: Did I make the right choice? Should I have stayed in wrestling a bit longer? And then budgets became lower and lower and the pay kinda stayed the same and there wasn’t a lot of growth.
You also got smaller. Literally.
The big stars didn’t look like me—and I didn’t look like them. There wasn’t a blueprint or a model.Well, here’s a former football player who once wrestled and he’s this height and this weight. He’s black and Samoan and he has tattoos… And then it was slim down, stop working out as much, get distance from wrestling and the moniker of the Rock. There were a lot of changes—the people around me at that time felt like it was the best thing to do, but by the way, I bought into it. I embraced it. Well, like anything, when you start being someone else, not being yourself, you may get lucky and it may work for a little while, but it’s gonna come back and bite you in the ass eventually. So there was a big moment of clarity in about 2010—I just felt, Yeah, this isn’t working. I need to stop, readjust, reassess, and change everything around me—and I gotta take one more shot, but at least
I’m gonna take a shot with me being myself.
What do you weigh these days?
Two-forty, 250, 260, depending on the role. I think for San Andreas I was 240. But I think what’s interesting is when you finally make that decision and clarity becomes king in your life, the weight doesn’t become an issue. Like, who gives a fuck how much you weigh?! Just go out there and put on a great performance.
That must be liberating. Working out has to have been a way of life for you.
At a very young age, at five, I was with my dad down in the wrestling ring and in the weight room, watching all these guys wrestle, jack iron all day. It was a different world. Everything was dirty: dirty gym, dirty mats. My dad said, “I’m getting up at six; you’re gonna get up at six, too. I’m having my coffee; you have your orange juice. I’m going to the gym; you come to the gym with me.” And then on the mats, I would roll around and these guys would throw me around and wrestle around with me. It was always “What you want?” You gotta get up in the morning, you gotta get after it, you gotta
put in the work, you gotta sweat. There’s gonna be heavy iron and there’s gonna be a lot of sweat, and it’s gonna be dirty.
Have you ever gone wrong trusting your gut, trusting your instincts?
I’ve never gone wrong trusting my gut. It was really the only thing that I had going into acting. I didn’t have the background—Juilliard or performing-arts school or anything like that. You can get great people around you, smart minds and great resources, but it’s still from here [points to heart]. Steven Spielberg has this great quote: “Moviemaking is always about noise. There’s so many voices that you’ve gotta listen to. But you’ve always got to pay attention to the one voice that’s in your gut that always tells you it’s still not good enough.”
That voice can do a lot of damage.
There was a time in my life when opportunities were so few and far between they were like little cracks in the wall, and if one opportunity came my way, I would scratch and claw and bite and I would do anything I could to make sure that I grabbed that opportunity by the throat and I did not let it go. They’re a bit more frequent these days, I have more coming my way, but I still look at it like it’s a crack, and I attack it. I’m a long way away from ever getting evicted again, but man, I think about that so much. That’s where my “we’ve got to make sure this happens” and “let’s go” type of energy comes from.
I wonder if fatherhood makes that feeling even more pronounced.
Absolutely. I feel that way for my little girl. I never want her to experience that at all.
Were you taken seriously when you started transitioning into being an actor? Did people think of you as a lunkhead?
When I sit in these big meetings with the head of marketing, head of distribution, looking at the big boards to figure out how we’re gonna deliver the movie and where we’re gonna go, where we’re strong, where we need to see some uptick—there’s not much of an issue that can come across my desk where I really go, “Wow, I don’t know how to handle that!” It’s like, I’ve been through all this
other shit before. I never quite understood why if you’re successful in something, and then you want to make the transition to Hollywood, why wouldn’t you apply the same discipline and processes
that you did with wrestling and football? Which meant: surround myself with great acting coaches; definitely get a good director; I need great actors around me to help me raise my game; I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I need great acting coaches, I need good directors, I need help. I have been told I have potential. I think I do. Let’s give it a go. And that allows more people to say, “Okay, let’s give it a shot.” Compared to: I think I’m gonna be great. I’m gonna make 30, 40 movies.
