A recent interview with John Cena about his voice acting role in Ferdinand, an animated feature film from the Ice Age series creators, was the unlikely scene of one of the longest answers to a question I have ever been given.
The WWE star was actually pretty laconic to begin with, and our chat started quite awkwardly as I somehow raised his hackles with a seemingly innocent question about wrestlers often turning to acting.
He had plenty to say, however, when I brought up the topic of older WWE fans often bemoaning the new so-called "PG-era" and missing what is seen as the glory days of the Attitude Era (Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock's stomping ground), with Cena often being held up as symbol of this change.
Read the exchange below, and watch the full interview above:
CH: So there's the kids out there loving the WWE, but there's also a circle of perhaps more geeky older people who'll always be saying, "Oh we miss the Attitude Era" and that kind of stuff. What is your response to that, do you think that's misplaced nostalgia or do you see that as a legitimate response?
JC: Well, every response is legitimate. If you tell me right now you miss the Attitude Era I can't tell you you don't. What I can tell you is that we're a PG programme and if you look at the Attitude Era it was TV-14 or TV-MA. We're a PG program, there's nothing else I can tell you. There will be no cussing, there will be no blood, there will be no headshots, there will be no inappropriate clothing, and those aren't our laws those are the laws of the rating system. So to operate under a PG platform, which has totally globally expanded the WWE and created more fans - albeit geeky or not geeky - around the world, and allowed all of these performers including myself to go to new and wonderful places, like places in South America, China for the first time, we keep returning to Japan, the Arab Emirates - just because we have made our programme more digestible - I totally understand, as a 40-year-old man, and if you've seen me in Trainwreck I have a pretty adult sense of humour, I totally understand someone saying, 'I miss mature content in sports entertainment'. We are not the place for that. We are not. And that's our business model. And until it changes I am merely a carpenter building with the tools that are given to me. Is a promo easier when you can cuss? Sure, because you're talking trash and trash talk is filled with cusses. But, as a professional, you can't speculate and be like, 'Agh I wish I could just say this,' because you can't, those are the rules, and every once in a while we can walk the line and push into grey, but at the end of the day the programme is PG and has to be treated as such because that's the business model of the folks who own the place -
CH: And that's a price worth paying to be able to reach more people worldwide?
JC: Yeah, and as the global audience continues to expand - it happens with everything; if you have a garage band that gets a massively passionate fanbase and that garage band ends up playing stadiums, there's a group of people that hate them for that. But you want to take your product and get it out to as many people as you can - my WWE mission statement isn't to be a 17-time champion or whatever, it's to get as many eyeballs on the ring as I possibly can, because I love the WWE so much, I think we have the best gig in town, so I want everybody to watch it. So my success or failure in the ring in a win or loss perspective is irrelevant, if winning more will help me get more eyeballs fine, if being PG will help me get more eyeballs, fine. I wanna do stadiums every show, I don't want to just do it for WrestleMania - do stadiums every show and have a show on the moon and a show on Mars. That's how dedicated I am to expanding the audience, because the more you get the word out, especially with something like WWE that transcends language. If I don't know what they're saying in the promos, I know by the body language that I like this guy or I don't, and this guy doesn't like that guy, and that's why we can go all these places and it's such a global success, it's
one of the few forms of entertainment that transcends culture, language, race, religion - anything. You go to a WWE audience and you will see older fans that have watched for a long time but you'll also see kids there for the first time. You'll see guy who look like this [gestures to his suit] for the first time, you'll see women, you'll see older folks, every race possible. What I love the most about it - next time you watch - so they always shoot the ring in a certain way, it's called the hard camera shot. Look beyond everything, look at the audience, that's the perfect picture of what I love, it's everybody. And that's why - I mean you wanna go deep down the rabbit hole - that's why everybody nowadays is polarising, because our audience is too big, so that's one of the problems that we have to fix but at the same time it's a great problem because if your audience is the world how are you going to please everybody? But in the Attitude Era, when your audience was 18 to 35 year old males, I can pinpoint probably what you like, and I can pinpoint what you don't. You don't like a brash, suit-wearing Windsor knot-tying billionaire throwing his weight around saying he's the boss. You do like a guy drinking beer, flipping people off, kicking people, stunning people, and saying, 'I'm sticking it to the man,' because that's how you feel as a rebellious 18 to 35-year-old, but when your audience goes from age 3 to age 100, you can't define one character [gestures at himself] that pleases everybody. it's impossible. It's impossible. And this is - just this conversation right here will give you an insight into how obsessive I am about WWE, what it does and who it reaches. And this is a very long answer to your question, but that's when wrestling drew me back, the Attitude Era, because I was 21-years-old and that's what I wanted to watch. But until we get the go ahead to make TV-MA stuff, it's gonna be PG. So I think everyone who's involved in the Atttitude Era appreciates all the respect and I know us who aren't in the Attitude Era - and I've kinda seen both sides of the spectrum because I came in on the tail end of it and was a primary reason for the transition - I don't feel slighted at all because that fact that you watch and complain at least means you're watching.
Ferdinand is in cinemas now.
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