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John Cena in Bumblebee

John Cena’s career has evolved tremendously since he made his feature film debut starring in 2006’s The Marine. For years it wasn’t quite clear what kind of career he was looking to forge in Hollywood, but more recently he has become an exciting presence in movies, and regularly showing his range as a performer. He’s proven incredibly adept in comedies like Trainwreck and Blockers, blockbusters like Bumblebee, and dramatic features like The Wall. He’s even brought his great energy to family movies like the upcoming Dolittle.

He keeps getting better and better with each project, and in that journey, one person he specifically credits for paving the way is Dwayne Johnson.

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with John Cena at the Dolittle domestic press day on the Universal Pictures lot in Los Angeles, and the subject of the perception of wrestlers in Hollywood was one that came up during a diverse conversation. I specifically asked how he feels things have changed in the modern era for performers making the move that he did, and he didn’t hesitate giving Dwayne Johnson his due. Said Cena,

It definitely has changed, and I think that rests on the already broad shoulders of Dwayne Johnson. He just made it acceptable to be something other than your wrestling persona. If you look at the correlation of wrestlers or WWE personalities in movies, they essentially played extensions of their WWE personality. I think Dwayne was one of the first ones to break that mold, and do it on such a grand scale that he couldn't be ignored.

The relationship between film and wrestling goes all the way back to the 1930s, and there is certainly a long legacy of wrestlers who have made the transition to acting including Hulk Hogan, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, and André René “Andre The Giant” Roussimoff. When you look at the careers of those men through the lens of John Cena’s comments, however, you understand exactly what he means. While Hogan, Ventura and Roussimoff had successful runs as actors, they weren’t really asked to demonstrate much in the way of range.

In John Cena’s mind, that’s not entirely fair, as there isn’t really a giant gulf that exists between acting in films and wrestling in a ring. It’s all performance. The issue, in Cena’s mind, is the constant exposure provided by week-to-week events set up by the WWE, and individuals’ commitment to their characters. The end result is a word that many actors in Hollywood are overfamiliar with: typecasting. The wrestler-cum-actor explained,

What we do in WWE is we tell stories – we just tell most of it through a physical nature of a narrative. And it is over the top, and a very Shakespearean form, but it is storytelling. I just think we have a lot of talented individuals that could be good in other avenues. It's just by being on every week without a break, perception is reality. ‘I know this person for being this person and this person alone.’ It's very much like your favorite [television show], like Seinfeld.

But that’s where Dwayne Johnson has been so important within the industry. Prior to getting serious about acting, fans worldwide simply knew him as the single-eyebrow-raising The Rock, constantly asking if we knew what he was cooking. Now he’s taking on projects that feature a multitude of personalities – many as far from “The Rock” as you can get – and while his physicality still typically has a role to play, he’s definitively shown audiences that there is more to him as a performer than the character he portrays while doing body slams and pile drivers.

John Cena put it in simple terms, saying,

As you know, typecasting takes a lot of attempts to unwire, and Dwayne has, through the legacy that he's built, he's made it easier for all of us.

With the path paved for him, John Cena has certainly done a lot to take advantage, and has an exciting upcoming slate of projects to show for it. In addition to voicing a heat-loving polar bear named Yoshi in Dolittle, he is also set to join two franchises in the next couple years – both of which coincidentally also have Dwayne Johnson engaged in the continuity. The first is Fast & Furious 9 – which, of course, is part of the series that gave us Luke Hobbs – and next year we’ll get to see him as one of the stars in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (and hopefully we’ll someday get the opportunity to see his character, Peacemaker, face off against Johnson’s Black Adam.

Dolittle will be in theaters this Friday, January 17, and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more about the film.