Nobody who’s ever referred to themselves as humble seems humble to me.
Am I gonna like Ballers [currently on HBO]?
You’ll get a kick out of it. The guy, Spencer Strasmore, is everything I dreamed of being. I dreamed of being an NFL player, All-Pro, making money, buying my parents a house, the whole thing, like he has done.
That is who I failed at being! That’s the irony of it.
The name of your production company is Seven Bucks Production because you literally had seven bucks to your name? Those stories always seem apocryphal. Did you really have only seven bucks?
I did. In 1995, I called my old man when I landed in Miami [after getting cut from the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders] and I said, “Dad, you gotta come get me.” I didn’t have a car at that time. He drove in his little truck from Tampa to Miami, picked me up, and we were on our way up I-75, the famous Alligator Alley, and I thought, Shit, how much money do I even have? Pulled out my wallet, and yeah, I had a five, a one, and some change. I remember thinking, Fuck, all I have is seven bucks. At that time I wanted so much more. Warren Sapp had just signed for millions of dollars in the draft. He was the one that actually beat me out of my position [at Miami] two and a half years earlier. Not to begrudge him at all; we’re still good buddies today and I’m very happy for him. But it was like the success I wanted so badly and worked so hard for for years was happening all around me to everyone else but me. And I’ll never forget that. The term “seven bucks” has a lot of meaning.
Has there been any single special moment when you knew you’d made it as an actor?
About three weeks ago, I’m here at the house and I get a letter—”Been enjoying your movies over the years. Very entertaining. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know you over the years, most recently after watching you host Saturday Night Live. Great job. You continue to go for it. Proud of your work and look forward to meeting you. Steven Spielberg.”
It took me back to being just like a kid. I was so blown away.
In old clips of you wrestling, you have a line in the ring: “Rutherford B. Hayes, bitch!” It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.
There was a time in the WWE when it wasn’t a publicly traded company. It was a great time. Because you flew under the radar. No one was covering it. We said whatever we wanted. My writer and I would challenge ourselves every night: What is the most insane, entertaining, fucked-up, crazy shit we can say tonight in an entertaining way? Maybe we could sing it; maybe we can say it in a
nursery rhyme. “Rutherford B. Hayes, bitch!”
You used to say jabroni a lot in the ring. I love that word.
When I was a kid, it was an inside term that guys would use. When wrestlers wanted to have a private conversation when fans were present, they would start talking carny because they used to wrestle in carnivals. I thought it was so cool. Jabroni was a word that was always used in the derogatory sense. Oh, this jabroni, that jabroni. But the Iron Sheik was famous for saying the word constantly backstage. Jabroni, jabroni, jabroni. Around 1998, I thought, Why can’t I say it on TV? So I started saying it publicly, but the Iron Sheik was known for it.
You appear in The Sheik, the new documentary about the Iron Sheik. I didn’t realize how influential he was.
He was an incredible, world-renowned wrestler. He was a bodyguard for the shah of Iran. Incredible life. He was one of the guys who took me under his wing and bestowed some gooooodknowledge. And one of the things that he told me was: “Keep your fucking mouth shut when you come in. If you’re gonna be good in this business, then learn how to keep your mouth shut and your ears open, and when you get in the locker room, you just listen to everybody else.” And it was great advice. You can apply it wherever you go.
Hollywood, for instance.
These young bucks come in and think they know everything when they really don’t know shit. The best thing you can do is be quiet and open your ears. Let everybody else talk.
Anything else you want to get off your chest?
Yeah. I’ve lived with my longtime girlfriend, Lauren Hashian, going on, like, eight, nine years now. She’s a singer-songwriter. We spend a lot of time with my daughter in Florida, Simone, who’s 13. We do these stories and we talk so much about the business end, the success end, but then Lauren isn’t mentioned and my daughter isn’t mentioned. I always like making sure we find the balance and my home life is in there and Lauren Hashian is in there and my daughter is in there.
You gotta get the better half in there. With all the cool shit and success that I’ve been lucky enough to get? That doesn’t happen unless the home life is solid.
Courtesy : Esquire