From director Doug Liman, the psychological thriller The Wall is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that follows two soldiers (played with expert skill by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena) who are pinned down by an Iraqi sniper. Their fight becomes a battle of will and wit, and as they learn more about each other, all that stands between them is a crumbling wall that can only last so long.
At the film’s press day, Collider sat down with WWE superstar John Cena to talk about how this script had him riveted and on the edge of his seat, the physical demands of this role, the awesome experience he had with director Doug Liman, why Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a stud, learning from everyone he works with, and how it’s easy to keep a good work ethic when you’re doing something you enjoy. He also talked about voicing the title character for the upcoming animated feature Ferdinand, returning for Daddy’s Home 2, and why The Pact appealed to him.
Collider: Congrats on being honored with the Action Star of the Year award from CinemaCon, for your work on this film! How did this come your way, and could you ever have imagined, when you started out on the journey with this, that that would be the result?
JOHN CENA: No. It started out with me just reading the script and liking it. It wasn’t one of those things where it was, “Hey, these people are interested.” A good friend of mine, who I also do a lot of business with, said, “I want you to read this. I just read it, and it was awesome.” He was right. I was like, “Man, I’ve gotta do this!” A lot of times, I’ll have that reaction to certain material, and then things won’t happen. It’s not without rejection. This was one of those rare cases where it did. It started out with being, “Okay, you’re gonna do it.” And then, every step of the way, as it got more and more real, it got better and better.
What were the things that really stood out for you, when you first read the script?
CENA: The fact that it’s two characters, and I was riveted and on the edge of my seat, reading it. When I put it down, I was like, “Yeah, this could work! This is gonna be awesome!” I read it and knew that I could do it. It wasn’t too far out of my limited skill set, and I wanted to be a part of it. The fact that it was pretty much on one set with two people didn’t once scare me aware. I thought it was a great story, no matter what.
What were the demands you put on yourself for this role, and what did your director expect of you?
CENA: The only thing that they expected, which is an environment that I thrive in, is that you show up to work. There was no downtime, just because of the amount of time they had to shoot. But we knew, early on, that we were making the movie, so we had a lot of prep. I loved the story, so I went back and read it a bunch of times. Besides the fact that it was really hot and we were under a bit of a ticking clock, it was a fun time. It’s weird to say that just sitting out in the dirt in the desert was a fun time, but it really was. It wasn’t like it was tearing the heart out of me. It was more like, “Man, I get to do this. I can’t believe it!”
How long did you have to lay on the ground in the heat?
CENA: It was days. I was just a fried egg, out there. But, it was all awesome and it really shows on screen. Before I even got involved in the process, as I do with all of these projects now, and I’m learning so much with everyone that I work with, I just put myself in their hands and have tremendous faith and trust that they want to be in a good movie. Over the course of my career, being in the live and television entertainment aspect and meeting a lot of people, I can judge folks, whether they’re serious about something or whether they’re calling it in, pretty quickly. This team was very serious about this, and that’s awesome. You’re gonna get helped, if you’re lacking it, in any way, because everybody’s objective is to make a good picture.
How did you find the experience of working with Doug Liman?
CENA: He was awesome! Never once was it like, “We’re gonna run out of time and I need more money.” It was like, “This is what I’m doing. I see the movie in my head. Let’s just go do it!” He was awesome! He was just brilliant.
What was it like to work with Aaron Taylor-Johnson?
CENA: Aaron is a stud, and I mean that in every sense of the word. In our business, and it’s used in entertainment, as well, we talk about the “it factor.” He’s a professional. He knew the script backwards and forwards. He did his homework, in developing the character. He knew he was the main focus, a lot of the time. You feel his pain. I was there filming all this stuff with him, but when you see it on the big script, you can’t help either inch on your seat or go back. He’s a stud. Without that sort of dedication, you don’t get the same product because the movie literally rides on his shoulders. If, at all, he was reserved about any of it, it would have sunk the ship. It just goes to show how much he invested in all of it. He just carries the whole damn thing.
When you see something like that, does it make you want to try your hand at carrying a movie, or does it make you appreciate ensemble acting even more?
CENA: No, not at all. When you watch somebody like that, that’s what you should aspire to be. Seeing his dedication, you have to go in on it and not be afraid. I learn from everybody I work with, and you learn, every single day. I can learn from anyone. Being fortunate enough to perform in front of a changing live audience, every night, you learn from everybody. Everyone has an opinion and they’ll let you know. It was really cool to be put on the inside track, pretty early on in this process because I got to see what it’s like to do batting practice with a pro team or playing a round of gold with a pro golfer. You get a look into their life, and it’s awesome. I certainly did the best I could to prepare, but I also didn’t walk around with a sense of false confidence. Every second, I ask for advice and opinion. Not only did Aaron have the movie on his shoulders, but he was also essentially a coach and a confidante, and the same with Doug. They were selfless in saying, “We just wanna make a good picture. We’ll help the kid out. It will be all right.” It was great.
Do you think that kind of work ethic comes from achieving and maintaining a successful career in something like WWE, or did you have it before then? Is that something that’s always been really important to you?