In an appearance on In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast, WWE’s John Cena talked a bit about his wrestling career, including his character arc throughout his WWE run.

He revealed that in 2009 the John Cena character would not be undergoing what Cena described as a “tectonic shift.” This led to him diving into nuance and subtle character shifts, which Cena believes became more noticeable to fans as the years went on.

“WWE and sports entertainment walk that gray line,” Cena said. “Everyone knows it’s entertainment, everyone. But everyone wants to believe in what’s going on. They don’t ask, even the most iconic superhero characters, they’re known for their performances but they do get to step away. There is a clear-cut difference. In WWE, the audience doesn’t want that. They don’t.

“And that’s what keeps them coming back and that’s what keeps the train on the tracks. That’s part of it. So I was made aware that I would not undergo a tectonic shift in John Cena, the character, probably around 2009. So that allowed me to get that conversation off the board, and I had to, or I chose to dive into nuance.

“If I was going through something in my life, it’s a lot easier to take from that and put those nuances into a performance. And I don’t think I’m alone there. I think a lot of actors use that process of taking upon their emotions, their core emotions that they feel at a certain time, and then projecting them onscreen. I just got so familiar with the character, I could be bored and do the same thing, or I could dive into really small things.

“And even when the audience said that I was doing the same thing, I knew the changes were so subtle that they wouldn’t see it today, they wouldn’t see it tomorrow, and they wouldn’t see it in a month. But they’d see it over the years. And they would see, truly, the fault lines, just inching along. And it’s that long, boring process, but I don’t have 90 minutes to let them know how I feel. I’d like to say I’d be a part of the WWE family for life, so I’ve got a story to tell for as long as I’m around.”

John Cena also discussed the art of in-ring storytelling and even commented on thinking WWE veterans he worked with at the beginning of his career were lazy because they would call matches in the ring. He later realized it wasn’t laziness, but that these veterans were so sharp in the ring in how they could tell a story, something Cena was later able to figure out himself.

“I used to think WWE veterans were lazy when they said ‘I’ll see you out there. We’ll just figure it out, out there,'” Cena said. “They weren’t lazy, they were sharp. And they understood that it’s a moving beast out there, and you have to be, your timing has to be better than your flawless choreography. It’s not how sharp you do something, it’s exactly when you do it.

“But you have to know your story. The story of this match is ‘I’m going to beat the hell out of you. You’re not going to do anything. I’m going to win because we’re trying to make me look strong.’ I can do that in 25 minutes, I can do that in 3 minutes. The story is ‘okay, it’s an equal opportunity contest and I severely break the rules to establish that I’m a better performer, which I’m not, because it’s dastardly to do that.

“Then we get to the point where you’ve had too much, and I’m too cocky, and here you come and you win.’ Well, you can do that in 5 minutes, you can do that in 60 minutes. As long as you know the why, and you can be prepared with a bunch of other stuff that you never use, but as long as you have it. Sometimes the director, sometimes Vince, or the powers that be are like ‘I just need you to go out there and be big.’ But I still have a bunch of ammo in case I need it.”

Later, John Cena, who recently switched agencies after 18 years with ICM, was asked what advice he would give to any young actors. Pointing out he did not love giving advice, Cena discussed how he was almost fired from WWE at one point and how he also thought his acting career was over after a string of early failures. As such, his advice is that good work begets opportunity and that it’s important to keep trying and not give up.

“I hate giving advice because everyone’s got to find their own path,” Cena said. “But if young performers are concerned, I think a good place to start is great work begets opportunity. You will get another chance. I was not the WWE’s first pick, I was their last pick. And I was going to be fired. But they gave me one chance, and then they gave me one more, and then they gave me a free run on their Saturday show, and then they moved me to Smackdown, and then they moved me to RAW.

“And then more opportunities came, and more opportunities came, and right when I thought ‘man, this is the zenith of all the opportunities’, a whole other door opens up. And the opportunity is ‘you come on in, but you’ve got to start at zero.’ So you’ve got to be brave enough to say ‘okay, good work is going to beget opportunity.’

“Because I tried this thing before and failed, and I remember having a conversation, an honest conversation with my friend and confidant, someone I love very much, Dan Baime, in 2009 I think it was. I looked him straight in the eye and said ‘Dan, we’re never doing movies again, are we?’ And he’s my agent and he says ‘no, we’re not.’

“And he was genuine because we work on honesty. We always have. But even in his mind, he was like ‘no we’re not. But we’ll find a way. Don’t worry about it. We’ll find what you love, and we’ll go after what you love.’ We had a very long way of doing things, but here we are over a decade later, and imagine that. I love this all the time, I just needed it taken from me to realize how much I loved it.

“But I think to young performers, just do the best you can, don’t worry about it. Vince McMahon gave me the best advice I’ve ever been given. ‘Give your all to what you do, promote to the absolute utmost, don’t leave anything on the table, and then move forward.’ If you give it your all, you’ll find a taker. You’ll find what you can do better next time.”

To quote this article, please credit In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast and provide an h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription

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