Perhaps it’s only natural, given their often larger-than-life personas, but professional wrestlers have been among the biggest beneficiaries of modern-day “branding” and branching out in the entertainment world. World Wrestling Entertainment, or the WWE, has smartly tabbed a number of its rising stars for movie properties. Among the latest to test the acting waters is nine-time world champion Randy Orton, who takes his first crack at a starring role in “12 Rounds 2: Reloaded,” a discretely plotted sequel/spin-off to 2009′s “12 Rounds,” starring John Cena. In the movie, Orton plays Nick Malloy, an emergency medical technician who finds himself locked in a “Saw”-like game of cat-and-mouse with a vigilante tied to his past. For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to talk to Orton recently one-on-one, about acting outside versus inside the ring, his wrestling family roots, and his tattoos. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: Wrestling obviously takes a lot out of you physically, but its action exists in a longer form. The action in movies can be very intense, but it’s often shot in bits and pieces. How did you take to that change — was it hard to keep the adrenaline up?
Randy Orton: It was two completely different things for me. The stuntmen loved me because I was wanting to do everything. There were only a couple stunts that I wasn’t allowed to do myself. Short little takes are how a lot of directors would piece a scene together — and spend days and weeks on a fight scene. Roel Reiné, our director, spent five hours on a fight scene where I fight two cops. It’s not the longest fight scene — it’s about a minute or a minute-and-a-half (in the movie). It’s really cool. Even though it’s take after take, we shot for a long time. That was all we did that day. As a matter of fact, I think that was our first day. Roel knew that beating up the stuntmen and kicking them in the face would probably be a little easier for me, and less stressful (laughing), than any of the real heavy acting stuff. So he was warming me up. But I was a lot more dressed than I am when I’m working in the WWE. There are lots of differences. Usually I’m wearing my little tights out there, and on the movie I’m dressed (with pads). And I had the EMT outfit, which also felt really awkward. But I had to feel like an EMT. The few hours of acting classes that I was able to get under my belt before this movie definitely helped me try to get as comfortable as I could playing the character I was playing.
ShockYa: You mentioned jokingly the stress of some of the bigger acting scenes. But when you’re wrestling there is definitely an element of performance — it’s just that you’re playing big dramatic moments to a crowd, in the round. How do you take that experience and shrink it down to acting for the camera?
RO: Like you said, in the WWE ring, with viewers at home, I’m working toward five, six or sometimes even seven cameras at a time, where I know that at any time one of those cameras could pick me up. I’m also working to the people that are sitting up in the rafters — well, there’s no such thing as a cheap seat, but I’ll say cheap seat for now — because I want them to see every little thing I’m doing. So things in the ring are definitely bigger, so that you can see them. But the movie world is completely different, and you have to hone things down because when that camera is so tight on you and so intimate and right up in your face, it’s going to catch every little thing that you give it, and it’s very easy to overdo it. I think the best advice I got is that acting isn’t acting — you just want to just be, you want to be just real, be in the moment and react. If I’m in there with someone like (costar) Brian Markinson, who’s been around and knows the ropes, I need to be able to react off of him. But I was surrounded by great actors, and even some of the lesser known actors in the film were fantastic for me to work with. They were light years ahead of me as far as knowing what to do in that world. If they were in a WWE ring they’d be lost and yeah, I’d have to help them, but here I needed their help. I approached it like that, very humble, and just said, “Hey guys, I’m a first-timer, so please help me.” And of course they want the movie to be as good as possible.
Randy Goes A Few Rounds With The Kidd To Talk 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded And A Few Key Moments Of His In-Ring Career
The second I hear that another wrestler… excuse me, WWE Superstar… is going to be fronting another new movie, the eyes automatically react by rolling, and my mind heads straight for that “Seriously, why?” place it’s been known to go to when news spreads of something that, on the surface, sounds like a terrible idea. Let’s face it… the model of forcing wrestlers to the forefront of movies hasn’t exactly worked out well over the years since Hulk Hogan battled Zeus in NO HOLDS BARRED (although I still have a special place in my heart for that flick… sue me… I was 9 when it came out, and Hulkamania was running wild). The strategy has put WWE Studios in a very dicey spot right now that they’ve been trying to recover from as, outside of their own fan community, it’s tough to get the average mainstream movie-goer to sit down in front of a movie that stars The Big Show or Kane. The studio has been trying to utilize their own talent in mostly bit and supporting roles in their projects now, so as not to distract the viewer with “Hey, isn’t that [Insert wrestler’s name here]?” and THE CALL was a big step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned. DEAD MAN DOWN tried to accomplish the same thing, and, while in its Superstar involvement, it worked, it wasn’t a very good film that many people went to see.
So when I was presented with the opportunity to see 12 ROUNDS 2: RELOADED, not only a sequel to the okay action flick which starred WWE Champion John Cena, but a direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray follow-up, this time with Randy Orton in the lead role, every bone in my body told me that I should take the two hours I’d spend watching this and do something else. But I said, “What the hell…?” and went with it, willing to spend an afternoon giving 12 ROUNDS 2 a fair shot, and you know what…? My body was a bit off. I’m not saying 12 ROUNDS 2 is a fantastic flick, not by any means. It’s predictable and doesn’t stray much from conventions we’ve seen done much better elsewhere… plus, for an action-driven movie, its villain and his motivations are incredibly weak sauce, which really hurt the movie in establishing any sort of consequences for their hero. But it held my interest and entertained me a bit, and, furthermore, I was incredibly surprised by how well Randy Orton was able to command the screen when he was involved, which is quite a bit, making me curious to see what he might be capable of if given the ball for another feature film down the line, one that’s a little bit better overall.
His character Nick Malloy is a far departure from either the Legend Killer or Viper personas we’ve come to know throughout Orton’s in-ring career, with flashes of both personality and humor that we don’t often come to associate with the WWE Superstar. And, while I’ll admit to wanting to see Orton drop someone with an RKO in the middle of a fight sequence, I never once got the sense that I was watching a wrestler on-screen, which may be the best compliment I can pay to Orton’s work here. Orton was able to separate himself from his other profession for 12 ROUNDS 2, which allowed me to get into the film and become interested in the journey Nick Malloy would make during the course of the film. It wasn’t me watching Randy Orton trying to play Nick Malloy… it was Nick Malloy, who, once the credits began to roll, happened to be played by Randy Orton.
Therefore, I was quite interested in talking to Randy Orton about his preparation for the film and the difference in approach to acting from what he’s used to in the ring. Besides talking about 12 ROUNDS 2: RELOADED, I was able to get candid with Randy concerning his past feud with Mick Foley, his short-lived first reign as WWE Championship and some of the struggles faced by second- and third-generation talent trying to make a name for themselves in the wrestling industry. Enjoy.