Q&A: Actor John Cena makes time for wrestling, Hollywood

With a wave of his hand in front of his face, John Cena made a WWE career trash talk to his opponents by telling each one, “You can’t see me.”

Can’t see Cena?

The 45-year-old ubiquitous Hollywood heavyweight can be spotted just about everywhere these days, from the studios to the squared circle. Cena just wrapped a role in Peter Farrelly’s new comedy ‘Ricky Stanicky’, played the flawed DC Comics superhero in the ‘Pacemaker’ series and will voice the beastly rhinoceros Rocksteady in the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

Wearing his trademark signature, Cena hasn’t forgotten his wrestling roots. He returns to battle WWE United States Champion Austin Theory next month at WrestleMania at SoFi Stadium and can be seen – and played – as the cover for various editions of the WWE 2K23 game, with the WWE 2K23 Deluxe Edition and Icon Edition to be released on Tuesday and the standard and Cross-Gen edition on Friday.

What’s a wrestling game without a shocking twist? Cena walks players in the “You Can’t Beat Me” 2K Showcase mode through some of the biggest losses of his career to wrestlers like Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle, rather than highlighting all of his championship wins.

“Persistence is my core value,” he said. “Never give up is written on all my things. I like the fact that it takes you to my toughest opponents, my toughest losses. This is a very personal touch of mine and I’m glad 2K was very receptive to it.”

Not much of a gamer, Cena calls the cover “a tip of the cap” from 2K for building a game around his 20-year body of work.

“There were some really big moments where I didn’t live up to the hype,” Cena said.

In a recent phone interview with The Associated Press from Georgia, where he was filming “Grand Death Lotto,” the Hollywood heavyweight discusses his retirement from wrestling, his starring role in the video game “WWE 2K23” and his relationship with the embattled boss of WWE, Vince McMahon. Answers have been abbreviated for clarity and brevity.

AP: What did you mean in your tweet after your return to WWE last week when you wrote, “it might be the last time.” Are you nearing the end of your WWE career?

CENA: I tried to put it into words on Twitter. I guess I didn’t explain correctly. It was the first time I went into the arena knowing that this has a definitive end. Normally you go out, you get excited, OK, this is the next one and I’m waiting for the next one. I’m not done of course. I made that statement by accepting a match at WrestleMania so I know I have at least one more in front of me. But what I was trying to convey was that it was the first time I looked at all that excitement and energy and realized that this was the twilight of this trip.

AP: Why return to arguing with the Austin Theory?

CENA: You will be surprised by my answer. Because that’s what I was told would happen. I don’t do that. I’m not saying, I want to do this. I want to work with this person. I never do that. I’ve never done that. I just try to do what I’m told and do it the best I can. Instead of dictating my terms, I often just try to make the show as good as possible. What I don’t do and never have done is curate the direction of the narrative. I don’t choose opponents, but I like to tell stories. I didn’t pick Austin Theory, but I definitely spoke from the heart (on RAW).

AP: How do you feel about the fact that WWE could be in the market?

CENA: That’s way above my paycheck. I just don’t know what’s going on with it. I love Vince McMahon. He is everything you could want in a great friend, business partner, father, mentor. I love the man. But his business dealings are his business and whatever he shares with me is between us. But I don’t know what’s going on with the corporate structure in WWE or the creative direction of WWE. But when I’m there as a performer, it’s (WWE Champion) Roman Reigns’ show. In my mind, he has to be in the conversation, and in my mind, he’s the greatest of all time.

AP: Is it hard to reconcile your feelings for Vince McMahon with the sexual misconduct allegations against him?

CENA: No. I mean, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have the right to have mine. When you love someone, you see them as imperfectly perfect as they are. We all make mistakes, we all make bad decisions. Lord knows I’ve made my collection of bad choices. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to love someone. There’s no way I’m going to go on the record and say I don’t love Vince McMahon.

AP: You have WrestleMania coming up and a number of acting projects, including “Grand Death Lotto.” Has the pace of your schedule ever gotten too much?

CENA: I’m feeling my age, so to speak. Could use some rest, but all my choice. These are great things to be a part of. That’s why I’m so excited because this movie just doesn’t stop. It will be action from the opening credits. We have a great team that combines action and comedy. I also try my best, I hate the term work-life balance, but I try my best not to fall into the workaholism trap where I just hide in my work and not be a fully open, vulnerable person to the people around me, to the people I love. I have not yet sacrificed my relationships for my work. I’m in a really good rhythm right now where I can hit on all cylinders.


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